Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's Only June....

The Tribe played a heart breaker on Monday at the Jake when the Mariners did everything but hand them the win. Despite racking up a monster 16 hits and 7 runs, Cleveland still fell short by a run. The game appeared to be lost after Paul Byrd decided to challenge the offense, giving up 7 ER on 11 hits over just 4 innings. Tonight marked the first time this season the Cobra has failed to go at least 6 innings in a start. Byrd had no trouble finding the strikezone, but made an uncharacteristic number of mistakes, often elevating pitches for a scorching Mariners offense to knock all over the yard. Three of those poor pitches ended up as souvenirs, plating 6 of the Mariners' 8 runs. Raul Ibañez (posing as a poor-man's Magglio Ordoñez) was responsible for two of those homers.

Fernando Cabrera was tagged to take one for the team, down by 7 after 4 innings played, but threw 3 innings of filth at the Mariners, allowing the Tribe to start an exciting rally. In an entertaining twist, the Tribe's bats really started to heat up after a flock of seagulls started parading around the outfield. Cleveland's 16 inning scoreless drought ended with the appearance of the Rally Gulls, go figure. It was a lot of fun watching the Mariners' outfielders have to navigate through the avian obstacle to make plays on the ball. I was worried Hargrove was going to flag down an umpire and complain about poor visibility for his players (yes, I'm still bitter about that series). The Jake's grounds crew must have taken some snowblowers to the birds or something, because they were mostly gone when the Indian's took the field next inning.

I honestly wasn't phased with a 7 run deficit, that's how good the offense has been this year. Plus, there's been something nostalgic about the Jake this year, at least as a fan (judging by the Tribe's record at home, they can relate). The best way to describe it is a giddy sense of confidence that the home team is always in the game, even if they're down by 7 in the 5th. The offense hasn't really exuded that kind of aura at home since before the rebuilding era when the team would just club the opposition into submission. Mike Hargrove looked nervous as hell watching Cleveland chip away at his starter (and half the bullpen) before the bleeding finally stopped; Grover's seen this show before.

Some positive things to take away were Barfield and Shoppach combining for 5 hits and 3 runs, Martinez coming off the bench to deliver two clutch hits late in the game, and Casey "MVP" Blake going 3-5 to extend his league high hitting streak to 20 games. Hafner even had a nice game, despite one of his two hits falling in as a bloop pop-up. As I've said before, Hafner is too good a hitter to perform so poorly all season. He does not seem to striking out on those ugly breaking pitches as much anymore and is still making strong contact with the ball. Looking at his stats from 2005, Hafner went through several mini-slumps before exploding in July and finishing the season with a .305 BA, 33 HR, and a 1.003 OPS. Did Hafner set the bar too high with his ridiculous 2006 season (.308, 42, 1.097)? I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but he was certainly the most consistent he's been his entire career, in addition to posting a career year. If July rolls around and Hafner hasn't emerged from his slump, there may be a serious cause for concern.

The only player in a worse slump than Hafner right now is Garko, who probably feels like crap after tonight (deservedly so). Garko has now left the bases loaded thrice in the last two games, twice tonight. A single in any one of those three at bats would likely have resulted in an Indians win. Fortunately, Garko is not expected to be one of the keystones of the offense (like Hafner) and has the luxury (or punishment, in this case) of getting extra days off to straighten himself out. Garko's slump really isn't that bad, his timing has just been horrible; i.e. it's cost the team a couple wins. Look for him to return to form soon as well.

Tonight really was a weird game, but you can't really blame any one player for the loss. If you were to blame Garko for leaving so many runners in scoring position, you might as well blame Byrd for giving up one too many homers, or Wedge for using the closer in a non-save situation, yet again. Actually, I'm going to go ahead and blame Wedge for that anyway because it's stupid and never works out. Idiot.

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