Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is this the year? Our look at the second half

The Tribe’s in second place as we head into the second half. One game behind the Tigers. Nothing startling there. It’s about what I expected when the season began.

But there are some strange goings on in my neighborhood in the northwest suburbs of New York City this summer.

My next door neighbor still wears his Yankee cap around the yard. But the Venetian blinds in his windows remain open constantly. I guess that’s so you can’t see the top-hat-and-bat Yankee logos that appear when the blinds are shut. And the neighbor’s cute little dog is shaved clean, probably to remove the dark blue pin strips that were dyed into the poor mutt’s white coat. (OK I made the dog thing up.)

There’s precious little baseball talk at the town pool this summer. It’s been quite some time since someone with an evil smirk has asked me how Cleveland’s doing this season. In fact it’s been at least a year. Instead we talk about the heat and our brown lawns.

Yes, the baseball season has been fun so far for this Tribe fan in Yankee country.

But the question lurks. Will the second half be just as much of a hoot?

That will depend on several things, first among them being the arrival of an effective late-inning reliever to give Raffy Betancourt some help. That guy may already be here in the person of Raffy Perez, but I’m not willing to take that bet. Fernando Cabrera and Jason Stanford show too much promise to lose on waivers, but having them on the staff right now is like having two Rule 5 players – you don’t really want to use them when it counts and they are essentially roster dead spots. One or both should be used to get proven bullpen help that’s wasting away on a non-contender’s roster.

The right Cliff Lee will also have to show up. You never know which one is suiting up on any given night. Ditto Jake Westbrook.

The Indians are second in runs, but are batting only .262 with runners in scoring position. A right-handed corner outfielder with some pop would be useful to extend the middle of the lineup a bit. Again, that bat already may be on the roster in Ben Francisco. But I like veterans for my stretch drive. Barring the opportunity to make a deal I’d give Francisco the majority of ABs in right field.

It would be much too risky to make a major lineup change in the middle of the pennant race, but I like the lineup when Kelly Shoppach is catching and Victor’s at first. It improves the defense, and, with regular playing time, I think Shoppach would hit at least as well as Ryan Garko. This is not a move that can be made mid-season, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see it at least a couple of times a week.

If they can get that one additional arm for the pen and nothing else, the Tribe should make it into the playoffs. If all the rest falls into place, they could make it rough on the Tigers, who are the best team in baseball right now.

But I just can’t help having that nagging feeling that comes with knowing that Clemens is back on the Yankees and Phil Hughes will soon be back to fill out the Yanks’ rotation. Then there’s the trade deadline and the specter of George opening his wallet one more time – maybe for Mark Teixeira.

I want to believe. In my lucid hours I do believe. But when I’m drifting off to sleep at night I see those smirking faces at the swim club. And didn’t I see my neighbor’s Venetian blinds closed again?

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