Saturday, September 1, 2007

Locked In

Javier Vazquez became the latest pitcher left in Cleveland's wake, as his team lost 7-0 on Saturday. The Tribe pushed their winning streak to 8 in a row behind one of Paul Byrd's finest starts of the season. Byrd held the Pale Hose to 4 hits over 9 innings for the 16th complete game and 6th shutout of his career. Byrd has built a 15-5 record this year behind a consistent approach, very few walks (23), and generous run support. Casey Blake continued his recent hot streak with a pair of hits and RBI. Blake has had two hits in 5 of his last 7 games. Shoppach and Pronk contributed two more RBI, with Gutz rounding out the score with his 10th homerun of the season.

The Tribe has scored at least 5 runs in 7 of its last 8 games and is sporting a .476 batting average with 2 outs and RISP six games into their current homestand. The last time Cleveland won 8 games in a row was June 2005.

Looking ahead, Cleveland has 27 games remaining after Saturday's ChiSox game. The majority of those games will be on the road (17) and 14 will be against teams with a winning record. The combined win percentage of their September opposition is .505. Key series against Anaheim (4 games), Detroit (3 games), and Seattle (4 games) make up 40% of their remaining schedule, so this is arguably one of the most difficult stretches the Tribe has faced so far. Fortunately for Cleveland, they've gotten hot at the perfect time. With a 5.5 game buffer over Detroit and a renewed confidence and focus, Cleveland won't be backing down this time around. Lets go, Tribe.

On Opportunities

Gutierrez is averaging a homerun every 19 at-bats with a solid .838 OPS. The rookie outfielder seems to have shaken his former platoon role, with Nixon relegated to the bench for most of August. Nixon has only started in 2 of the teams last 12 games, despite an .813 OPS in June (his best month by far). It's possible Wedge is resting Nixon to parlay any late-season fatigue, but it's more likely Wedge was waiting on Gutz to prove he deserved more than just a platoon role. While he may struggle against righties (.743 OPS), he mashes lefties (.920 OPS) and features outstanding range and a cannon for an arm. Judging by the way he's stuck around in a crowded outfield this season and the recent surge in playing time, the starting right field job is Frankie's to lose.

Another rookie who has gotten an extended starting gig this month is shortstop turned secondbaseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera was initially promoted as a possible utility infielder, but with Chris Gomez holding his own in that role, Cabrera was given a few starts at second in place of the offensively challenged Barfield....and never left. I was all ready to break down Cabrera's stats so far, but hadn't realized until now just how small his sample size really is. Anybody else feel like AstroCab has had more than 66 ABs and 15 starts? When a player's batting average drops 30 points in the span of two games, it might be a bit early to pass judgement on him just yet.

It's interesting that both of the Tribe's young secondbasemen have a strong tendency to not earn walks. Cabrera only has a .329 OBP and just 2 BB. Whether or not the rookie can maintain a respectable OBP through a high number of hits remains to be seen, but he has shown decent power for a middle infielder with a .485 SLG and 2 HR.

It's been a pretty crazy season so far, but watching AstroCab play has probably been one of the highlights. He's the most exciting defender outside of Sizemore and Barfield and it's always fun to see the type of flat-out effort the younger guys bring each game.

Barfield has had approximately 3 starts since August 11, with Cabrera pinch-hitting for him in two of those games. I could see the reduction in playing time to work on his offense, but the fact that he isn't even allowed 4 plate appearances in those games indicates he still has a long way to go before he regains the manager's trust. It's encouraging to see him in the starting lineup again though, if only in a minor role. J-Barf's future with the team is still bright, but his role this season is a little fuzzy.

On Perspective

Baseball has a tendency to make it's fans look foolish. Raise your hand if you were seriously wondering if the Tribe's offense was ever going to get back on track this season. If this were an actual demonstration and not just a column cliché, there would probably be quite a few hands in the air. Amid cries of doom and "we don't deserve first place" and inquiries about football season, the team slowly, but surely, dragged itself out of the mud. First a few series wins, then a winning record on the month, the second half, and suddenly, with 8 straight wins and a 5.5 game division lead in hand, all is forgiven. Baseball is weird like that.

Random Musings

I was watching Twinkie Scott Baker go for a perfect game in the 9th inning the other night against Kansas City. Unfortunately, he lost the perfect game with a leadoff walk and then gave up a single to pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney with two outs to go. Before each of the above events transpired, the Minnesota announcer had the audacity to utter the words "perfect" and "no-hitter" at least five times. I found myself shouting at the game feed over just how idiotic it is to speak these words during a perfect game, especially if the pitcher's on your own team. If I were in that booth with them and heard them say that, I probably would have ripped off my headset and hit him with a flying tackle. Isn't that what the interns are for, to prevent blasphemous and jinxing remarks by moron announcers? What is wrong with people, seriously.

A fan at the Jake had a sign that read "Datz Awesome" (after bench coach Jeff Datz) the other night. Good stuff.

As if Shoppach couldn't get any grittier, he is now the proud owner of a Jason Varitek goatee.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on the performance of his bullpen this season:

It's the same thing every day. It's like your kid is 2 years old and he likes Barney. And you put that little [expletive] down there for three hours watching that [expletive] back and forth, back and forth, the same song for six hours. That's what I've been doing since April. Same [expletive] thing. Rewind it. 'You OK? Yeah, OK, here's your bottle, keep watching Barney'.

A few games after that quote came out, that same little [expletive] coughed up 6 runs to Cleveland in the 8th inning for the loss.

This one's for you Ozzie.

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