Sunday, May 31, 2009

A win for the Tribe, a Wedgie for Pavano

Jhonny Peralta drove a ball past 3B with one out in the 9th today, giving the Tribe an exciting first victory of the weekend against the dreaded Yanks.

It was Perlta's third ribbie of the day, putting him and starting pitcher Carl Pavano in the spotlight. Pavano didn't win the game, but he should have (more on that in just a second).

Peralta's base hit picked up the ball club today for sure. But more than anyone, the hit picked up Tribe manager Eric Wedge.

Wedgie, working his usual magic, nearly turned this afternoon into another disaster.

Back a couple of weeks ago, before the Tribe's recent hot streak and when they were about as low as they could go, there was a spike in the talk about firing the manager.

Those who pooh poohed all the the talk argued that the manager can't do the hitting or the pitching and it's up to the players to get it done on the field.

Except, sometimes the manager is the problem and today the players saved the manager's backside.

Is it the player's fault when he's sailing through the hefty Yankee lineup - 2 runs, 89 pitches in 7 1/3 innings - and the manager comes out (after a weak infield single) and takes the ball out of his hands?

I don't care what the post-game blather coming from Wedgie will be, there is no explanation for taking Carl Pavano out of the game when he did today.

Derek Jeter's infield hit was apparently enough to send Wedgie thumbing through page 1 of his "How to Manage the Bullpen" book.

It was at that point (again just 89 pitches thrown by Pavano and the Tribe up 4-2 in the 8th) when Wedge decided he simply must bring in lefty Raffie Perez (the same Perez who has blown up so many games already this season) to pitch to lefty Johnny Damon.

Damon, of course, lashed a double to right field and the demise of Pavano's victory was underway.

To be fair, no one anticipated that the next guy in, Raffie Betancourt, would leave after a couple of pitches with what looked like a leg injury. But the more often you roll the dice, the bigger the chance that you get a bad result.

It was obvious that Wedge was going to go with both Raffies in the 8th once he took Pavano out. Why roll the dice twice more, especially when one of the gambles involves Raffie Perez - who so far this year has had a great season at Columbus?

In addition to taking a win away from Pavano and making a very questionable strategic move, Wedge put himself in a position to burn through four relievers in less than two innings, leaving himself vulnerable for any extra innings that might have been ahead today and for tomorrow's game as well - a game that will be started by the unreliable Jeremy Sowers.

Please don't tell me that it's the players who play and the manager doesn't matter.

Win or lose today (and thank God it was a win!), Wedgie had a major negative effect on the proceedings.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

To boo or not to boo, as CC returns to Progressive Field mound

CC Sabathia will take his first trip to the hill at Progressive Field since being traded last summer to Milwaukee.

He'll be doing it in a Yankee uniform and if you will excuse me for a moment while I lose my lunch, I'll pick up from here.

That's better.

Now back to CC.

When it became apparent two off-seasons ago that Sabathia was not going to resign with the Tribe because of the lopsided, unfair economics of today's MLB, I reluctantly accepted that fact.

I thought, "Well, he'll take us to one more shot in the post-season and then do what he has to do."

Once it became obvious the Tribe was going nowhere last season, I girded myself for the inevitable mid-season deal that would send him away - the best home-grown Tribe pitcher since God knows when.

The trade came down, the Tribe got a nice haul in return (still to be proven, but seemingly so), and I was happy to see that CC went to Milwaukee - another small-market team that was taking its one big shot at the brass ring.

I watched nearly every one of CC's starts with Milwaukee on the dish and rooted him on along the way. Then, when the Brew Crew's run ended and the bargaining began, I was OK with all that - unless CC landed in one place in particular.

Of course, as we all know, CC ended up in that very place, and as a Tribe fan living here in Yankeeland I had to watch it all first-hand. And listen to Yankee fans and the NY media talk about "CC", as if they were old buds on a first-name basis for years.

That is when it all began to turn for me.

Seeing CC on the local TV news in his first spring workout as a Yankee, I got a sick feeling in my stomach.

When he pulled on the pinstripes for the first time for real back in April it stung even more.

Seeing him playfully chatting with Victor Martinez during batting practice at the new Yankee Stadium - the former battery mates each wearing a different uniform - was almost too much to watch.

And tonight, CC will be wearing the garb of the Evil Empire when he steps on the mound of the Tribe's home field.

So the question has become, will CC be booed (a la Manny, and Jim Thome) when he takes the hill, or cheered for his past contributions to the Tribe (see Omar Vizquel).

If I were going to the game tonight, it's hard to say what I would do when CC takes the mound. But if I had to say right now what my reaction would be, I'd say I would boo - long and hard.

And for those of you with tickets tonight, I suggest you do the same.

For me though, the boo would not really be directed at CC himself. He would simply be the vehicle for the message I would be trying to send to all the powers that be in MLB - the union, the league, the owners and broadcasters, all of whom stand to gain under a system where most of the best players eventually make their way to the teams that can generate the most dough for everyone simply because they are in cities where there are more paying customers.

People argue that small-market teams make their marks in the playoffs year in and year out, and that success can come anywhere when there is smart management.

But there are at least two things wrong with that argument.

For one, while it is true that every small-market dog (except maybe Pittsburgh) has it's day, it is also true that that is about how long it lasts - a day. Or one season, two or three if you are really lucky, and smart.

Then it becomes time to kiss all the fan favorites and the team's stars goodbye, wish them well (or not) in their big-media market and try to start again from scratch.

Some point to the Tribe's long string of success in the '90's (success even though no championships were won by the way) and say it can be done in the small markets if done correctly.

The problem with that argument is that the former owners of the team, the Jacobs family, ran that team as if they were in a big market. That is, they ran it that way until they saw the revenue boost from the excitement of the new stadium would be wearing out soon. Then they were smart enough to sell out to the Dolans.

The Dolans have been running the Tribe like a small-time operation pretty much since taking it over.

Cleveland is not the only place where the odds are stacked high against prolonged success.

Detroit took its shot at the big-time last season, but injuries and a decline in its pitching staff ruined those plans. The effort seems to be revived this year, but how far beyond this season will their current crop of talent take them? Especially as the Detroit economy worsens and the payroll has to shrink.

When was the last time they had a good team in Pittsburgh? Or a sustainably good team in Oakland, or San Diego or just about any place that is not New York, Boston or Los Angeles.

Because they play in divisions full of small-market teams, the two Chicago teams (especially the Sox) can low-ball it and still not stand out as ragamuffins in their respective divisions.

KC and Milwaukee currently are having a little run. But this is their "window." In a few short years the young, talented players they are developing will move on to greener pastures and the success of these small-market teams will fade again

The big-market teams can spend to their hearts content on the best talent. That is obvious. What is less obvious is they can also take chances that the smaller teams can't. "Well, let's sign three of these big-name pitchers and if even one works out big-time, we'll be all set." And, in the case of the Yankees, "let's sign the best hitter available out their as well."

At the same time, the best the little guys can do most off-seasons is put their money down on a Mark DeRosa and hope that it makes some sort of difference.

Baseball's system is broken, and has been for a while. At least for those who truly appreciate real, fair competition.

With the economy in sad shape right now, the unfairness of the system is beginning to manifest itself as people with very little discretionary income are beginning to realize that spending it to watch a sub-par baseball team may not be the best use of their money.

That will only exacerbate the gap between baseball haves and have-nots.

So, if you decide to let out a lusty boo for CC tonight, I hope you'll do it in the right spirit.

CC just played the system the way any smart, talented person would play it.

It's the system that deserves a great big Bronx cheer.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tribe win streak at four as retreaded bullpen puts brakes on Rays

When the Tribe announced the signings this winter of journeymen pitchers Matt Herges, Greg Aquino and Tomo Ohka, I paid about as much attention to those signings as I did to the wispy snow flurries that were probably falling outside my window at the time.

Which is to say, I paid them very little mind.

After all, with the bullpen that had already been assembled I doubted any of those guys would be seen in a Tribe uniform once the team left Arizona.

As we sit here today, all three are on the Tribe's active roster - Ohka being the latest to join the club today.

The other two - Herges and Aquino - have been important additions to a revamped bullpen which has been at the center of the Tribe's recent mini renaissance.

The team has won four straight - all against the Rays this week at Progressive Field - and 7 of their last 10 going back to the series they took in KC - 2 games to 1.

Just as the bullpen was instrumental in the success the Tribe had on the latter half of its road trip last week, so too did the Retread Relief Corps play a big role in the Tribe's only series sweep of the season so far.

Of course the offense did more than its share during the Rays series, overcoming a 10-zip hole on Monday and a 5-0 deficit and 7-run outing by starter and once-again-minor-leaguer Zack Jackson last night.

But in both of those games, as well as in today's 2-1 win - which saw starter David Huff toss 4 shutout innings only to be shut down by a long rain delay- the pen had to come in and hold the fort so the offense could do its work.

Virtually everyone in the pen - except for Jensen Lewis, who allowed 5 runs Monday and 1 today - has been up to the task.

Herges, Aquino and recent free-agent signee Luis Vizcaino have led the way with Herges getting the "W" today and Aquino getting last night's win with a 3-inning save by Vizcaino.

Excluding Lewis, the Tribe bullpen went 16 2/3 innings in the 4-game series without allowing a run and picked up 3 of the 4 wins and 2 saves.

Two guys expected to be key parts of the pen - Kerry Wood and Raffie Betancourt - also contributed 2 scoreless innings apiece during the 4-game series. Both pitchers, getting regular work of late, in roles they expected to be in, have shown the effectiveness the Tribe had been expecting out of them.

Wood's last 4 outings, going back to KC, have been scoreless, as have 5 of his last 6 going back to mid-month. He looked particularly nasty in the 9th inning today, protecting the 2-1 lead.

Betancourt hasn't allowed a run in his last 6 outings and 8 of his last 9, allowing just 1 run in 11 1/3 innings in his last 9 trips to the mound.

In winning 7 of its last 10, the Tribe has improved its record to 7 games under and 7 games out (with the Tigers playing as I write this) - still rather woeful, but definitely heading in the right direction.

Raffie Perez, who hasn't allowed a run since being sent to Columbus to find himself, may be back soon and Joe Smith will be on a rehab assignment soon and may also be back with the team in the near term.

If you ask me, when Perez comes back the Tribe would be wise to give Lewis the same opportunity to get his act together in Columbus.

Judging from comments made after today's game it appears Ohka is headed for long relief, with Jeremy Sowers heading back to the rotation and Huff staying there - at least for the next trip around the rotation.

So the Indians appear to be getting hot at just the time I most like to see them on a roll - with the hated Yankees heading to Cleveland for 4 this weekend.

Tribefan In Yankeeland - of course - will be keeping a close eye on that one.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Now that was fun !!!

Seems I picked just the right game to end my week-long break from the Tribe.

Most of you saw it so I won't go into too much detail, but MAN I haven't had this much fun all year.

Down 10-zip early the Tribe battled back - including 7 runs in the ninth - to hand the Rays their worst blown lead ever.

The Tribe wins it 11-10.
The alarm clock is going to go off in a little over 6 hours so there's no point in rehashing the whole thing. But there are a few guys who need to be mentioned.

Victor Martinez - of course - ending an 0 for 18 slump with a bases loaded single in the 9th, knocking in runs 10 and 11 for the Tribe win.

Ryan Garko had the first huge hit of the inning, with a 3-run blast - his second homer of the night - to make it 10-8. (Wonder if Wedgie will have him back on the bench tomorrow to keep him fresh?)

And then there was Jeremy Sowers who pitched 5 scoreless innings of relief (the last 5) to get the win. Of course that means the Tribe needs a starter for two games now in the middle of the week, but we'll worry about that another time. (Looks like they'll have no choice now but to give David Huff another shot.)

All of that though is food for thought on another day.

Tonight it is simply time to savor the most exciting victory of the year and perhaps the most impressive (except maybe for the Yankee blow out.)

It's a heck of a way to start off the homestand and it should be the type of win that kick-starts a 7 of 9 stretch, or something along those lines.

I guess we'll find out about any carryover tomorrow.

But, for once, let's just keep watching the post-game replays and savoring the kinds of wins that used to be commonplace when the ballpark was known as Jacobs Field.

(By the way, there's also a fresh post below this one with my thoughts on the Tribe's past week while I was away - the best of which I think are on the possibility of trading Mark DeRosa, and on a big gamble being taken by Mark Shapiro out of loyalty to Eric Wedge. So scroll on down to the post below.)

Damn that was fun!!!!!!!!!!!

Same old, same old - more or less

Well, it's been a week of wetness for me. Soaked is the better word as Orlando had between 10 and 11 inches of rain in the five days the family and I darted from one covered area to another at the Magic Kingdom. Still we managed to get on every coaster-type ride in the main four parks at least once.

Seems the Tribe remains on their roller coaster ride into oblivion as well. Win one, lose one, give one away.

The Tribe lost three of the six games they played while I was gone.

I guess it could also be said they won three of six.

When I left they were 11 under and 7.5 back. As I write this, they are 11 under and 8.5 back, with the first-place Tigers well ahead in their Memorial Day game against KC .

At face value it seems little has changed.

The rotation, the bullpen, the defense and the up-and-down offense each had a hand in the losses that turned what could have been a good week into more of the same.

The lineup shuffling continues - producing little, except for more and more questions in the minds of several players who don't have a clue where they stand or what glove to bring to the park on any given day.

If you look a little beyond the surface, you can find a little bit to hang your hat on though - at least where the bullpen is concerned.

The pen was 2 and 3 with 3 saves over the six games from Tuesday through Sunday. So they were responsible for all three losses. That looks, at first glance, like more of the same.

But they also were responsible for 2 of the 3 wins last week and saved all 3 victories.

That is change for the better.

Excluding Kerry Wood's Tuesday night meltdown, the pen pitched 21 1/3 innings last week and allowed 4 earned runs - an ERA of 1.69.

Even better, most of the good work was spread around among four pitchers - Raffie Betancourt, Greg Aquino, Matt Herges and Luis Vizcaino. Yes, Vizcaino lost Sunday's game, but he was pitching for the third straight day and was gassed.

So things may be looking up at least a little in the pen.

Several other major developments occurred while I was busy riding Test Track and The Rockin' Roller Coaster, and drying my sneakers off with the hotel hair dryer.

Aaron Laffey - who helped stabilize both the starting rotation, and then the bullpen - pulled the old oblique. Based on past history with CC Sabathia (two or three times) and Jake Westbrook, that usually turns into a 4 to 6-weeker.

The same night - Friday I believe - Anthony Reyes came out of the game early and headed straight for the DL with a sore elbow. Apparently his pitching had become less effective as the elbow got more sore over the past several games. Finally, on Friday, he had to call it quits. It's not clear yet just what the extent of that injury is.

(UPDATE: Shortly after this posting the word came down that Reyes is likely to require major surgery on the elbow and is likely out for the season.)

What is clear is that the Tribe is very short on starters.

David Huff has shown nothing in two starts so far and Jeremy Sowers is back with the club by default.

Which brings us to the last major development during my week in the rain forests of Orlando.

Mark DeRosa trade rumors.

With DeRosa playing 1B like a man who has played there only a dozen or so times in his career, three other more capable first basemen on the roster and a crying need for pitching, it appears DeRosa may be on his way out.

I like DeRosa's bat, but he doesn't have much of a glove and he clearly can't play 1B. So unless the Tribe decides to put him at 2B - his position with the Cubs - and send Luis Valbuena down to Columbus, I think it is a matter of time before he is traded.

If it were me, I wouldn't even bother with DeRosa at 2B. Defensively it can be covered better by Valbuena, Jamey Carroll or Josh Barfield.

I think DeRosa is our best chip to land some pitching and he has no obvious place to play in the field.

The team will miss his bat, but pitching is a much more urgent need at the moment.

Finally, before I go off to watch my first Tribe game in seven days, I'd like to address the Eric Wedge situation one last time.

It has become painfully obvious that Mark Shapiro has decided that Wedge doesn't deserve the bulk of the blame for yet another disastrous stumble from the gate.

Certainly Shapiro must know a fair amount of the blame goes in his direction and he appears unwilling to throw Wedge under the bus. It is an admirable stance by Shapiro. But it is a chancy one too.

If the team continues to stumble and bumble its way through the remainder of the year - as I believe it will - than both men at the top may find themselves under ownership's gaze at year end.

I don't think Wedge has shown the type of leadership this team needs to pull itself up, and more importantly, I think he makes matters worse with his constant shuffling and reshuffling of the deck chairs.

But when it comes time at the end of the year to start throwing things overboard, Shapiro may find himself right ahead of his buddy Wedgie.

Frankly, I've never bought into the moneyball, supercomputer, Wall Street-speak way that many modern baseball teams are being run. I think a player has to be judged on more than obscure stats run through forty different spread sheets. His smarts, his ability to motivate himself, his level of self-confidence and his natural abilities all have to be added into the mix.

I just don't think you can create a baseball team by crunching numbers and spouting biz speak.

Maybe it would be best for Wedge to stick around for the rest of the year. That way maybe he can take Shapiro with him when he heads for the door and a fresh look from a new management team might lead to better days.

(I've removed the "should Wedge be fired" Tribe poll that has been up the last 10 days or so. Just FYI 77% of those who responded said that Wedge should indeed be let go, while 23% said he should not.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Taking a vacation from the Tribe

Going to be gone for a week - a well-deserved vacation if I must say so.

No Tribe for a week would seem like vacation enough, but we'll be doing Disney - my daughter's pick for her senior-year family getaway.

So it should be a good time.

But before I go, there are number of things to go over.

A week that started out with a bit of promise - the team scoring runs and winning three of four - ended with the Tribe at the low point of a dismal season, at 11 games under .500 and 7-1/2 games out.

The roster moves continue (David Huff and Greg Aquino arriving, Masa Kobayashi and Tony Sipp departing), but the results are the same. No one can pitch. No one can field. No one (except Victor) can hit consistently.

David Huff's MLB debut was one to forget. Seven hits, four walks and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings. One performance does not a career make, but he appears to lack an out pitch - even after getting ahead of hitters. A lot like Jeremy Sowers. You have to give him a few shots, but so far it seems the search for a No. 5 starter - and a No. 4 for that matter - continues.

Two long-time MLB retreads - Aquino and Matt Herges - kept the Rays at bay the rest of the way (with a one-out assist from Kerry Wood). I'll take it, but I wouldn't count on it going forward.

Today's outfield was a joke; Ryan Garko in LF, Ben Francisco in CF and Shin-soo Choo in RF. Is it any wonder the Rays had a bushel full of extra-base hits?

Did Grady Sizemore need the day off? I guess probably so as he's been below the Mendoza line (.167 to be exact) over the past 11 games. But do we have to see Garko out in LF on a day when Grady is not in CF?

I've got a better question. Do we ever need to see Garko in the outfield again. He was awful out there today on balls hit over his head. That's a tough play for many outfielders but Garko wasn't close to making those plays - one of them hit for a double by Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine. He did manage to catch one in the 7th after an awkward chase back to the wall - but that one might be filed in the "blind squirrel finding a nut once in awhile" category.

Another thing that is becoming quickly obvious is Mark DeRosa is about as good at 1B as he was at 3B - perhaps worse. The question of where to stick him in the field is becoming a bigger one each day. The Cubs felt his best position was 2B (or at least that's where he played most of the time for them). But I can't help but think that putting him there would just reopen as many holes as were closed by putting Asrubal Cabrera at SS and moving Jhonny Peralta out of the middle of the infield. They need DeRosa's bat, which should become more consistently good at some point. But the question remains, where does he play?

The Rays did all they could to help the Tribe today by sending out a lineup card that had two 3B on it, meaning that Evan Longoria - who actually was supposed to DH and bat third - had to come out of the lineup and Sonnanstine had to hit in No. 3. So the league leader in RBIs comes out and is replaced by the pitcher in the three hole.

Of course that didn't turn out to be as rosy as you might think for the Tribe, as Garko played a can of corn to left into an RBI double for Sonnanstine. Yes Garko was playing well in, but a decent leftfielder has enough time to get under that ball.

And the game was full of controversy. A horrible call on a ball that hit the top of the wall in left took a double away from the Tribe in the top of the eighth. (Click link to see video)

And then there was the bench-clearing shout-and-shove, precipitated by two Kerry Wood pitches- one behind B.J. Upton and one just off his letters. It was supposedly retaliation for a base running indiscretion earlier in the series.

If you are thinking with your head, that's not such a good idea when your down only two and there's a runner already on first . But if you're thinking with the part of the body that puts testosterone into the blood stream, it probably wasn't such a bad move. Something to rally the team a little. Not that it did.

It is becoming very obvious that this organization does not have enough pitching to get the Tribe through this season. You can switch guys from the rotation to the pen or vice-versa at all levels of the organization. But the bottom line is there are just not enough effective big-league arms to go around.

It is time to face facts. This pitching staff, even if it at some point starts to perform at a level closer to what should be expected, is not the kind of staff that allows a team to rip off 9 of 11 or 19 of 25. And with the team already 11 games under .500 that's what it will take to put the team back into serious contention.

I just don't see that happening.

Have a good week otherwise. I should be back online next Sunday or Memorial Day at the latest.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Are we having fun yet?

Long about the top of the fourth inning of Friday night's game, just about the time Shin-soo Choo blasted his two-run homer giving the Tribe a 7-0 lead, I began to think - "I'm finally having fun."

The baseball season is just about six weeks old now, and not one of those weeks has brought any enjoyment to Tribe fans.

That started to change this week.

Going into Friday's game, the Tribe had won 3 of their last 4 games, put together their first winning streak (2 games) since mid-April (also 2 games) and had whittled their deficit in the A.L. Central to 4 1/2 games.

And for the first 3 1/2 innings Friday, they were blowing out Scott Kazmir and the Rays.

And then all the ugliness of the first five weeks returned.

The offense shut down completely, putting up just two hits in the final 5 2/3 innings.

Starting pitcher Anthony Reyes was unable to get out of the sixth.

The bullpen - which seemed to be getting itself together at least a bit recently - took a sharp turn back toward hideous.

Tony Sipp, brought in to get out one lefty, walked that lefty.

Jensen Lewis followed, getting smacked for 3 hits and a run over 1 inning and leaving a mess for Raffie Betancourt in the seventh.

Betancourt came in with one out and runners on second and third and the Tribe still clinging to a 7-6 lead. A strikeout, an intentional walk and a popout later and it looked like maybe things might be OK.

Until the eighth inning, when Betancourt gave up a dinger to the first batter of the inning - Ben Zobrist.

And then the ninth inning when Luis Vizcaino - making his Tribe debut - gave up a blast to B.J. Upton - the first batter Vizcaino faced as an Indian - and we were right back where we've been for the past five weeks.

There was a time when this game was fun. I swear it. Sometimes it feels like it will never be that way again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gathering my thoughts on the Tribe

Missed a day of posting yesterday as my oldest arrived for a visit for the first time since setting off to make his way in the world in January.

A lot of things have happened since my last post just two days ago. Not surprisingly, I have a few thoughts on many of them.

Most importantly, Mark Shapiro gave Eric Wedge and his coaching staff a vote of confidence. A lot of blogs have been using the term the "dreaded vote of confidence," meaning that's the last step before a firing. But I really think Shapiro - right now - is committed to sticking it out with Wedge.

I say "right now" because that phrase preceded Shapiro's comments on the matter. Still, at this moment, I really do believe Shapiro intends to stay with his manager. Let's see how this road trip goes, at the very least, to see if the sentiments remain the same.

Shapiro has lots of time to pull the trigger if it comes to that, because no matter how badly the team has played, the rest of the division seems to want to keep the Tribe on the party invitation list. They are only 5 1/2 games out, so that buys Wedge and Shapiro some time.

One thing that can be said about the two of them, unlike last year, they are not taking the disappointing performance lying down. They are pulling out every stop I can think of to try to turn things around while everyone else in the division is treading water.

In his recent comments on the state of the club, Shapiro - correctly - said the biggest issue is to straighten out the bullpen. His most significant move to date has been to move Aaron Laffey from the rotation to the pen. Many have criticized this as robbing Peter (the rotation) to pay Paul (the pen). While that is true, I thought at the time - and still think now - that it was a move that had to be done. The bullpen was hemorrhaging runs at the time. At least the blood flow has slowed a bit since the Laffey tourniquet was applied.

The second bullpen move at the major league level has been to bring up Matt Herges and send Vinnie Chulk on his way. To me it seemed like six of one, half-dozen of the other. So far Herges has been okay, though in limited duty.

A third move came today, when Luis Vizcaino was added to the roster, with Jeremy Sowers being sent to the minors.

Vizcaino was effective with the Cubs (four scoreless appearances) and was kind of shocked to have been cut there. I remember him from 2007 when he joined the struggling Yankees mid-season and helped to settle their pen down. He is up and down and has been throughout his career. But when he is hot, he's nice to have around. He's a gamble worth taking for sure.

Although Sowers was the one sent packing today, the Tribe will need another starter soon. That figures to be David Huff. When that need arises, someone from the bullpen will be gone. The general feeling is that Masa Kobayashi will be the one sent packing.


Kobayasha - if he hadn't already done so by his pitching and his early retirement at the end of last season - likely punched his ticket out of town when he pretty much said earlier this week that MLB hitters are better than what he was used to seeing in Japan and that he - essentially - is over matched here.

There's more going on with the bullpen below ground - or at least at levels below the major leagues. The Tribe has transferred three minor league pitchers from the starting rotations of various clubs to the bullpen. The most notable among these is Hector Rondon, who was moved from Akron's starting rotation to its bullpen. The first returns were not encouraging as Rondon gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits over two innings and took the loss in his first relief outing Tuesday night.

This move is not unlike the move of Laffey in that it weakens the depth of the stable of starters throughout the organization. Normally, that is not something I would be happy about. But it seems the organization is truly taking a win-now approach to things (finally), and that is welcomed in a year in which the division winner in the Central may not see 90 wins.

Like Laffey, Rondon can always be put back on the starter track - either later this year if some members of the original pen regain their form, or next season when the Tribe undoubtedly gives the pen another face lift in the off-season.

Some have argued that it would have made sense to put Sowers in the pen (since he's effective one or two time through the lineup) and keep Laffey in the rotation. On the face of it that sounds logical, but the Tribe was so desperate to restore at least some order to the pen that they had to go with someone who seemed to be a reasonably sure bet.

Which brings us to some of the changes going on in the lineup.

We can only hope that we've seen the last of David Dellucci as a regular and that we'll be seeing a lot more of Matt LaPorta. Both Shapiro and Wedge have led us to believe as much in the past couple of days. But we'll see.

There are also strong indications that Jhonny Peralta will be playing at least some 3B (hopefully a lot of 3B) in the days ahead. That leaves 2B open for Luis Valbeuna and Jamey Carroll. An infield with either guy at 2B, Asdrubal Cabrera at SS and Peralta at 3B would seem to be a significant step up from the current lineup.

I would hope Wedge would give Valbuena fist crack and keep the versatile Carroll on the bench for late-inning duty, but Carroll may see a lot of playing time if Wedge decides to move lead-off hitter Grady Sizemore down in the lineup. (More on than in a minute.)

Mark DeRosa will, and should, still see regular duty under the new alignment, either at 1B, the outfield or giving Peralta a rest at 3B. I still see him playing every day because he has a good stick - even if he hasn't shown it yet.

LaPorta may end up being given regular time at 1B. I'm fine with that, as long as he gets regular time somewhere for long enough to prove he belongs or that he needs to go back down to see a little more Triple-A pitching. There is no justification for the in-between status that has been his until two days ago.

One final thought, on Sizemore being moved down in the order. Until this year I was against the suggestion every time it came up. But his strikeout ratio, batting average and OBP have been so bad this season it's hard to keep him in the No. 1 hole. His propensity to drive in runs (though he's left a lot on lately) would also seem to call for a spot in the middle of the order.

My only problem with all of this is who will lead off? Cabrera has been a perfect fit in the No. 2 hole. Will he put added pressure on himself if he is moved to the leadoff spot? Does Carroll bring enough to the table to be an everyday player?

No one else comes close to fitting the bill that I can think of. Do any of you have any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Getting regular, or why La Porta is still on the bench

Eric Wedge has taken heat from pretty much everywhere for allowing rookie Matt LaPorta to rot on the bench while David Dellucci continues to play - and not hit.

Last night, the fourth night in a row La Porta sat in favor of Dellucci, Wedge explained his continued reliance on Dellucci - saying that after the players-only meeting over the weekend he wanted to give his "regulars" a chance to back themselves up.

Here are his comments as quoted by's Anthony Castrovince:

"These guys got together and looked each other in the eye the other night, and I want to give them a chance to stand behind it and do something about it."

I suppose it is admirable that Wedge is trying just about everything as a motivational tool - this being the latest.

But I have a few questions.

Can this team, which has probably used two-dozen or more lineups in 33 games so far this season, be considered to have "regulars"?

Even if they do, why is Dellucci - who went oh-for-3 again last night leaving 5 runners on base - considered one of them? He missed the entire first month of the season.
In addition, Dellucci is playing not only at LaPorta's expense, but also at Ryan Garko's. Shouldn't Garko, last year's RBI leader, be considered a regular?

I don't want every post on this blog from here on out to be about Wedge's decisions or his future.

But in this case, I just had to ask.

By the way, we've added a Tribe Fan Poll seeking your vote on whether Wedge should stay or go. You'll find it in the right-hand column of your computer screen..

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Show Wedge LaPorta

I have already written that I think it is time to show Eric Wedge the door, but while he's still here would someone please introduce him to la porta - as in Matt LaPorta.

The Tribe has played 9 games now since LaPorta and fellow rookie Luis Valbuena arrived from Columbus. The Tribe is 2-7 in that time. They've fallen to 10 games under .500 and 7 1/2 out of first, with division leading KC still to finish up for today as I write this.

In those 9 games we've seen Matt LaPorta in the starting lineup exactly 4 times.

As the Tribe was busy scoring 3 runs over the 3 games this weekend against the Tigers, we saw LaPorta exactly - not at all.

Since the roster shuffle we have seen Valbuena in the starting lineup all of three times.

Does this make any sense to anyone?

Meanwhile, in the 9-game period we're talking about, David Dellucci has been in the starting lineup 7 times. He's 4 for 25 during the period. with no ribbies and no extra base hits.

Ben Francisco, since May 1 - the day of the big "shakeup" - is hitting .257. He's 9 for 35 -all singles. He's driven in 1 run so far this month, and scored four.

Again, can someone please explain to me why LaPorta was called up if he's not going to play?

Was the "shakeup" just a sham? Just a move to make it look like the front office was taking action?

Although I don't necessarily feel this way, Valbuena's absence from the lineup could be slightly more defensible, since his primary position is 2B - one of the few spots where the Tribe has someone getting the job done already. In addition, it could be argued that the team needs Jhonny Peralta to get back to being the 20-HR guy he has been and that he needs to play (his 2-game benching aside) to get it going.

But from where I'm standing, no one is in LaPorta's way.

What is the point of playing Dellucci, or even Francisco, over LaPorta? Whatever success Dellucci has had in the majors, it is well behind him now. Francisco appears to be nothing more than a fourth outfielder.

More importantly, how is it helping LaPorta by having him sitting on the bench?

If LaPorta truly is going to be used as Dellucci's caddy against lefties, why is he still here?

More importantly, why is Wedge still here?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Time for Wedge to go

Every dog has his day.

Some even have six years and a month or so.

For Eric Wedge, his day has come and should now be gone.

It is time to fire the manager.

Back on April 20 I wrote that it was time to seriously consider firing Wedge, who is in his seventh season as Tribe manager.

I suggested Mother's Day as a good time to take another look and to pull the plug on Wedge by then if there was not a vast improvement in the Tribe's play.

Obviously there has been no improvement. In fact, some of the most galling defeats of the season have taken place during the period from April 20 to now, and the Tribe has put up a 7-10 record during that time period.

Obviously, the position-player roster shake-up has only been in place for a little over a week now. And the revamp of the bullpen has only begun (we hope).
But do you really see much of a difference in the days and weeks ahead with the same manager and coaching staff running the show?

Wedge has had more than six years to show he is the guy to get this team into the World Series.
So far, all we've gotten is a couple of exciting regular seasons and two huge choke jobs - in 2005 in the final week of the season , and 2007, when a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Red Sox in the ALCS was coughed up.

In addition, 2006, 2008 and 2009 were seasons of high expectations - not only from the local partisans, but also the national media.

2006 and 2008 turned out to be disasters of major proportions. 2009 seems is heading that way too.

On top of that, the awful breaks from the gate have been duly chronicled time and again. No reason to go into details here.

A manger's job is to prepare his team to play, and get the most out of the players he has. Often, especially in the early years, Wedge didn't have much. The bullpen he was provided in 2006 did him in that year and last year you could lay the blame on the injury bug. So it seemed fair to give Wedge one more shot. But it's clear he's let things get away from him again this year.

I've heard it argued that Wedge isn't the one striking out with runners in scoring position, or pouring gas on the fire from out of the bullpen.

That is true.

But the players on this club have mostly all shown they have the ability to play much better than they are playing.
It is the manger's job to pull it out of them.

The loudest of Wedge's critics get on him for his apparent laid back attitude.

They get on him, essentially, for not getting on his players - for tolerating hitters who strike out once every three or four at-bats or who fail to hit in the clutch.

They don't like his uninspiring presence on the bench. His half-
assed arguments with umpires when some good old-fashioned Earl Weaverishness would seem to be in order.

But and argument can be made that baseball players are most effective when they are playing relaxed.
To me the Tribe seems to be just the opposite. They seem to play tight all the time (at least until the front office officially pulls the plug midway through the season and then they play relaxed and well).

I don't know if it just the personality of the current nucleus of this team that they can't play when the heat is on, or if Wedge has his own way of applying excess pressure - a way that is clearly not visible to the fans but may happen in the clubhouse.

Either way, the bottom line is the team does not produce.

Fair or not, the manager ultimately has to take the fall.

Wedge is in the middle of his seventh year of not getting the job done.
Managers have been fired for much, much less.

It's time to clear the stale air around this team.

It's time for new ideas and a new approach.

That won't happen with Wedge, or anyone else currently on his staff or in the organization in charge.

We need someone from the outside to take over.

And we need them now.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Shake-up Part Two - The Bullpen

Vinny Chulk DFA'd just 5 weeks into the season?
Who saw that coming?

Ah, but for every Vinny Chulk, there's a Matt Herges.

The Indians, as you probably know by now, shook up their moribund pen a little last night, designating Chulk for assignment and farming out Raffie Perez.

To fill their spots in the pen, the Tribe recalled righty Matt Herges from Columbus, moved lefty Aaron Laffey from the starting rotation to the pen and brought up Jeremy Sowers to replace Laffey in the rotation.

That move paid off last night, as Laffey tossed three scoreless innings of relief against the Red Sox to pick up a save. He got the save for holding a lead for three innings, not by protecting a slim lead as the game ended 9-2.

So what to make of this?

The general plan I like. They needed to move someone who was getting people out into the bullpen. That turned out to be Laffey. It's not a choice you like to make, but - in this instance - it's one you had to make. There was no real bullpen help down below and the bleeding has to be stopped.

But Matt Herges? I guess they went for experience on that one. Or they just figured he is one more die to roll. Herges' ERA is nearly 6 and teams - International League teams - are hitting .316 against him.

Hey, I guess we can't knock it 'til we try it. But if I'm forming an opinion now, I think Herges goes the way of Chulk sooner rather than later. Herges' life-time MLB ERA is just about 4 and his last good year was 2007 (5-1, ERA 2.96; WHIP 1.01). That's sounds good, but the only season prior to that where he comes close to those numbers is in 2003, with San Francisco and and San Diego.

No one else was lighting it up in Columbus, so let's say we give the nod to experience and see what happens - while telling ourselves not to expect much.

The other move, filling Laffey's spot with Jeremy Sowers, also probably has to do with experience - as in at least he's been up here before. Sowers was off to a good start in Columbus, 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA. But we've seen his act before and we know what we are likely to get. Adequate at best.

While I don't really knock the move, I would have liked to see what David Huff could do instead.

Huff (4-0 with a 3.21 ERA and 23 Ks in 28 innings) was touted by the front office late last year as someone who could have an impact on the parent club this year, This might have been a good time to find out exactly what kind of impact.

As for Perez, it was obvious he had to go and get his head straightened out outside of the limelight.

Still, with all the moves made since Friday, lets give the brain trust an A for effort. At least they are not sitting on their hands like last year while the season melted away.

Do I expect these changes to turn things around? If been around this team too long to get my hopes up. But let's just say I'm still watching the games every night, so there must be some hope there.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Will last night's win provide a jolt?

Last night's win over Toronto (despite the continued failings of the bullpen) provided all the makings of a season-turner. Or at least a road-trip turner.

Three times the Tribe overtook the Jays for the lead. Fortunately they only gave it back twice - while trying very hard to give it up a third time in the 12th.

You might think this game, which saw the Tribe being no-hit through six only to score 9 runs eventually, might be the kind of game that would jump-start their season - or at least their week.

I thought the same thing last week when the Red Sox handed the Tribe a victory after they had been down 5-1 early. (remember the fumbled pitch to first base allowing the game-winner to score?). But, the Tribe went on to lose the next night in their typically maddening fashion, and have gone 2-3 since the "season-changer" against the Sox.

So, we'll find out starting in an hour or so if last night's win provides any kind of spark.

I'm on my lunch break again, so I just have time to scribble a few thoughts.

The Tribe management is all excited about the new versatility it has following Friday night's roster shuffle. It's only versatility if the guys you are moving around can actually play the positions you are moving them too.

Last night's defensive alignment (based on the way they played) at the end of the game reminded me of my days as a little league coach - trying to get every kid at least an inning or two in the infield, even it was a threat to his own safety and the team's well being.

On the should-have-been double-play ball that should have ended the game, Jhonny Peralta - playing 3B - cut to his left pretty well, then made an iffy throw to 2B. Luis Valbuena made the play and then an even iffier throw to 1B, which happened to be manned at the time by Mark DeRosa. The throw was a one-hopper and a little off the bag, but an experienced first baseman makes the play and ends the game.

Similarly, in the ninth, with Kerry Wood looking very shaky in trying to notch his 6th save, Josh Barfield (making his first appearance in left field) misplayed a likely out into a two-run single that tied the game at 6. Barfield also bobbled a bouncing ball to his right (no harm came from it) and his throws from LF were sub-par.

I guess we need to see more from all parties, but this "versatility" idea is off to a bad start.

Anyone seen enough of DeRosa at 3B? He misplayed another ball last night that eventually cost a couple of runs. Need a DH? DeRosa's your man.

Nice to see Matt LaPorta's first (of many we hope) MLB dinger.

I'm sure I had other thoughts to put here, but the workload at my desk is calling.

Let's hope the Tribe can extend their latest one-game winning streak to two this afternoon.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The guy next door who also happened to manage the Tribe

I could write once again about how the Tribe's bullpen stinks and about how the season may once again be sabotaged by morale-deflating, late-inning losses night after night.

Or, I could go on ad nauseum about the Friday night overhaul and where those four new players are going to play (quick summary - La Porta and Valbuena are not on this team to sit on the bench).

But others in the blogosphere have touched those bases, most thoroughly at The DiaTribe, and with quite a bit of negativity at MVN.

My main thought is that it's a good thing the Tribe brass isn't watching with the same rose-colored glasses they seem to have donned last year - doing virtually nothing to shake things up or repair the holes before the air was out of the season.

Bottom line though, until they do something about the bullpen in the 7th or 8th inning, I don't think the changes will matter much. They may have to make a trade for a real, proven set-up man.

In the meantime (and they obviously can't do this every night, but they have to consider it at least a time or two per week) maybe they can go back to the old Sparky Lyle days and ask their closer to get 4 to 6 outs instead of just 3. No point in spending $10 million on the man so he can watch save opportunity after save opportunity disappear as he remains squarely on his backside on the bullpen lounge chair.

So let's go where I'd like to go today.

If the Tribe is going to continue to play like it's the early '80's, we might as well take a fond look back at the period, and the man who led the Tribe at the time.

He was the friendly older guy next door, and he was the Cleveland Indians manager.

I'm talking about Dave Garcia.

The New York Times today had a profile on Garcia, a guy the writer of the piece calls one of baseball's tribal elders.

Garcia - now 88 - has been in baseball since signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1937, when Rogers Hornsby was a player-manager for the team that is now - and has been for decades - the Baltimore Orioles.

Oddly, Garcia still works as a part-time scout for the Cubs although he can barely see these days due to the eye condition know as macular degeneration.

“I can’t see the ball leave the pitcher’s hand,” he told the Times. “I can’t see where the pitch is when it was hit. But for some reason, when it is hit, I can pick it up.”

Despite that seemingly major hurdle, Cubs front office official Gary Hughes tells the Times Garcia still has it when it comes to assessing opposing players.

“I just pick his brain, really. We talk about comparisons. He’s way more of a source than he thinks he is.”

Garcia lives in San Diego and goes to almost every Padres home game, checking out the players who come to town. According to the Times story he still gets to the park at 4:30 for every night game. Just like the days when he managed the Tribe - from 1979 through 1982.

That's where Garcia and I intersect.

Back in 1979, when Garcia took over the helm from Jeff Torborg about 100 games into the season, I was a young radio reporter who did news as my "real job" during the day and then covered the Tribe at night for my radio station in Painesville.

(Mostly I did it because I loved the game, loved the Tribe and could get a free meal in the press room and a free seat in the press box.)

Garcia had a grandfatherly way about him, patient with his players (many of questionable ability) and with young reporters who tend - on occasion- to ask stupid questions.

He also had a way with words, kind of like Yogi Berra without all the notoriety.

Back in Garcia's day, the mainstays on the club were Rick Manning, Duane Kuiper, Mike Hargrove and Andre Thornton. But his clubs over the years also had names like Ron Pruitt, Paul Dade, Mike Fischlin and Larry Milbourne - not to mention Bill Nohorodny.

The Orioles and Yankees were the class of the A.L. East during Garcia's tenure, and although the Tribe skipper kept his questionable team near .500 through his tenure (247-244 overall), he just couldn't keep up with the big boys.

At the end of the 1980 season (79-81) I happened into Garcia's tiny office at the old Cleveland Stadium after the last home game of the year. The usually chipper Garcia looked warn out and ready for an off-season rest back on the West Coast. No other reporters were in the office and we chatted a bit about the year.

In his best - unwitting - Yogi imitation, Garcia sighed, turned to me and - just as inadvertently - made a comment that sounded like a critique of his managing rather than the regrets about the state of the franchise at the time (which he had intend).

"You know," he said, "Here I am trying to match wits with Earl Weaver and Billy Martin - and I don't have anything to match them with."

I tried to suppress my smile, but it snuck to the surface anyway. It took a second, but Garcia realized the meaning of what he had just said, and we had a good laugh.

Garcia's post-game eating habits were a bit legendary with the young group of media types who covered the Tribe at the time.

He would often greet reporters with a sausage or hot dog in a bun, with ketsup, in one hand. And another - no bun and mustard - in the other hand. Not to mention the Fritos dipped in ketsup. Best of all, he'd chomp on one sausage or the other throughout the post-game interview, rendering most of his comments (at least for the radio guys) pretty much useless.

Garcia was then, and apparently still is, a man of simple tastes. Just like the older guy that lives next door.

I called him at his San Diego home late in the winter following his "matching wits" comment - to get an interview on the upcoming season.

His wife Carmen, in a friendly, older-lady-who-lives-next-door voice - explained,
"He's not here right now. He's at the grocery store. He should be home soon, he just went to get a few things." Sure enough about a half hour later- finished with his wife's "honey do" list - Garcia called back to talk about his favorite topic - baseball.

Dave still has his baseball (though it's more than a little fuzzy for him with his eye condition), but - as the Times report mentions - his wife Carmen has been gone a long time now.

But, as you might expect from Garcia, he told the Times he keeps his wife with him every day.

“In my home, I have 18 pictures of my wife, in every room except the bathroom. And I kiss that picture, 18 of them, every morning when I get up and every night when I go to bed. And I tell her something that happened that day."

That is the warm, friendly man I remember running the Tribe back when I was cutting my teeth as a journalist.

As I finish this post, the Tribe has struck out 9 times in 4 innings against Justin Verlander. Wasn't this pleasant memory of the Tribe's past better than going on about the troubles of the present?

Friday, May 1, 2009

It's The Looch, and maybe more


The PD and report the Tribe will make another roster move after tonight's game.

Anthony Castronvince of thinks it will be Luis Valbuena - who can play 2B, SS and 3B. That could mean he could be the utility infielder and that Tony Graffanino could be gone.

I doubt Valbuena would be called up to sit and watch. Is it possible the Tribe is already tired of the swiss cheese left side of the infield and that Valbuena will take over at 3B, with DeRosa moving to the outfield?

That would put Trevor Crowe and Ben Francisco on the bubble.

The Tribe has 5 outfielders currently, which would make one wonder if they'd bring up a 6th in Matt LaPorta. But it's clear LaPorta has the big-bat potential the Tribe was hoping DL'ed Travis Hafner would provide.

LaPorta's arrival also would put Crowe or Francisco at risk.

There's also some talk the new arrival could be Josh Barfield. Not sure how he fits in, unless he goes to 2B, Asdrubal Cabrerra goes to short and Jhonny Peralta moves to third - once again putting LaRosa into the outfield and jeopardizing Crowe and Francisco. But that seems like too much futzing around, especially because it would add another hurdle for the seemingly befuddled Peralta to overcome.

If it comes down to Crowe or Francisco who go, I'd say it has to be Crowe. He seems to need more time at Triple-A and he would also benefit from regular playing time.

LaPorta is the obvious choice if the Tribe perceives the need to replace Hafner's power. Valbuena would be my choice if the thought is that the infield's need for shoring up is more important.

Whatever the case, if another player is indeed on the way, the criticism in the post below - written earlier today - is no longer valid.


I don't remember the exact quote but when the Indians brought up Rich Rundles to replace Travis Hafner on the roster, skipper Eric Wedge was clear that Rundles was a one-night deal.

But there was talk about turning over every stone and taking their time to make some decisions (plural) with the day off on Thursday. It sounded like something of decent size might be happening.

Would there be more than Rundles bidding adieu? Might Trevor Crowe be on his way to Columbus? Or Ben Francisco - although he hit the ball well on the very night Wedge starting talking about changes (plural) and scouring the system.

Might we see Matt LaPorta? Or Luis Valbuena?

Heck, Mark Shapiro even said on a TV interview during the game the other night that the team might consider going from 14 pitchers back down to the usual 12. Sure sounded exciting.

Of course Shapiro also said in the same interview that we would "get LaPorta up here this year for sure." Translation: not gonna happen now.

The Tribe boss also stated that David Dellucci - also hitting well at Triple-A- would be back sooner or later - but you new from his words that it would be sooner.

We all knew it would be the Looch coming up today. The management loves veterans, and this one in particular. Plus they owe him $4 million this year and they've gotten nothing out of him in the first 2 and 1/6 seasons of his 3-year deal so far.

There's no surprise that Dellucci is back with the Tribe.

My only question is why tease us with talk of "taking everyone into consideration" and making "decisions" (plural) on the just-completed off day.

Maybe The Looch can fill the cleanup hole too. Wedgie tried it last year.

We had a few moments to daydream about change. Instead, we got more of the same.