Saturday, August 18, 2007

Signs of Life

The Tribe took another positive step in breaking free of their offensive slump by crushing Tampa 8-2 on Saturday. Asdrubal "Astrocab" Cabrera hit his first career homerun off of Jason Hammel with two on in the 2nd inning to get things started. Cabrera turned on a ball inside, about belt-high, launching it to right-center field. The Tribe never surrendered the lead after that, as Jake Westbrook produced another quality outing for his fourth win of the year.

Westbrook has been a man possessed in his last 5 starts, going 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA. I've sung the praises of Westbrook many a time on this blog, but his contributions can not be understated. Jake has elevated his game to resume his role as the team's third starter and has been a model of consistency during a stretch where the offense has been consistently bad.
Jake is dishing out some of the best baseball of his career at exactly the right time, making for one nasty 1-2-3 lineup with C.C., Carmona, and Westbrook. Cleveland's rotation was serviceable without Westbrook at 100%, but is starting to look more and more like a playoff caliber staff.

The offensive outburst was a refreshing change of pace after seeing the team struggle against Edwin Jackson (again) last night. I'm convinced the offense is heading in the right direction, but they still seem to have one foot mired in the slump. The most recent example can be cited from the first two Tampa Bay games.

Cleveland's approach against Jackson was terrible; he has a history of control problems and his last start was no different. Rather than force Jackson to make his pitches and throw strikes (he walked 5 over 6 IP), batters chose to swing early in the count (sometimes at the first pitch) leading to an easy ground-out or pop-up with runners in scoring position.

So despite accumulating 17 baserunners (12 H, 5 BB) on Friday, only 2 of those runners crossed homeplate; about 12% of their total runners. You could argue that Jackson really isn't that bad and has fooled the Tribe before, but the most frustrating part for me is the failure of the batters to adjust their approach and capitalize on more of their scoring opportunities. Byrd should not have had to hold Tampa Bay to one run in order to win that game.

Performances like these remind me that the offense still isn't quite right. Until the team can consistently cash in on the many opportunities the offense creates, they'll have a hard time holding on to their meager lead.

On the bright side, Cleveland showed no mercy against Tampa's pitching staff tonight, scoring 47% of their 17 baserunners. The 1-9 approach was in full force tonight, with every starter getting at least one hit. After extending their longest winning streak since the All Star Break to 3 games, the true test will be if the offense can show up for a second straight game to support their oft-neglected ace.

While Detroit is tied up with 8 games against the Yankees, Cleveland gets to play Tampa Bay and Kansas City for 6 games. Even I think playing the Yankees that many times in two weeks is excessive, but I guess that's just payback for all the trouble those snowed-out games have caused for Cleveland. With all the motivational soundbites floating around the post-game interviews lately, now is the time to act.

In the midst of a modest 3 game win streak, the Tribe has already regained the division lead they had before their last series against New York. Oh, the irony.

On Astrocab

It's way too early to make any sweeping proclamations on the recently promoted Astrocab (see Francisco, Ben), but you can already see his potential as a major leaguer. Asdrubal appears to be more patient at the plate than Barfield, or at least more selective with his pitches. The microscopic sample size for Cabrera shows 3.1 pitches per plate appearance, compared to Barfield's 3.7 P/PA. Asdrubal's power also comes as-advertised, with 3 of his 5 hits going for extra bases. The aspect of Asdrubal's game that has me wowed is his defense. This kid's glove is every bit as slick as Barfield's, maybe better.

Cabrera has started at secondbase for three consecutive games now, which has to be troublesome to Barfield. I think as long as Cabrera keeps contributing on offense, he'll get the nod over Barfield at second. I'm certainly not calling for Barfield to be replaced, but I would like to see him fix the holes in his approach at the plate before he returns as the team's regular secondbaseman. Even though I'm a fan of Cabrera, I still don't see him starting 2008 with Cleveland.

If he is successful the remainder of this season, it will certainly put pressure on the Front Office to play him, but the fact that Andy Marte is out of options next year is going to be a key roster issue for 2008. Cabrera is still very young and has many option years left, so while his playing in AAA all year may seem unfair (depending on how he does this season), the Tribe can't just dump Marte without giving him a legitimate shot at success in the Majors. I'll go into more detail on the 2008 infield in a future post.

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