Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Two in a Row....

How do you follow up a complete game shutout? Well, at the rate the Tribe has been going, a win would have been sufficient. Jake Westbrook had other plans though, dumping a cooler of Haterade all over the red-hot Chi Sox on Tuesday. Jake allowed just 2 baserunners all night, giving up a run in the first. He struck out 5 over 8 IP and walked none. Tonight marks the third straight start Westbrook has gone at least 6 innings and held the opposition to 2 runs or less. Below are Westbrook's splits for his last three starts:

Opponent IP H BB K ERA WHIP GB-FB Outs
Minnesota 7 4 3 3 -- -- 11-7
Texas 6 5 1 5 -- -- 6-7
Chicago 8 2 0 5 -- -- 13-6

1.29 .71

I've been waiting on Westbrook to get back in business all season and I think he's finally recovered from his trip to the DL. Some may argue that he's been healthy since late June, but that is not necessarily true. When Westbrook came off the DL, he had to work his way back into his usual routine and re-adjust to facing major league hitters. Everybody needs consistent practice to stay on top of their game, even professional athletes (especially MLB pitchers). One of Westbrook's main issues was finding the touch needed to use his sinkerball effectively; his renewed confidence in the sinker is a big part of his current success.

The most significant indicator that Jake has found his groove is his consistency. Before the three starts listed above, Jake had trouble posting two quality starts in a row and visibly struggled with his command. It took a while, but the old Westbrook is back.

It's still too early to make the call on Laffey, but in my opinion, the Indians have a playoff caliber starting rotation right now. The starters have posted a 2.51 ERA over the last 14 games and have shown no signs of slowing down (that even includes Sleepy Kitten's 7 run implosion against Boston). When the offense wakes up (you know it will, don't kid yourself) Cleveland is going to be a pretty scary playoff contender. I've always endorsed the old saying "good pitching beats good hitting" and Cleveland is in a position to have both going into August and September.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to the Cobra for his continued awesomeness (9 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 K at Minnesota), way to go Paul.

On the Offense

If I was qualified and had the time, I'd love to analyze video from the Tribe's prolonged offensive slump to see where they've gone wrong. Since I am neither qualified, nor unemployed, I'll just have to wing it (ie. this a pretty subjective analysis based on what I've seen). I'm probably seeing the same thing as most fans in that the Tribe hitters have been pressing. This problem is only magnified when the opposing pitcher has just average pitches and a track record to match.

Patience and focus seem to go out the window during a bad slump like this, giving way to the feeling that each player needs to make a big play, when in fact, no one can because they're too stressed out to think straight. Bad pitches tend to look a lot better when you're desperate for a hit, allowing even mediocre pitchers to "elevate" their game. If you don't buckle down and challenge a pitcher (make him throw strikes, throw more pitches per AB, make that perfect pitch for a K, etc.) then even some AAAA kid can look like an ace.

Tonight's game against Chicago and John Danks was a good example of the two approaches. Danks has been pretty crappy this season, but managed to hold the Tribe hitless through 4 innings. This scenario has been played out several times during the slump. So the 5th inning roles around, no score, no hits. Danks has been making guys like Hafner and Garko look stupid with a pretty tame slider, he's cruising. Then the Tribe manages to get three quality at-bats from Peralta, Michaels, and Sizemore. Hallelujah, 2 runs score! Why?

Well, to start with, the hitters looked relaxed. They'd seen Danks twice before and knew what to expect. They waited for their pitch and made the pitcher try to beat them. They didn't flail at ugly pitches that no one could hit anyway, but adjusted to what was thrown their way. Michaels and Sizemore shortened up their swings considerably and were rewarded with a double and RBI single, respectively. Not a huge inning numerically, but a big inning for the players' confidence. In three ABs, they broke up the no-hitter, forced the pitcher to throw the most pitches he'd thrown all game in an inning (was at 80 by then), and gave Jake the lead. Up until that inning, a lot of players were trying to club the ball over the fence each time, but all they got were some long fly balls.

If the Tribe would just try and settle for a single more often, they'd extend their ABs per inning, resulting in more runs scored than just hitting for flat-out power all the time. A more scientific comparison of the two approaches has probably been done, but the bottom line is that Cleveland consistently tries to do too much with each AB. If there's a guy on second, do you really have to jack one into the bleachers or even off the wall? Uh, no. Singles are your friend with RISP (Note: yeah, I know it takes a double to get Pronk or Vic home from second, but you get the point).

I'm always hesitant to blame anyone specifically when it comes to a hitters failure to break out of an extended slump, since I have no actual experience playing or coaching. These guys know how to hit consistently, otherwise they wouldn't be in the majors (obviously), but it makes you wonder what the problem is, be it lack of confidence, team chemistry, or poor coaching. It's good to keep in mind that the same hitting coach who is at the center of the slump, was also there before the slump (5th in MLB in runs scored). I'd probably blame the hitting coach or the manager before anyone else though. Like I said, the hitters have the ability, but need help getting past the mental roadblocks that accompany such a brutal season.

AstroCab Called Up

Asdrubal Cabrera was called up from AAA Buffalo on Tuesday after Mike Rouse was designated for assignment. Rouse was the definition of disposable this season, but Cabrera getting called up in his place provides some interesting possibilities. Odds are, if you're not a hardcore fan or minor league aficionado, you haven't heard of Asdrubal since the Eduardo Perez trade. AstroCab had made great strides offensively in AAA and AA before getting the call and is a wizard defensively. He is a natural shortstop, but saw a few starts at secondbase this season. I'll break down how the new arrival fits into the roster once I see how Wedge uses him, but I have a hunch Barfield is the one who will be affected the most by the promotion.

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