Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Sunday Big³ at the B³: Masterson moving, Progressive Field renovations and WHAT A WIN!!

The way I see it, the city of Cleveland and their sports' teams must be doing something right. Just follow my lead and see where it takes you. You have the Indians coming from behind in 11 innings to beat the first place Twins. You have the Cavaliers beating the Boston Celtics across the street at the Q in game one of their second round series. You have "Celtic Nation" screaming foul, that the Cavs are getting all the calls. Sure, the Cavs were called for eight less fouls, but really Boston...really? And finally, the Cleveland Indians are apparently America's most-hated team.

Granted, the wonder twins at the Wall Street Journal and other venues just misread the Nielsenn study that was used for the article. No, the rankings were based on positive-and-negative feelings created by blogs and other internet outlets during the first few weeks of the season. In other words, more than likely, Cleveland fans hate the Indians for the daily pain we all go through year after year. Hell, I could have told them that without the study. Life is good Cleveland.

Let's get going with today's Big³:

#3--So, should Justin Masterson stay in the rotation, or end up in the bullpen?
In four of five of Masterson's starts, he's given up nine runs in 22 2/3 innings for a very respectable 3.57 ERA. Oakland did blow him up in his April 25th start to the tune of seven runs, but overall, Masterson has been a solid starter. He certainly deserves a lot more than his 0-3 record would indicate. While I am a firm believer that wins is a tangible stat (IE, if you are a stand-out pitcher, you win games), his record would indicate that he's a hard luck pitcher.

Where Masterson really struggles is against left-handed batters. His ERA against lefties this year is a robust 7.30 vs. 3.77 against right-handed batters. This can't be overlooked because the A's marched out six lefties in their line-up, and they clobbered him. He has a plus sinker that can be wicked, and is his most superior pitch. He also has a plus slider and a fastball that averages between 92 and 93.

What it will all come down to with regards to Masterson as a starter is whether or not he'll be able to nail down lefties. His three-quarters arm angle is deadly against righties. Unfortunately, most lefties can pick up the pitches much easier because of that very same angle. If he can't figure it out, he may ultimately end up back in the pen. Still, the Indians continue to work with Masterson. Although his numbers against lefties haven't yet improved, he has had success as a starter. This won't be an easy decision by any stretch.

Who would replace Masterson should they move him to the pen? It's not as easy a question as you would think. If you start in Columbus, you'd likely begin and end with Yohan Pino and Carlos Carrasco, with Carrasco getting the edge based on big league experience. Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Rondon are struggling right now, and Scott Lewis and his bad elbow have him on the dl. You could use Aaron Laffey in a pinch, but not until Masterson deserves to make a move. After battling last night for 7 2/3 innings, he won't be moving any time soon.

#2--It turns out that the Indians are thinking of giving the field an update within the next few years. In my perusing this morning, I found a piece discussing how the Baltimore Orioles are looking to revamp Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Now, the Prog is certainly one of the best parks in the game, but Camden is the grandfather of them all, and remains one of the best parks in baseball. So, I was absolutely confounded when I saw that the Orioles were already thinking about making a change, after less than 20 years. Essentially, with the economy tanking, the Orioles realized that empty corporate boxes were a waste of money.

It seems that the Orioles are looking to remove some of those boxes and replace them with more premium seating, fan-friendly restaurants and state of the art LED scoreboards. I'm not sure whether or not that will bring in more folks or not, but it does match the newer stadiums that are going up, such as PNC Park, Shea and the billion-dollar behemoth in NYC. Of course, they could try something even more unique, such as dropping the price of tickets, but who am I to say.

In the middle of the article was this interesting tidbit:
The Orioles are not the only team thinking about makeovers. The Cleveland Indians, who opened Progressive Field in 1994 (it was Jacobs Field then), are among the 10 teams looking at ways to revive their parks, said Earl Santee, a senior principal at Populous, the architectural firm that designed Camden Yards, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Coors Field and other retro stadiums.
For those counting at home, The Jake/Progressive Field is all of 16-years-old, but those that have been to the games have likely noticed the empty seats and boxes. I'm not sure what the Indians have in mind to add to the stadium to make people come, but unless it involves a winning team, it won't work. I'm all for updates when they are needed, but if this funding takes away from adding talent, then the Indians are idiots. It will be interesting to watch what happens over the next few years, and how the Indians management, and future-president Mark Shapiro will spin this.

#1--How about those Indians last night eh?!? The Indians won an 11-inning affair after falling behind 3-0 early on, and then 4-2. Lefties pounded Justin Masterson for those three runs, with good ole' Jim Thome driving in the first two runs. A Jhonny Peralta homer made it 3-1 in the second inning, and Asdrubal Cabrera hit into a double-play that scored a run in the third inning. Justin Morneau, another lefty-hitter, hit another home run, making the score 4-2 in the eighth, and knocking out Masterson.

Cleveland would rebound in the bottom-of-the-eighth, scoring two runs with two outs in the game. ACab would get things started with a single, and would score on Grady Sizemore's double. Shin-Soo Choo followed with a game-tying single.

After several wasted opportunities by both clubs, the Indians finally drew last blood in the 11th inning. A walk by Hafner, a double by the suddenly hot Jhonny Peralta and an intentional walk to Russell Branyan loaded the reservation with nobody out. Mark Grudzielanak flew out on a shallow-hit ball, and Lou Marson struck out, putting the Tribe in a two-out scenario again.

Asdrubal Cabrera, who I still believe to be the best player on the team, lined a single into right field, scoring Luis Valbuena (who was pinch-running for Hafner) for the win.

The Indians are 10-13 right now, which puts them exactly one game better than last year. Of course, last year's team had a bit more major league ready talent than this one, so we have to put it down as a plus. You never get too old to love wins like this.

The Sunday Drive:

Check out Indians Prospect Insider for all the Tribe minor league activity. It may be the best Indians site around, period, and it's certainly the most detailed. As I mentioned last week, I'm currently covering Kinston for Tony Lastoria's site, and have pieces up on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Here's today's Sunday Drive.

Nuno rolled out his two-out thinking over at The Tribe Daily. The Indians have scored nearly half of their runs with two-outs. So, you either think this is a team of destiny, or a team of drunks. I'd say it's about 50-50 as to which theory is right.

Hector Ambriz was activated by the Indians this past week after being a rule V selection this offseason, and ending up on the DL. The flame-throwing righty went an inning against Minnesota, giving up a hit in an otherwise perfect inning. Joe Smith was sent down to replace him.

Kerry Wood is starting a rehab assignment in Akron tomorrow. Nobody is sure how many appearances he'll make, but it's likely going to be at least two games. It will be interesting to see what the Indians do to make room for Wood. Will they release Wright, who got the win last night? Ambriz just got called up, and can't go anywhere, unless the Indians work up a deal. Laffey has an option left, but he's the long reliever, and not likely going anywhere. Jensen Lewis has been the best in the pen all year. Chris Perez is the closer, and although he hasn't been stellar, I doubt the Indians move him, unless they want him to close somewhere else. Rafael Perez is out of options. Sipp has been pitching well of late. Not an easy call.

Let's hope that come-from-behind victory spurs on a win streak for an Indians team that has been hovering in neutral all season. Perhaps May is when they heat up.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Where has all the Indians offense gone?

The Cleveland Indians are toiling at 9-13 right now, and while their won-lost record isn't really a surprise, the biggest concern is their lack of offense. With the Indians closing in on a month of games, I really only have one question: Wasn't the Indians' offense supposed to be the strength of this baseball team? There wasn't a lot of doubt that the Indians had some talented sticks heading into the season. Unfortunately, most of those bats haven't made their way to Cleveland from Goodyear just yet.

As unbelievable as it sounds, Austin Kearns leads the team in batting at .373, with two homers and 11 RBI. You know, the same Austin Kearns that some thought would be out of baseball, and was signed onto this club via a minor league contract, and was competing for an extra outfield job. Shin-Soo Choo continues to excel as well, and may ultimately be the team's best overall offensive player. He currently leads the team with four homers and 15 RBI. Asdrubal Cabrera continues to bat over .300 as well, and is slowly becoming this team's leader.

As for the rest of the team, the next highest average after Cabrera's .300 is Russell "Bad Back" Branyan, who's hitting at a .250 clip. The only free agent signing of any consequence for the Tribe for his abundance of power currently has a goose-egg for home runs, and a powerhouse two RBI. Jhonny Peralta has gone eight of his last 18, to bring his average up 81 points. Before you get too excited by that, we're talking a jump from .143 to .224. Matt LaPorta, the supposed juggernaut received by the Tribe in the CC Sabathia deal is hitting a whopping .217, with zero homers and a whole RBI. Pronk is at .208, with two homers and seven RBI. Grady's at .205, with zero homers and nine RBI. Lou Marson has gone 4-7 over the past two games, to raise his average nearly 100 points, and still below the Mendoza line.

Sure, it's too early to hammer (probably the wrong term here) the lack of offense. The bats will likely warm up to some extent as the season progresses. I can't imagine Sizemore to remain close to the Mendoza line, with no power and a low OBP. Matt LaPorta certainly isn't a guy that's going to lack power, or shouldn't. Combine that with Carlos Santana, Wes Hodges, Jason Donald and Michael Brantley mashing in Columbus, there are some bats that could be breathing life into this lifeless offense soon.

While the Tribe pitchers have held it together over the past month, there are signs of trouble on the horizon. Mitch Talbot is currently the only starter with a sub-4.00 ERA, and while I'm happy that the hot stove pick-up is playing well, I'm not exactly sure we can count on a season of Talbot domination. Fausto Carmona isn't quite there yet, although he's close. Past Carmona, Justin Masterson is proving to just about everyone that he's most likely going to end up in the Tribe bullpen. Jake Westbrook's best days seem far behind him, and David Huff is still trying to find consistency.

How successful this team ultimately is lies directly with the offense. Will the bats warm up with the summer weather and carry this team to a surprise ending, or will they continue to struggle in a lost season? Count on some balance as the year progresses, with the potential for the offense to become dangerous. If it doesn't, a long year could become a forgotten year.