Thursday, September 6, 2007

Speed Bump

Cleveland couldn't keep up with Anaheim's bats tonight, losing 10-3 to Cali's version of Carmona. Escobar continued his breakout season against the Tribe on Thursday, holding them to 3 runs and getting plenty of support from his offense.

Tribe batters had mixed success against Escobar, but fell short of posting a break-out inning. Escobar needed 109 pitches to go just 5.2 innings, but managed to strike out 8 Indians along the way.

Tonight was the first time I've seen Escobar pitch live this year, but I can see why he's been so successful. The dude didn't blink all night; he just kept getting out of jams. In the 3rd inning, he gave up two straight doubles and a run, but turned around to K Grady swinging. Then he walked Gutz and Hafner to load the bases, but got Victor swinging to finally end the inning.

The Tribe was kept off balance most of the night as Escobar made good use of his changeup to fool batters. I hardly ever provide glowing commentary for the opposing pitcher, but I was genuinely impressed with Escobar tonight; he's a pitcher to be reckoned with down the road.

After tossing a complete game shut-out in Chicago in his last start, Byrd just didn't have it tonight. The wheels came off pretty abruptly for the Cobra in the 5th. Byrd gave up 4 runs on 4 hits, a walk, and a beanball as Anaheim took the lead for good. In a nutshell, Paul hung a lot of balls, struggled with his control, and definitely looked a little gassed (despite being at only 82 pitches).

This normally doesn't happen until the 6th or 7th inning for him, but it's very possible his complete game last week caught up to him tonight. Hopefully this was just a rare off-night for the Cobra.

I'm always excited when the Tribe is playing, but I don't think I've been this pumped for a series since the last time we played the Motor City Kitties in mid-August. Anaheim is the first series against a playoff contender the Tribe has played since then. It will be interesting to see how Cleveland's hot streak translates against an elite team. Personally, I'd be satisfied with a split, given the lopsided pitching match ups of the first two games (Byrd vs. Escobar, Westbrook vs. Lackey).

There were some positive things from Game 1:

Barfield started at 2b, going 1-3 at the plate. Josh did a good job of moving a runner over to third to set up a possible sac-fly in the 3rd inning; no small task since he has struggled to even make contact at times.

Gutz continued to be awesome, hitting his 11th tater of the season (the Pope wrote back by the way, apparently Frankie isn't eligible for sainthood yet).

Peralta's play in the 4th inning was very Omar-esque. He took a couple steps to his left, dove towards the streaking ball, gloved it, and finished the play from his stomach with a toss toBarfield. Not the most significant play of the game, but probably the coolest.

And the Tribe is still 6 games up on Detroit.

Pronk Lives

It's been a strange year for Travis Hafner. After posting an epic 1.050 OPS over the last two seasons, Hafner has managed only a .829 OPS on the season thus far. Not too bad, but well below his usual standards. He's certainly been productive with 85 RBI and 89 BB (tied for 7th in MLB), but the intimidation factor hasn't quite been there in 2007. Yeah...I don't think that's going to be a problem anymore.

Check out the stat line from Pronk's last 15 games:

























The Tribe went 13-2 in those games, averaging 5.73 runs per game in that span.

I've been curious all year as to whether Hafner was simply putting too much pressure on himself, (contract negotiations, a pennant race, and a team-wide slump will do that to a guy used to carrying an offense), but I think he's also had some nagging injuries that just came to the forefront. Hafner had injured his hamstring and knee sliding into a base on August 2, but may have also had other injuries during the season that the fans never heard about.

Whatever the cause, Hafner seems as healthy and focused as he was when he posted a 1.021 OPS over 22 games in April.

Many analysts are saying a boost in production from Hafner is vital to the Tribe doing well in October this season. I wouldn't go so far as to say Cleveland may be sunk without Hafner circa 2006 (far from it, actually), but anything that can take the pressure off of Victor to carry the offense in September (and beyond) is a good thing. Another positive to the timing of Hafner's rebound is Garko's recent slump. Garko has resembled Hafner Lite at times this season, but has posted just a .645 OPS in his last 30 games. Judging by how the offense scuffled for a large part of the year when Hafner was at his worst, it seems kind of pointless to dispute the value of his renewed production.

Cleveland with a mediocre Hafner (by Pronk standards) is a darn good team. Cleveland with a healthy, happy, WWF Heavyweight Champion Hafner is just scary. Welcome back, Pronk.


Shoppach's Fu Manchu is nothing short of awe inspiring. It's like he's channeling the spirit of Jason Varitek or something. I've been campaigning to get the entire team to sport Fu Manchu's this season because facial hair is obviously at the top of the list when it comes to playing gritty baseball. Grit Manchu.

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