Tribe's Handling of Phillips is Idiotic

It’s not bad enough that the Indians have lost 10 of their last 12 games, including getting shutout in half of their games after the All-Star break.  For some reason, the Tribe has decided to spot their opponents a player and will play with 24 guys for awhile.  No, the Tribe still has 25 players on the team.  But, they have decided that infielder Brandon Phillips will be on the team for instructional purposes, not to play.
Since the Indians are still only three games out of a playoff spot, this type of thinking is stupid.  Why not get a player who can help the team win?  This is the big leagues!  You can’t convince me that it is worth taking up a place on the team so Phillips can be exposed to the Major League staff.  What does this say about the coaches you employ in the minors?  If the young infielder needs more seasoning, send him back to Class AAA Buffalo and bring up someone who might be able to play and get a base hit.
If Phillips is here because the team is shopping him, his market value is not exactly rising while sitting on the bench.  This type of thinking does not exactly sell tickets, which is very much on the mind of Tribe Owner Larry Dolan.
The Indians did make a trade on Monday, sending outfielder Jody Gerut to the Cubs for outfielder Jason Dubois.  Although not a blockbuster trade, it’s worth the gamble.  Gerut never lived up to the promise of his rookie year, which was not surprising since he never put up numbers like that in the minors.  Dubois is a power bat that the team desperately needs.  He has had problems making contact in brief major league appearances, but with some consistent at-bats he may develop. 

Sox Sweep Leaves Tribe Thinking

The Chicago White Sox sweep of the Cleveland Indians over the weekend means the Tribe has now lost nine of their last ten games, and is now only two games over the .500 mark at 47-45.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is the team is still only three games out of the American League Wild Card chase.
As usual, it is much too early to look at the Wild Card standings on a day by day basis.  But, it is too early to write off the Indians because they lost four games to the team with the best record in baseball.  I don’t think Major League Baseball will deny Cleveland entry in the playoffs because they have a bad record against good teams.  Much has been made about the White Sox 30-5 record against the Central Division teams.  The Indians have pinned three out of the five losses on the Pale Hose.  That means the Twins, Tigers, and Royals are a combined 2-20 versus Chicago.  Why is there no hand wringing about the Twins lack of success against the Sox?
What was disturbing about the four straight losses at home by Cleveland was the lack of hitting.  The Tribe scored just three runs off the White Sox starters in the four games. Manager Eric Wedge and GM Mark Shapiro can play Dusty Springfield records ("Wishin’ and Hopin’) all they want, but he still is not getting any offense at three positions.  Jody Gerut has apparently been benched in right for Casey Blake, who has less RBI’s on the season than Aaron Boone.  Gerut has not shown much pop this year, but he does get on base.  Perhaps moving him to the leadoff spot and dropping Grady Sizemore into a run producing spot would jump start the offense. 
Ben Broussard looked feeble at the plate during the series, and is hitting just .210 since the end of May.  If Shapiro can’t get a first baseman in a trade, perhaps the recall of Ryan Garko is imminent. 
Wedge gets a lot of flack for not bunting, but you have to get guys on base with no one out to do that.  The past few games, any rally the team starts is with one or two outs.  It is up to the players to get runs home.  Ronnie Belliard knows to get a run home with less than two outs, but isn’t patient enough to wait for a pitch he can elevate.
This team still needs to do the things listed in a previous blog.  There is still plenty of time left to do it, and who knows, a week from today, the Indians could be just a game out of the playoffs.  The big picture says the Tribe is still a playoff contender.

Second Half Keys for The Indians

The All-Star break is over and the Cleveland Indians return to the diamond tonight with the first of a four game set with the Central Division leading Chicago White Sox.  This is the first of an eleven game home stand for the Tribe.  If Cleveland wants to advance to the post season for the first time since 2001, here is a list of things that must occur:
1).  Start winning at home and in the division.  The Tribe is just 21-19 at home in 2005, and just 15-21 against division foes.  A change in this trend can start tonight.
2).  Victor Martinez must resemble the player who made the All-Star team in 2004.  With Travis Hafner leading the American League in OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage), Martinez has to start hitting or Hafner will be walked on a continuous basis.
3).  The bullpen has to continue its first half pace.  The Tribe’s relievers are ranked #1 in ERA, but recently have shown some wear and tear due to ranking 4th in the AL in innings pitched.  In particular, Bobby Howry and Arthur Rhodes have not done well over the last ten games.  They have to right themselves as play starts in the second half.
4).  C.C. Sabathia has to have a better second half.  The big lefty is not a true #1 starter yet, but he has to improve on his performance over the last month.  Sabathia has to start giving the team 7 innings on a consistant basis. 
5).  Add a power right handed bat.  Three positions could use a offensive upgrade the rest of the season.  At first base, Ben Broussard is too streaky to be in the middle of the lineup for a contender.  Aaron Boone’s hitting struggles have been well documented, and in right field Jody Gerut started with a bang after being recalled, but now has settled into the way he hit in 2004.  A trade to improve any of those spots would be welcomed.
If GM Mark Shapiro can pry Wily Mo Pena out of Cincinnati for Gerut and some prospects, that would be excellent.  Pena is still just 23 years old and has power potential galore.  If the Reds don’t want him, it would be good to see him stay in Ohio and move up north. 
6).  Take advantage of the schedule.  The Indians play the least amount of games against teams with a .500 record of any of the Wild Card contenders.  Cleveland must beat up on these teams the rest of the way.
Let the games begin again. 

Z and Hughes are Good First Steps for Cavs

Cavaliers’ management did the right thing in reaching an agreement with center Zydrunas Ilgauskas for the next five years.  That move coupled with the signing of free agent guard Larry Hughes last week, gives the Cavs a big three on offense, and makes power forward Drew Gooden a complementary player.
Everyone in Cleveland can tell you what Ilgauskas cannot do:  He’s not quick, not a great defensive player, not a good passer, but the fact is he is one of the best centers in the NBA.  He averages 17 points per game, and more than 8 rebounds a contest as well.  He also forces the opposition to double team him when he gets the ball in the post.  Ask LeBron James how important that is.
Z is never going to be Bill Russell offensively, but if your point guard doesn’t carry a red cape on defense (Jeff McInnis), he does an acceptable job.  Remember, these fans were the same people belittling Brad Daugherty’s contribution to the team in the 90’s.  But when Daugherty’s back went bad, it sent the team reeling into a situation that didn’t right itself until James was drafted.
Getting Hughes improves the Cavs on both ends of the floor.  He is not a one dimensional shooter who cannot do anything else.  He can pass, he can rebound, and he was a 1st Team All Defensive Player.  In basketball coach speak, he is a player.  Having two guys like Hughes and James who have multiple hoop skills is better than adding a shooter who can’t play D (Michael Redd) or is on the wrong side of his career (Ray Allen). 
GM Danny Ferry’s next move must be to find a point guard because the team can’t expect Eric Snow to play 30 minutes per game.  Getting that position filled, along with finding a good back up big man, could get the Cavs into the post season for the first time since Shawn Kemp wore the horrible periwinkle blue and black jerseys the team wore before going back to the Wine and Gold before the 2003-04 season. 

The Key for The Tribe's Hopes: Win at Home

With all of the hand wringing about the Indians losing the first two games of a four game set against the Yankees, the team remains just one game out of a playoff spot heading into the last game prior to the All Star break.  The biggest question in whether or not the Tribe can make the post season is can they start to win at home.
Only the Red Sox have played more road games in the American League than the Indians, and only the White Sox have won more road games.  However, at Jacobs Field, Cleveland has just a 21-19 record, the poorest among the contenders for the Wild Card berth. 
After today, the Indians will have 74 games remaining, 41 of those at Jacobs Field.  It is said that good teams split their road games and win at home.  If a team does that, they will go 41-41 on the road.  To win 90 games, which would seem to insure a playoff spot, that same team must go 49-32 at home.  For the 2005 Indians to achieve that record, they will have to go 28-13 the rest of the way at Jacobs Field. 
Cleveland is already finished with Boston and Los Angeles at home this season.  They have only three games remaining at the Jake with Minnesota, Texas, and New York.  They played seven with the White Sox, including the first fur coming out of the break.  That is 16 of those 41 games.  The other 25 games are against teams around or below the .500 mark. 
So, it is possible to improve the home record.  It is imperative to come out of the break and play well against Chicago to set a tone for the second half.  Hopefully, the young Indians can take advantage of the home cooking down the home stretch of this long season.

The Tribe Heads to the Apple on a Downer

The fans are jumping of the Titanic after last night’s 7-3 loss to Detroit yesterday.  Heading home following the game last night, I heard people calling the talk shows saying now the Tribe will get swept in the upcoming four game series against the Yankees, how the team needs to make massive changes, and how left hander C.C. Sabathia should be traded for prospects.  This sort of talk amuses me.
It is true the team laid an egg last night, their first clunker in a while.  After sweeping a doubleheader on the 4th of July, Cleveland lost a close game on Tuesday, 3-2 before getting just a split in the four game set with Wednesday’s defeat.  Fans said the team didn’t capitalize on the momentum gained with the sweep on Monday.  Baseball followers will tell you that in this sport, momentum is based on your team’s starting pitcher.  Each game is different, and if you are facing good pitching, your streak can end.
The truth is the Indians are playing well, still just a game out of second in the AL Central Division.  But listen up fans…THERE STILL ARE 78 GAMES LEFT IN THE SEASON.  Being four games ahead or four games behind at this point in the season doesn’t matter.  There still is a long, long way to go in the season.  This team is a contender for post season play after half of the schedule has been completed.
This is not to say this is a perfect team.  The biggest need in my opinion is a right handed hitter who can hit in the middle of the lineup.  They need to upgrade the offense at third base, first base, or rightfield, so that is the direction they should look.  The pitching staff is fine at this point of the season, and Jason Davis’ peformance in Monday’s second game shows that reinforcements are there if injuries come up.
As for Sabathia, we must remember that he still has not reached his 25th birthday, and has a career record of 60-40.  Is he a top of the rotation pitcher at this point?  No, but he is definitely headed in that direction.  His most glaring need is to pitch his way out of trouble, instead of just rearing back and firing.  He will learn that.  A couple of weeks ago, no less than Curt Schilling took the big lefty aside to council him.  If Schilling thinks C.C. is the read deal, that’s good enough for me. 
If the Tribe can split four with New York, it’s a good series for them.  It will mean a 48-40 record at the All Star break, and they will be in the thick of the postseason race.

Tribe's Hot Stretch is Ignored Nationally

The hottest team in Major League Baseball is right here in Cleveland, but it is possible that fans of the Cleveland Indians are the only ones who know that.  The Tribe is 33-17 over their last 50 games, almost a third of a season.  If the Indians had started the season with that record, it would have been a major story.  However, a 13-19 start has relegated the team to flying under the radar.
After winning the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader with the Tigers, Cleveland finished the first half of the season with a 45-36 mark, on pace to win 90 games.  But when the national pundits talk about the American League wild card (The Tribe is not catching Chicago), you hear talk of Minnesota, Baltimore, New York, and Texas.  Forget about the fact the Indians have a better record than all of those teams excpet for the Twins. 
This team has moved from 13th in the AL in runs scored to eighth in a matter of three weeks.  Parlay that with a pitching staff that ranks in the top five in ERA, and has the league’s top bullpen, and you will find one of the better teams in the Junior Circuit. 
The media can ignore the Cleveland Indians all they want, but the team is for real.  Adding another productive right handed bat can make the Tribe a serious contender for the post season in 2005. 

Gilbert Leaves Cavs' Future in Inexperienced Hands

Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert is entering a crucial phase in the team’s history.  Their resident superstar, LeBron James has two years remaining on his contract (assuming the team will exercise the fourth year option), and could choose to move on to another team with a better chance to win a championship.
The people Gilbert chose to move the Cavs into position to win and win big, and therefore make James want to stay in Cleveland have no track record in their newly hired positions.  This is a tremendous risk on the new owner’s part.
Head Coach Mike Brown comes highly regarded, and apparently was considered one of the top assistant coaches in the NBA.  He is defensive oriented, which is greatly needed if you saw last year’s Cavs play, and he is very young, which will serve him well in relating to a very young roster.
But, most new head coaches have learning curves, and Brown cannot afford to have a long one.  He needs to win, and win quickly.  A playoff spot is what everyone needs to expect in the 2005-06 season, so Brown better adjust quick to his new position.  He does have a veteran assistant coach, Dick Egan, to help with the process, but still he has never been the guy in charge before.  There is a difference being the players friend as an assistant, and being the boss.
New General Manager Danny Ferry has been around the NBA his entire life, and has learned from some of the great basketball minds in the country.  But, he has never managed a salary cap, never made a trade with an experienced NBA GM, and never been the final word on talent evaluation.  Ferry is under the same pressure as Brown to win quickly.  Since he was aquired by the Cavs for the popular Ron Harper, if he doesn’t make it desirable to keep James in Cleveland, he could be the most hated sports figure in Cleveland sports history.  Not much pressure there!
Perhaps Brown is the next Gregg Popovich, and Ferry is the next Red Auerbach.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  However, with the franchise entering this crucial phase , it’s a tough spot to put people who have no proven track record. 

Tribe Fans: Don't Worry about the Sox

Looking at the standings in the American League, an Indians fan can be discouraged by the fact the team is 12-1/2 games behind the front running Chicago White Sox.  I look at the standings another way–

  1. Baltimore           42-31        —–
  2. Minnesota          39-32         2
  3. Cleveland           37-34         4
  4. Texas               37-34         4
  5. New York          37-36         5
  6. Detroit              35-34         5
  7. Toronto            37-37         5-1/2

These are the American League Wild Card Standings, and although it is much too early in the season to watch the scores of these teams every night, these are the clubs the Indians will be battling for one playoff spot.

In the East, the Red Sox will get Curt Schilling back and will add another arm for their bullpen in a trade, so the Orioles best chance is the Wild Card.  In the Central, no one is catching the Pale Hose unless they suffer a monumental collapse, so the rest of the division’s best hope is the extra team in the postseason.  The Angels look to be the class of the West, especially after sweeping the Rangers this past week. 

So, Tribe fans, forget about Chicago and check once a week on where Cleveland ranks with those teams I just listed. 

The other thing that concerns me about Eric Wedge’s crew is the amount of work for one of the best bullpens in the AL.  The Tribe ranks in the top four in the league in innings pitched by relievers, so overwork is starting to be a concern.  Wedge needs his starters to go longer in games, so the pen only has to work an inning or two each night. 


Don't Despair after Two Tribe Losses

The usual hand wringing on Cleveland sportstalk radio has begun with the Tribe’s losses in the first two games of the Boston series.  After a tremendous comeback from being down 9-4 on Monday, the Indians were smoked yesterday losing 9-2.  Before you think this is the same as last season, relax just a bit.

The key games for the Indians are tonight and this weekend.  It does no good to follow up a nine game winning streak with a six or seven game losing skein.  So, if Cleveland can salvage one game against the BoSox tonight and then take two of three from the Reds this weekend, that will be 12 wins in 16 games and we can all live with that.

Face it, the Sox are the World Champions.  It is not an embarassment to lose to them.  But, the Tribe does play them in Boston next week, so it would be nice to pick up a win against them at Jacobs Field. 

The Indians pitched well for the first 67 games of the year, but that doesn’t stop people from having the opinion that the true performance of the hurlers is the last two nights.  In reality, the Tribe has solid starting pitching, a very good bullpen, and an offense that is starting to score runs.  That bodes well over the long haul.

Relax, Tribe fans.  Over the last 39 games, almost one quarter of the season, the Indians are 25-14.  They have done it playing some of the better teams in baseball, the White Sox, Twins, Angels, and two of the NL West teams they played (Padres and Diamondbacks) are above .500. 

It says here the Indians will be battling for the Wild Card spot against teams like Minnesota, Baltimore, Detroit, New York, and Texas.  If they can add another bat, preferably a right handed hitter, they will be in that race for a long time.