The State of the Tribe: Cleveland Can't Quit Now

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The State of the Tribe: Cleveland Can't Quit Now
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It seems like two years in a row now; we're sitting here saying the same thing.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

It really wasn't.

Last year it was set up perfectly, they were the team to take that next step. The Cleveland Indians were a game away from the World Series the previous year. They had the pieces lined up with their pitching staff, a bullpen that had pieces that could flat out carry them, and an up and coming offense.

If you look back at it, two Cy Young caliber pitchers in CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Jake Westbrook, who is as solid as you are going to get, and was actually throwing the ball well until he blew out his elbow, and of course we all know what Cliff Lee did last year.

The bullpen had Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, a tandem that was as good as any in the Indians run to the ALCS. Add in Jensen Lewis and the Indians were sure to try and run into some better pieces if need be.

Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner injuries later, underachieving and slow-starts thrown in, the Indians were selling off their ace, their upcoming free agent third baseman Casey Blake, and their fifth starter, Paul Byrd. The season was over.

They didn't sell the farm though; they rather rebuilt the lower levels of it with hopes of trying to contend in 2009 and even get a few pieces for beyond.

They did just that and then in the offseason added a few pieces for 2009, pieces that some thought could push the Indians in a division that was mediocre at best.

Both ideas were wrong. Not only did those acquisitions not work out, for one reason or another, but the division is actually worse than we thought. So what does that say about Cleveland's play so far?

Kerry Wood was a welcomed addition, but so far, his use has been up and down and that has caused his performance to go up and down. Inconsistent time for a relief pitcher is their worst enemy and that is what Wood is battling right now. It is entirely not his fault, but it's something he's forced to deal with.

Carl Pavano was the most feared addition to this team, but has been by far the best addition. He's stepped up in the presence of Fausto Carmona's struggles and has been the Indians second best starting pitcher behind the fabulous Cliff Lee.

He throws strikes, doesn't walk anyone, keeps his team in the game, and just gives his team a chance to win and in May they've rewarded him.

Mark DeRosa has provided some run production, but hasn't been the two-hole hitter the Indians hoped he would be. He also wasn't the answer at third, as the Indians were forced to shift Jhonny Peralta to third, Asdrubal Cabrera to second, and DeRosa into his old role of, don't play anywhere, just play everywhere.

And finally the addition of Joe Smith hasn't been able to be enjoyed because of a viral infection Smith suffered in spring training. It got him behind the eight-ball and eventually led to an injury that has kept him out or ineffective so far this year.

Joe Smith hasn’t been the only addition that has been injured, but he isn't the only Indian to visit the disabled list. In fact, if you can believe it, the Indians have actually had more people visit the disabled list in just two months than they had last year.

If you thought last year was bad, you haven't seen anything yet. While last year's impact was quality, with two of the Indians big time hitters, this year has been both, with the quantity of players and the quality of a few of them.

Jamey Carroll and David Dellucci started the year off, suffering injuries in spring training. Both have come back, but Dellucci was soon after released. Jake Westbrook was the other player that started the year on the disabled list, but that was expected.

The good news is that Westbrook is about a month away from returning as he makes his first rehab start Friday with Akron.

Scott Lewis won the fifth spot in the rotation and promptly got hurt in his first start of the season. He hasn't been heard from since.

But that was the end of injuries for awhile. Travis Hafner started the year off strong, but ended up having to shut things down due to lack of strength. Joe Smith went on around the same time Pronk did and is currently rehabbing. Hafner is due back Friday after a lengthy rehab stint that almost was all for nothing.

The past month has been the time that has seen the Indians get hit and get hit hard though, starting with their leadoff hitter, Grady Sizemore.

The gold-glove center fielder was battling an elbow issue that relegated him to the designated hitter spot with Hafner out. It got to a point that wasn't beneficial to anyone and now Sizemore is facing two weeks of rest. If things don't pan out, Grady could have surgery that would put him out an additional four weeks.

Soon after Sizemore finally went on the disabled list, the man that took over the leadoff spot, Asdrubal Cabrera dislocated his shoulder sliding into second base. Cabrera is now sitting on the injury bench, leaving the Indians without their most consistent player this year.

Victor Martinez never went on the disabled list, and thank god the way he's been hitting, but he gave the Tribe a scare when he fouled a CC Sabathia pitch off his knee cap. A few inches in a different spot and the knee cap would have shattered.

Rafael Betancourt, the most consistent relief pitcher in a bullpen filled with inconsistent relief pitchers, would go out hours after Sizemore was placed on the disabled list and hurt his groin. Betancourt will now miss at least a month of action.

It doesn't stop there, believe it or not. As if the injuries to the bullpen weren’t enough, the guys that are supposed to get the ball to the guys in the bullpen aren't fairing much better.

It started with Scott Lewis, went on to Aaron Laffey after he moved to the bullpen, continued with Anthony Reyes, in the same game that Laffey got hurt, and even knocked him out for the year.

So where do the Indians go from here?

They sit 10 games below .500, but just seven games out of first place in the division. Some believe they have the pieces, including myself, to be a playoff team in this sad excuse for an AL Central division.

Well, despite the injuries, the pain and suffering of failing, and the fact that the Indians still don't have starting pitchers behind Lee and Pavano, I'm not ready to throw in the towel.

In fact, I'm actually going to try and accelerate things.

I know, its crazy talk, but with seven games out, no team making any move, both with their roster in a big way or in the standings, I'm looking at a golden opportunity.

Travis Hafner comes back on Friday, hopefully Sizemore isn't out for six weeks and only two weeks, Joe Smith comes back and helps Rafael Perez plug the hole that Rafael Betancourt opened when he got hurt, and maybe things don't look as awful as they do at this point.

However, the Indians can't stand pat at this point and hope all that happens, they need to make a few low-risk moves to compliment that hope.

The first would to make some well-deserved additions from Triple-A Columbus. They've added Sipp with the injury to Betancourt, and I think Sipp will be here to stay now that he's been up, down, and learned what he needed to learn.

The other move I would make is to get Jordan Brown up on the major-league roster. Brown has done nothing but rip the ball a part when he's been healthy in the minor leagues, this year is no exception.

Brown could play first base, but I'd use him mostly in left field with Grady Sizemore out and Ben Francisco patrolling center. Trevor Crowe is fine, but he's no more than a fourth outfielder at this point in time.

Luis Valbuena is double or nothing at this point hitting the ball and he's getting more nothing than he is getting double. Most of his hits are extra-base hits and he's not hitting the ball enough to be an everyday starter. But he needs to be an everyday starter at this point his career.

The only way to solve that riddle is to send him to Columbus, where he can start everyday, but not hurt the team with his average.

Mark DeRosa, if they don't trade him, could then take over the everyday slot at second base, a position he's been good at in his career.

With Josh Barfield and Jamey Carroll being versatile, Peralta can play mostly short until Cabrera gets healthy, and those two can alternate between third base and second, with DeRosa getting some time in the outfield, so Brown isn't playing everyday.

That would leave Ryan Garko playing mostly first, Victor Martinez mostly catching, and Kelly Shoppach only putting on the mask when Cliff Lee pitches.

Shoppach's struggles are something I called before the year even started. He cannot play everyday because he's either striking out or hitting a home run, and like Valbuena, he's doing nothing more than he's doing something.

That leaves the Indians with a lineup that looks like this for the next few weeks: CF Ben Francisco, 2B/3B Jamey Carroll, C Victor Martinez, DH Travis Hafner, RF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B/LF Mark DeRosa, 1B Ryan Garko, LF Jordan Brown.

With a bench that includes Josh Barfield, Kelly Shoppach, Chris Gimenez, and Trevor Crowe.

Of course, we'll know by the time Grady Sizemore is ready to come off, or not, if Jordan Brown can be a player or not. But that's a bridge we cross when we get there.

For the pitching staff, there isn't much more the Indians can do in terms of the Triple-A team or the farm system in general. Chuck Lofgren would be the next option to get the call, but he just reached Triple-A. Everyone else is named Kirk Saarloos or Jack Cassel, retreads in form of the word.

But, there is a move out there the Indians could make to help bolster the starting pitching before Jake Westbrook's impending return.

Fausto Carmona is probably hours away from getting sent to Columbus to fix himself, so that opens up a spot in the rotation that I'd rather not see Tomo Ohka overtake.

So with hopes that David Huff and Jeremy Sowers can at least give the team some innings for awhile, and maybe it will click for Huff at some point, I got out and sign Tom Glavine for the rest of the season.

Yeah, that's pretty out of left field, but with Glavine getting paid by the Braves, he won't demand Pedro money and we've got a nice little rotation spot waiting for him to come right in and take.

It would set up a rotation that looked like this for the time being: LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Carl Pavano, LHP Tom Glavine, LHP Jeremy Sowers, and LHP David Huff.

With a bullpen that looks like this: CL Kerry Wood, LHP Rafael Perez, RHP Joe Smith, LHP Tony Sipp, RHP Luis Vizcaino, RHP Matt Herges, RHP Greg Aquino, RHP Jensen Lewis.

The changes aren't much, but this team needs to find a way to keep afloat and with Smith and Hafner coming back, adding the possibility of Tom Glavine, and maybe Jordan Brown doing something positive, the team looks less like a glorified Triple-A team and more like the Cleveland Indians that can compete for the AL Central.

I might sound like someone who is too hard-headed to jump off what might be a sinking ship, but there is no reason to pack up after two months with a completely winnable division sitting right there.

Especially with Victor Martinez still hitting, Jhonny Peralta's best still ahead of him, hopeful quick returns of some injured players, Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano's positive pitching, there is plenty here that can drive the Tribe for awhile, at least into a better position by the All-Star break.

I will not set a date of destruction on this team, with this division; there is no telling when any team in this division is officially out of it. Take it day-by-day, week-by-week, and hopefully one little run puts the Indians in a better position to say, "The first two months were a wash, this team is still in it despite it all. Let's see what waves we can make now."

This wasn't how it was supposed to go, but that doesn't mean we have to hang our heads in defeat just yet.

For more coverage on the Tribe, you can read this and more from Nino Colla at The Tribe Daily.

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