Sunday, June 24, 2007

Escape from D.C.

The Indians must have been feeling charitable this weekend because they just gave away two games to the pathetic Nationals. The Tribe really deserved to get swept, but Victor Martinez decided to give Chad Cordero a new reason to lose sleep after Game 2. You can't get too down on the team though; they ran into Washington's two aces (/checks boxscores), Jason Simontacchi and Matt Chico. Wait, what?

The Tribe seems to have an uncanny ability to make crappy, National League, journeyman pitchers look like perrenial All-Stars. Whatever happened to Jamie Moyer? At least I knew what to expect when we faced him, but Simontacchi? My theory is the Indians ate at RFK before each game this series because I can say from experience the food there is not pleasant.

I was at Saturday's game and I was genuinely impressed with the number of Tribe fans in attendance. We were loud, at least on the few occasions there was something to cheer about. All I can say is I'm very grateful Victor went all Chuck Norris on Chad Cordero and that Nook Logan has a short attention span (he got thrown out rounding third to end the game); that would have been quite a long walk of shame after the ruckus we made during that game. Props to the guy in front of my row making old-school Indian war whoops, well played sir.

Seriously though, the Tribe has been struggling the entire month, so the Nats series was essentially more of the same. On one hand, the pitching was great. Carmona, Byrd, and Westbrook all provided quality starts, giving up no more than 3 runs in any game. The bullpen didn't blow any of the games, (not that there was ever a lead to be blown) and got the job done. Gutierrez continued his campaign for starting right fielder, collecting 5 hits in 9 ABs and flashing the leather on defense.

Cleveland has been averaging 4.6 runs per game over the 22 games played in June so far. They were held to 3 runs or less in 10 of those games. With 6 games remaining in June, the Tribe has gone 10-12 and finished 9-9 in interleague play. As of Sunday, Cleveland is sitting 2 games behind Detroit, who are currently on a 7 game winning streak. Oh, and here's a fun stat: Kansas City and Minnesota went 10-8 and 11-7 in interleague play, respectively. The White Sox still sucked (4-14), but you already knew that.

Time to panic? For the second time this season, no. Looking at Cleveland's schedule this year, they have played 25 total series, including the two Seattle make-ups, and 74 games. The Tribe has only lost three series to sub-.500 teams (KC, Cincy, and DC). I intentionally left out the Yankees series, since I don't think it would be fair to the Tribe to classify them with those other three teams. Cleveland has only been swept once so far this year, at Yankee Stadium in April. Despite Detroit's recent 7-game win streak and Cleveland's mediocre play, they are only 2 games back.

It's pretty fair to say Wedge's teams tend to catch fire in the second half, so if they can at least keep Detroit close, I'm not going to be too worried at this point. The next homestand is crucial though, as the offense needs to get back on track and play strong leading up to the All-Star break. Interleague is done and two very winnable series with Oakland and Tampa Bay start Monday, so try to get it together guys.

Welcome Back Jake

The key performance from this weekend was Westbrook's return from the DL, giving up only 3 runs over 7 IP with a 13-6 groundball-flyball ratio. Jake looked very comfortable in his first start back, consistently finding the strikezone (60-28 strike-ball ratio) and making several clean plays off the mound. Even though he was facing a very weak lineup, his technique and pitch movement looked solid and I think he will be even sharper in his next start.

Jason Stanford is still with the team, but it will be interesting to see what Shapiro does with him. He could be a nice piece in a trade package for a veteran reliever, but Shap has given no indication of any serious trade activity, as usual. There are so many trade scenarios (involving Stanford, Lee, prospects, etc.) and such a small sample size for Stanford this year, that it would be difficult to even speculate on the situation right now. I'm not sure the team needs a trade, but the bullpen could use another veteran pitcher to share the load with Betancourt. Hernandez was supposed to be that guy, but he obviously didn't have enough left in the tank to be of any use.

I think the outfield is set unless a team ends up having a firesale and Shapiro deems it appropriate to deal some spare parts from the minors. Unless Gutierrez's numbers fall off a cliff in a couple weeks, he should be here to stay. Even though Nixon doesn't deserve much playing time at this point, he can still provide a pure platoon with Michaels to keep Wedge happy.

Wedge has shown no signs of deviating from the platoon tactics either, with an especially egregious substitution in a tight game. Michaels had gone 2-2 on the night, accounting for half the team's hits so far. The Nats brought out a righty to pitch with a man on first, so of course Nixon got to face him instead of J-Mike. Nixon grounds out into a double play to end the inning. Whatever happened to going with your gut sometimes? Aren't managers allowed to go against the numbers on occasion? Apparently Wedge didn't trust Nixon's defense that day though, substituting him for AAA call-up Ben Francisco after one inning. Good grief.


Random Trivia: The 1989 classic Major League was nominated for Best Foreign Film by the Japanese Film Academy. See, someone beside Cleveland fans like that movie.

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