Sunday, July 22, 2007

This One's For the Pessimists

I'm back from my trip to the Motherland, aka Lyndhurst, Ohio. I was fortunate enough to go to the Cleveland-Chicago game on July 17 and see Garko slay the Sox in extra innings. Two of the three games I've been to this year (D.C., Texas @ Cle.) have ended in walk off wins; kind of a strange stroke of luck (although we lost each series in the end, hmmm). A lot's gone down while I've been away, so on to the latest from the Tribe....

Cleveland has played 97 games in the 2007 season with 65 remaining. The second half of the season is where things tend to get interesting, as the true fight for a playoff berth really takes off. Under manager Eric Wedge, Cleveland has arguably played their best baseball in the second half. Going into the All Star break with 52 wins (just a game behind Detroit) is unprecedented for a Wedgie team. Below is a breakdown of the team under Wedge’s tenure, from 2004 to 2006:

Year Split
2004 1st Half
42 45 474 482 .483

2nd Half
38 37 384 375 .507
2005 1st Half
47 41 406 364 .534

2nd Half
46 28 384 278 .622
2006 1st Half
40 47 488 443 .460

2nd Half
38 37 382 339 .507
2007 1st Half
52 36 471 414 .591

I excluded the 2003 season under Wedge because the team was still in full rebuilding mode and would only skew the data for the teams who had a realistic chance of contending, playoffs or otherwise.

It may be a stretch to compare these teams directly, but the basic structure and core players have been very similar from 2004 to 2007, so I think it’s fair for just a rough comparison. Despite changes around the core, this particular team of players under Wedge has a distinct pattern of performing better in the second half of the season.

Every Wedgie team has finished with a better win percentage in the second half than in the first half. A rough calculation has Cleveland finishing around 95 wins if they continue to win games at their current pace. They are already playing 3 games above their projected record, according to THT, and are only 1.5 games behind Detroit as I write this. Combine that with the 3rd best record in the majors and Tribe fans have reason to be optimistic. Here are the AL Central standings as of July 22:

Team W L PCT GB vs Cent.
Detroit 58 38 .604
Cleveland 57 40 .588 1.5 21-12
Minnesota 51 47 .520 8 14-20
Chicago 43 54 .443 15.5 17-16
Kansas City 43 54 .443 15.5 13-21

Cleveland also boasts one of the best intra-division records in the AL at 21-12. I posted a theory earlier in the season that the rest of the Central would beat up on each other, allowing the Tribe to move ahead of the pack. Looking at the standings, the theory seems to be holding up, although Detroit has recently closed the gap due to the Tribe’s poor play in the last Detroit and Chicago series’. A key difference so far has been how Cleveland (9-9) and Detroit (14-4) performed in interleague games this year.

Some fans may point out Detroit is only positioned to become stronger in the second half and Cleveland has yet to distance themselves from their division rival. This is true; Detroit has already gotten Kenny Rogers back and Zumaya and Rodney should be back later in the season to bolster their bullpen.

Cleveland has gotten some extra pitching help since the All Star break, though.

Westbrook is healthy again and while he hasn’t been particularly dominant, he has performed close to his career numbers. Jake has gone at least 6 innings in his five post DL starts, with an era of 4.50 and no wins. Remove his start against Detroit (career 6.59 era in 15 starts) where he gave up 5 runs over 7 IP and Jake’s era drops to 3.81 in his last five games. He’s really been a victim of poor run support in some of his better starts, but should start collecting wins as the law of averages takes over (the offense can’t go cold for every start).

Perez has pitched 29 innings this season and posted a 1.86 era, 34 Ks, and a .86 whip. The front office is currently pursuing another reliever to share the load with bullpen ace Betancourt, but Perez may be the answer they were looking for (he started the season in AAA). Perez was used primarily as a long reliever until he became a late inning regular in late June. He is currently the Tribe’s go-to pitcher for close games and is arguably the best pitcher in the bullpen right now.

Factor in a rebounding Hafner and the possible production from Gutierrez and Francisco in the outfield and the offense should be even better in the second half.

This is obviously a very simplistic evaluation of the team's performance, but it's encouraging nontheless.

In Other News

I'll be the first to admit that I've been drinking the Kansas City Kool Aid this year, proclaiming them contenders in 2 years, but they have been a team to be recokoned with lately. After taking two of three from Boston, K.C. has moved into a 3rd place tie with Chicago in the AL Central with a 43-54 record. While I hadn't printed it on this site, I had a strong feeling that the Royals would challenge Chicago for 3rd place this year. Given how much I despise Chicago, it would be great to see Buddy Bell and the Royals shove them into the basement.

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