Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tribe a better team without Pronk, Victor impostors

Could it be that the Indians are a better team without Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner?

The question is absurd on its face.

But the results on the field seem to suggest there may be something to that thought.

The once-impotent Tribe has scored 104 runs in 18 games since Hafner last played on May 25. That's 5.8 runs a game. It's not the '27 Yankees, but it aint bad.

In winning 4 of the last 5, Cleveland has scored 34 runs, or about 7 per game.
In the 3 games they've played without Victor and Hafner in the lineup, they've scored 25 runs, or just over 8 runs a game.

Clearly the Indians are not a better team with the guys they thought would be hitting 3 and 4 this year, the real Pronk and the real Victor.

But the players they were running out there with those names on their backs were a shadow of the real thing. They weighed-down the lineup in just the wrong spot - the run-producing middle.

In response, the complimentary players on the team began to take too much upon themselves, trying to make happen what wasn't happening in the middle of the order. That led to the downward spiral that produced the Indians putrid offense in the first two months of the season, and in May in particular.

With those two dead weights out of the middle of the lineup the runs are flowing more freely as everyone seems to have relaxed a bit and come to the realization that they can only do what they can do - which so far has been substantially more than they had been doing in the past several weeks, when they had been putting unrelenting pressure on themselves.

This is not to knock Hafner or Martinez. No one can hit with shoulders, elbows and legs that ache.

So at this juncture a look back and a look ahead are in order.

Just what did the Indians brass accomplish by trying to hide the injuries and running two inferior players out there in the middle of the lineup when they clearly were too injured to perform anywhere close to their normal capabilities?

Wouldn't it have been better if the Tribe had sucked it up and put Hafner on the DL right out of spring training, so he could rest and then strengthen his ailing shoulder, as he is doing now? He probably would have been back by now and it is not unreasonable to assume he would be doing better than the impostor who had been playing in his place for most of the first two months.

The same could be said for Martinez. Victor hid the elbow injury on his own for the first two weeks that it was bothering him, but Tribe management was responsible for keeping it on the QT for another month as the injury festered. And that doesn't even take into account the hamstring injury that we all knew about but ignored right along with the Tribe brass.

So that brings us to the next question. What happens from here?

Clearly the starting pitching is still running close to full-throttle despite injuries there as well.

The newfound offense, with guys seeming to be trying to do only what they can and no more, seems to be on the right track.
It may only get better in the future when Martinez and Hafner - properly rested and healed - come back to the club.

But there are still two obstacles to be dealt with - the 6 1/2 game deficit that was built up while the Tribe kept running out damaged players every night, and a bullpen that has been mostly awful to this point but has shown on occasion that they can get the job done.

In fact, since Sunday and excluding Joe Borowski's meltdown in Minnesota Wednesday, the Tribe pen has allowed just 2 runs in the last 19 2/3 innings.

With all the injuries, I'm not sure there's much of anything the Tribe can afford to trade if they indeed decide they are "buyers" as the trade deadline nears. But the addition of at least one more dependable bullpen arm would go a long way toward making the hopes for the season last at least a bit longer.

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