June 2011

No glove necessary

Look closely at the photo to the left. You’ll see the slightest smirk from Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. That’s the most you’ll ever see him smile after a play.

Fans would’ve forgiven AC if he would’ve been full-out grinning ear to ear after the impossible play he pulled off in Sunday’s win over the Pirates. OK, “impossible” for most shortstops, that is.

In the 10th inning, with the Pirates and Indians knotted 2-2, Brandon Wood hit pitch from reliever Joe Smith for a low liner toward the hole to Cabrera’s right. The ball one-hopped in the dirt in front of the shortstop, and looked destined to be a single to left.

Then, in the blink of an eye, Cabrera snared the ball with his bare hand, took a step and threw across his body to first baseman Carlos Santana. The catch was amazing and the subsequent relay was as incredible. Manager Manny Acta said “half the dugout” was screaming, “Best play ever!”

The question is whether it was even Cabrera’s best so far in 2011.

On May 19 in Chicago, A-Cab used a barehanded grab to catch a deflected grounder to his right. Then, from his knees, he flipped the ball to Adam Everett at second base to start a jaw-dropping double play. Oh, one more thing, the victimized batter was none other than former Indians shortstop extraordinaire Omar Vizquel.

Apparently, Cabrera’s glove is just a fashion accessory.

 

So I asked fans on Twitter, which was the better Asdrubal Gem? Was it Sunday’s barehanded grab in the hole (No. 1), or was it the May 19 play in Chi-town (No. 2)? As of 1 p.m. today, I received 46 responses.

The results: 26 for May 19, 17 for June 19 and 3 called it a tie.

Here is a sample of some of the comments:

Sorry I couldn’t include all the responses. I appreciated all the solid replies, though.

For those of you who haven’t seen either play yet, I’ll provide the links here. CLICK HERE for “The Flip” on May 19. CLICK HERE for “The Sleight of Hand.” And, while you’re at it, you can CLICK HERE for the unreal play from Asdrubal against the Orioles last season. A few fans still cast votes for that one.

Check Indians.com later for more.

~JB

The Pronk Effect

The last few years, Indians fans might argue that Hafner and his once-ailing shoulder were bring the offense down when he was IN the lineup.

This season, Hafner had been healthy and productive, but a fluke batting practice swing sent him to the disabled list for the past month. Now, Cleveland’s offense was hurting with him OUT of the lineup.

Given the extent of the Tribe’s recent woes in the ol’ batter’s box, not many fans would argue that point.

How much of an affect — whether positive or negative — does one player have on a lineup? On Friday, when Hafner was activated from the 15-day DL after rehabbing a strained right oblique, manager Manny Acta was essentially asked that question.

How many other players are affect when one hitter goes down?

“About seven of them,” said Acta, who hardly kidding around. “That’s the way it is. People underestimate how much one hitter changes your whole lineup, especially if it’s a guy in the middle. And a guy like him, as you saw, we moved some guys lower in the order and some guys back there.

“[Having Hafner] helps lengthen your lineup and put people probably in the spots in the lineup where they can relax more and give you a better chance at the backend of your lineup.”

Consider that Hafner hit fifth on a regular basis for the Indians prior to injuring his side during a BP swing on May 18 in Chicago. In 32 games, the veteran DH hit .345 with a .409 OBP and a .958 OPS (his best since going 1.000+ in 2006). While Hafner was out, Acta cycled through seven different No. 5 hitters.

Here are the individual averages and OPS’s for the seven guys (during Hafner’s absence): Shin-Soo Choo (.247/.657), Matt LaPorta (.210/.605), Carlos Santana (.191/.604), Grady Sizemore (.191/.591), Orlando Cabrera (.184/.439) and Shelley Duncan (.176/.489).

I’m no mathematician, but those numbers aren’t stellar.

This is where one might turn to the age-old theory of “pressing.” You can break down the numbers all you want, but there is still a human element to this game. Without Hafner, without his bat and presence in the lineup, it is only natural (especially as a team begins to slump) for hitters to “press” or try too hard.

“It gets to a point where guys are trying to pick up the slack,” Acta said, “instead of just doing their thing and doing it as a team. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is that way. It’s human nature for guys to try to pick up the slack and do more than they’re supposed to be doing.”

Here’s another way to look at things…

In the period of B.P.
(Before Pronk went down)

Record: 26-13
Standings: First (+5)
Average: .271
On-base: .342
Slugging: 433
OPS: .775
Hits per game: 9.4
Home runs: 44 (1.1 p/g)
Runs: 207 (5.3 p/g)
Walks: 138 (3.5 p/g)

In the period of A.P.
(After Pronk went down)

Record: 10-18
Standings: Second (-1)
Average: .220
On-base: .284
Slugging: .336
OPS: .620
Hits per game: 7.1
Home runs: 16 (0.6 p/g)
Runs: 85 (3.0 p/g)
Walks: 71 (2.5 p/g)

So how much of a problem was not having Hafner?

“About three weeks of an issue,” Acta said. “A month, I would say. It’s just tough to substitute a guy like him. We made it clear from the beginning, we can’t afford to lose guys like him and Sizemore or Choo or Asdrubal Cabrera for an extended period of time.

“We know that in order to stay where we’re at, and win, we’re going to have to keep every one of those guys healthy and playing to their capabilities. It showed as soon as he went down.”

The question now is how the Tribe will respond now that Pronk is back.

–JB

30/30

Indians manager Manny Acta can always be counted on for putting things in perspective.

A few days ago, when asked about the recent struggles of his first-place club, Acta was quick to note that things really aren’t going as bad for the Tribe as it might seem.

“We had a worse year last year than we’re having right now,” Acta said.

The man has a point. Coming off back-to-back 90+ loss seasons, the Indians are 34-26 and sitting atop the American League Central standings. Of course, the Tigers are knocking on Cleveland’s door, lurking only one game behind as of this writing.

Acta’s point was made, though. Entering the season, if Indians fans were told that three pitchers would wind up on the DL, Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo would be underperforming, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner would endure more health woes and, somehow, the Indians would be in first come June 10…

… who would have complained?

And, yet, there are fans who’s fingers are flirting with the panic button. Shoot, some have already started pressing it repeatedly.

A hot start will do that for a fan base. Cleveland roared out of the gates with solid pitching, strong defense and timely hitting. Over the past month or so, the pitching has had its ups and downs, the defense has remained solid with a few moe hiccups here and there and the hitting, well, that’s been a key to the slide.

Now, there are a few ways you can examine this tale of two teams.

One could go back to May 3, when the Indians were 20-8. That date is significant because that was when the Tribe wrapped up a seven-game winning streak. Or, you could splice it at May 18. That’s when Hafner went down with his oblique injury. Or, there’s May 23, when the Tribe was a season-high 15 games over .500 (30-15).

For the purposes of this blog, I’m just gonna cut the season so far in half: 30/30.

The First 30 Games

Record: 21-9 through May 5

Offense
Runs – 155 (5.2 per game)
Hits – 280 (9.3 per game)
AVG – .271
OBP – .341
SLG – .427
OPS – .768
Left on base – 207 (6.9 per game)
Strikeouts – 215 (7.2 per game)
Walks – 105 (3.5 per game)
HR – 34
2B – 54

Pitching
Innings – 275
Runs – 106
Earned runs – 101
Unearned runs – 5
ERA – 3.31
HR – 20
Strikeouts – 190 (6.3 per game)
Walks – 94 (3.1 per game)
Hits – 239 (8.0 per game)
Pitches per game – 143.8
Total pitches – 4,313
Total strikes – 2,730
Strike percentage – 63%
Inherited runners scoring – 22%

Notes: Played 9 games against teams with records above .500 (as of June 9). … Played 21 games against teams with records below .500 (as of June 9). … 15 road games and 15 home games. … Opponents: Royals 7, White Sox 3, Red Sox 3, Mariners 3, Angels 3, Orioles 3, Tigers 3, A’s 3, Twins 2.

The Next 30 Games

Record: 13-17 through June 9

Offense
Runs – 120 (4.0 per game)
Hits – 238 (7.9 per game)
AVG – .241
OBP – .306
SLG – .386
OPS – .691
Left on base – 174 (5.8 per game)
Strikeouts – 216 (7.2 per game)
Walks – 83 (2.8 per game)
HR – 25
2B – 58

Pitching
Innings – 266
Runs – 147
Earned runs – 133
Unearned runs – 14
ERA – 4.50
HR – 29
Strikeouts – 174 (5.8 per game)
Walks – 74 (2.5 per game)
Hits – 288 (9.6 per game)
Pitches per game – 140.1
Total pitches – 4,203
Total strikes – 2,682
Strike percentage – 64%
Inherited runners scoring – 31%

Notes: Played 20 games against teams with records above .500 (as of June 9). … Played 10 games against teams with records below .500 (as of June 9). … 13 road games and 17 home games. … Opponents: Rays 6, Rangers 4, Red Sox 3, Angels 3, Blue Jays 3, Reds 3, Twins 3, Royals 2, White Sox 2, Mariners 1.

What does it all mean?

I think it’s fair to point out the the competition has been stiffer in the most recent 30-game stretch. That said, it’s also fair to note that the offense has not been the only issue. Jumping from a 3.31 staff ERA to a 4.50 ERA is not a good sign. Of course, the Tribe played 10 of the last 30 games against teams that currently reside in the AL’s Top 5 for runs scored.

The defense has regressed as well, as you can see by the increase in unearned runs from 5 to 14. That said, the pitching staff has been allowing nearly two more hits per game, which has put a little more pressure on said defense. On the plus side, the staff is still pounding the ol’ strike zone.

One would hope that by getting Hafner back, and potentially seeing Santana and Choo improve to their expected levels, that the OBP and SLG will bounce back. Since Hafner went down, the team’s walk rate has predictably decreased. The production with runners in scoring position has dropped as well.

So, make of these numbers what you want. While you do, remind yourself that there are 102 games left and the true nature of this Indians team is likely somewhere between the First 30 and the Next 30 totals.

In the AL Central, that might be good enough to stay in the race down the stretch.

~JB

May-hem: A look at the last month

If April was about storming out of the gates for the Indians, and trying to create an early gap between themselves and the rest of the division, May was about keeping their heads above water.

Three starters spent time on the disabled list. Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco are back from their respective elbow issues, but prospect Alex White, who filled in admirably, is still out with a right middle finger injury.

The offense absorbed some blows, too. Grady Sizemore — fresh off a 10-month rehab tour from left knee surgery — banged up his right knee and was shelved for two weeks. Travis Hafner took a mighty hack during batting practice in Chicago, and will be out for at least a couple more weeks.

The hits to the rotation and offense made for a month that included plenty of ups, but also some downs. That’s bound to happen throughout 162 games. No team is immune to slumps. Cleveland can at least count itself fortunate that it really did not lose any ground in the division during its recent rough patch.

Now the calendar flips to June and the Indians remain atop the Central.

Earlier this month, manager Manny Acta summed things up this way: “We’re just trying to keep it in perspective that if you win 15 games a month, you’re in pretty good shape. Right now, we’ve got the first two months covered.”

A franchise-record 18 wins came in an amazing and memorable April. Cleveland followed that up with 14 trips to victory lane in May. That’s 32 wins through two months — just over Acta’s goal pace.

And he’s not wrong in his thinking. If the Indians were to average 15 wins per month, that’s a 90-win season. Over the past decade, it’s taken 92 wins on average to claim the Central crown. Two years ago, 87 wins did the trick.

Here’s a glance at the past month as we head into June…

Offense:

108 runs — 12th in the AL
214 hits — 13th in the AL
48 doubles — 9th in the AL
18 HR — t-13th in the AL
105 RBIs — t-12th in the AL
.248 average — 11th in the AL
.314 on-base — 11th in the AL
.380 slugging — 10th in the AL
.694 OPS — 11th in the AL
328 total bases — 13th in the AL

Pitching:

14 wins — 10th in the AL
4.05 ERA — 11th in the AL
3.25 bullpen ERA — 5th in AL
4.42 starters ERA — 13th in AL
1.312 WHIP — 8th in the AL
8-10 — starter’s combined record

Defense:

16 errors (made 13 in April)
12 unearned runs (3 in April)

The Ledger:

Record at home: 7-4
Record on the road: 7-8

Bastian’s May Awards:

Player of the Month: Asdrubal Cabrera
Comment: Cabby gets the nod as my Player of the Month for the second month in a row. And, why not? The man is playing like an All-Star. In May, the Indians shortstop hit .330/.372/.575 with a team-high five homers and 19 RBIs. He mixed in seven doubles and a pair of triples along the way. Vote early and vote often. Cabrera deserves a spot on the All-Star squad.

Pitcher of the Month: Josh Tomlin
Comment: He was the co-Pitcher of the Month for April and Tomlin continued to be solid in what was a turbulent May for the pitching staff. The right-hander went 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts with 16 strikeouts and only two walks over 32 2/3 innings. A 0.888 WHIP for the month? Sign me up for that every five days.

Reliever of the Month: Tony Sipp
Comment: In 10 1/3 innings, all Mr. Sipp did was go 1-0 with a 0.87 ERA, striking out seven and walking one. He has been a reliable left-handed setup man for closer Chris Perez. The trio of Sipp, Rafael Perez and Vinnie Pestano have, statistically, made for the best eighth-nning production in the league.

Rookie of the Month: Vinnie Pestano
Comment: Once again, this is sort of by default. But, hey, Josh “Judge” Judy and Ezequiel “Air” Carrera did make their debuts in May. White also added some rookie flavor to the rotation. But Pestano continued to be a force in the eighth inning, striking out 12 in nine innings of work for the month. He had a 2.00 ERA and had a WHIP of 1.000.

Comeback Player of the Month: Chad Durbin
Comment: Lots of love for the bullpen in this month’s wrap-up. But, that’s because the Tribe’s relief corps was the best aspect of the roster throughout May. The offense and rotation was inconsistent. The bullpen essentially maintained its production from April. Durbin bounced back after a rough first month, though. In 10 May appearances, the veteran went 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA, amassing 12 strikeouts and only two walks over 12 2/3 innings.

Plays of the Month:

1. May 19: The Flip – It came in a loss to the White Sox, but the defensive wizardry turned in by Cabrera might hold up as baseball’s web gem of the year. In the eighth inning in Chicago, Omar Vizquel (how fitting) chopped a pitch up the middle. The baseball glanced off the glove of pitcher Joe Smith and shot to Cabrera’s left. The shortstop’s only play was to reach back and stab at the ball with his bare hand. He did that, and so much more. In one motion, Cabrera grabbed the baseball, dropped to his knees and flipped it behind his back to second baseman Adam Everett. As surprised as anyone else, Everett caught the ball and fired it to first for an unbelievable double play.

Want to watch it? CLICK HERE.

2. May 20: The Drag – Bottom of the eighth inning, Indians and Reds caught in a 4-4 deadlock. Shin-Soo Choo triples with two outs. After an intentional walk to Carlos Santana, Acta calls upon Carrera — promoted from Triple-A that day — to pinch hit. Zeke shocked just about everyone in the stadium when he used a perfectly-executed drag-bunt single to plate Choo. The Indians won 5-4 and Carrera’s first career hit is one he’ll never forget.

3. May 21: The Buck Shot – Tomlin and Homer Bailey locked horns for six scoreless innings in Cleveland before Travis Buck, filling in as the No. 5 hitter and DH for an injured Hafner, played hero for a day. After going 0-for-2 in his first two at-bats, and getting an earful from Acta in the dugout, Buck drilled a two-run homer in the seventh that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 win over the Reds.

4. May 23: The Ejection – In the eighth inning against the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury was ruled saffe on a close play at first base. Indians pitcher Just Masterson clumsily stepped around the bag before hitting it with his foot, but the umpire deemed the base missed before Ellsbury reached. Acta ran out from the dugout and argued the call — a move that his players and the fans in Cleveland enjoyed seeing. Acta was ejected and chants of “Manny! Manny!” rained down as he left the field. Cleveland then scored twice in the eighth to claim a 3-2 win.

Quote of the Month:

“Hopefully people will keep taking us for granted. That’d be nice.” –Indians infielder Adam Everett

–JB

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