Thursday, June 17, 2010

Indians State of the Team

The Cleveland Indians

Current Record: 25-39 (5th AL

Manager: Manny Acta

Team Outlook: This year is playing out as it was supposed to: awful. This was the year where there really were no expectations. The past couple of years this team was supposed to make a run into the playoffs only to run into adversity and see it all crash down. In a rebuilding year, the Indians are last in the Majors in attendance. As one of the few dedicated Tribe fans left, it disappoints me. This fan base was one of the best in the Majors, (the number 455 was actually retired as "The Fans") but now going to games is almost depressing.

The pitching staff is not good. There really isn’t another way to say it. While a lot of the starters have shown a flash of brilliance, there is no consistency. Westbrook is going to give you some shutout innings, but the very next inning will be terrible. Carmona seems to be improving, but his confidence is still shot. He was sent down to rookie ball last season. Rookie. At one point he was considered to be our future ace of the staff. Don’t expect another year like 2007 out of him. Talbot seems serviceable, but he is at best a number 4 starter on another staff; add that to the fact that we traded Kelly Shoppach for him seems to indicate it was a solid trade. David Huff does not have it. I was at the game on Sunday when he pitched against Stephen Strasburg, (who looked absolutely amazing by the way) and he just does not have the stuff. It could be argued that this was the biggest game of his career and that he had to bring his A-game. ESPN said it was the second highest attendance the Indians would have all season, the game was nationally televised, and he was going head-to-head with one of the most hyped players of all time. Huff pitched well for the first couple of innings but you could tell that he was trying harder than he ever had before. By about the fifth inning, he was wiped. He had nothing left in the tank. You have to expect more out of your starters than five innings if you expect to win, and he just couldn’t do it. Our crop of starting pitchers really just is not that talented and I really do not see any of these guys becoming head of the staff pitchers.

Our starters are not good but I do think our bullpen has a chance to be good in the future. Tony Sipp started the year looking very good but he has struggled as of late. Rafael Perez was one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game in 2007 and I hope he returns to form. Chris Perez gives up a few too many hits for my liking to be a shut-down closer, but he is still young and has time to improve. Joe Smith is a serviceable set-up man if he can stay healthy. I really like the move of calling up Frank Herrmann, he seems to really be finding his own as a solid middle relief man. Don’t expect him to be an All-star but I can see him continuing to help our staff or someone else’s for a long time. I really wish Acta would move Masterson back to the bullpen. He has solid stuff, he really does, but he hasn’t given a legitimate reason to stay in the rotation. In Boston he was really good in the bullpen and I think it would really help secure ours if we moved him back.

Pitchers can only do so much; they need offensive and defensive help from the position players. Right now, our pitchers are not getting any help. Our defense is awful. The Indians have the fourth most errors in the Majors with 48 and are ranked 23rd in fielding percentage. Our problems start at third base. Jhonny Peralta cannot handle the hot corner, he can’t. The Tribe will not succeed as long as he is our starting third baseman. It is just disgusting as a fan to see him there. It isn’t like he was a solid fielding shortstop either; we kept him there because he was a solid hitter. Right now, the bat isn’t there either. Unfortunately, there is no solid major league replacement ready to take his place. Andy Marte showed his inability to play the position with his 3 errors in an inning last week. Jason Donald seems to have the range to play in the middle infield but I’m not sure if he has the arm to play shortstop. I say put Donald at 2nd and send Luis Valbuena down to AAA; why is he still on the club when he is batting .174? Shin-Soo Choo is not a good fielder, that’s why he is in right field, but the former pitcher has, in my opinion, the best arm of any outfielder. Choo is also one of our more consistent batters, especially home at Progressive Field. Travis Hafner seems to be heating up lately, but I still am not a fan. If you look at him, he just isn’t as big as he was during his powerful 2004 days. Our two best position players, Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore, are both injured right now and hopefully recover fully from their injuries. He has batted well this year, but I really question Acta’s decision to put 6-4, 240 lb Austin Kearns in center field; he does not run well. I like Trevor Crowe’s athleticism and ability to make big catches, keep him there for now.

Key Player to Watch: Carlos Santana

This kid is absolutely amazing. Barring injuries, I expect this kid to become a perennial all-star. Santana has all of the skills to become an eventual MVP candidate. As a catcher, his arm strength is ridiculous. Every single throw has been on target and on time. In last night’s game I saw him gun multiple runners down but unfortunately Valbuena missed the tag on one of them. As a hitter, I expect multiple Silver Slugger awards out of him. He has the power to hit homeruns, he is a switch hitter capable of making contact, he can hit for power to opposite field, it is all there. I saw him play against the Nationals, and he was just amazing. I think his best and most underrated skill is his poise and patience. At the plate, he never swings at bad pitches; his eye is as good now as most veteran players. Even when he does not get a hit, he goes up there and takes multiple pitches. Throughout the game, all of these long at bats will affect the pitcher and make him vulnerable for a big hit; whether from Santana or someone else. At the plate or in the field, Santana keeps his cool. He never lets his emotions get the best of him. On Sunday when Adam Dunn ran him over at the plate, Santana was not fazed; he kept his cool and continued the game. Not many players can just shake off a blow from one of the biggest players in the MLB; especially when there was no reason for him to get it in the first place. Santana has a bright future and with more experience, his play calling ability will improve. Look for Santana to become the face of this franchise.

Prospect Watch: Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley, Alex White, Carlos Carrasco, Matt Laporta

Wrap-up: The future does look bright for the Tribe but just not this year. Hopefully the big deals of the past couple years will pan-out and we can contend in 2011 and on. Cleveland sports fans know this well but; maybe next year.

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