Say it isn’t so!
This team is so much better than they are playing. So much better. But you have to question their ability to mold dominant pitchers for this frail staff.
Think about it: Under John Hart or Mark Shapiro, when have major league baseball teams ever been scared of this team’s rotation?
Although very dominant in the late 90’s, could you really feel overwhelmed against a pitching staff with Charles Nagy and Jared Wright? Is there a future core of your rotation when you rotate mid-30’s post-nasty pitchers through the revolving doors of Jacobs Field.
Chuck Finley? Dwight Gooden? Orel Hershisher?
The point I want to make is that the evolution of Mark Shapiro’s Indians replicate the same team setup as with the dominant Indians’ teams of the last decade of the 20th century. A lot of hitting, a solid defensive infield, 3-4-5 power, and veteran pitchers at the tail end of the careers.
Something is Missing!
Two key things are missing from this Indians team from the one ten years back. One thing is two bullpen automatics. When Manny Ramirez was donning the Tribe uniform in Cleveland, any lead the lineup around him produced was mightily protected by Jose Mesa and Mike Jackson. Even other notable relievers like Eric Plunk and Paul Assenmacher had good stuff to shut teams down after the 6th inning.
Although the Indians have added Kerry Wood to supplement Betancourt and the rest of the bullpen, the history of the post-Hart Indians could be summed up in 5 words:
Joe Borowski & Bob Wickman
This team never really tried to get just one good reliever to glue this bullpen together, and the truly talented pieces ( Like Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez) have been pitched so many innings that one has to wonder if their struggles the last year could be due to fatigue.
The 2nd thing that Shapiro is doing differently is that he has not brought in the right veteran role players around their young players.
Julio Franco, Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser, Tony Pena Sr., Alvaro Espinosa. From 1996-2000, these guys played a great role for helping the Indians win, and bringing a veteran influence into the clubhouse. These guys have won, and these guys were very professional.
Matt Lawton, Lou Merloni ( sorry to pick on you buddy ), Paul Byrd, Jose Hernandez, Kenny Lofton. Other than Quickie Kenny, their role players didn’t have the same grit, the same history, the Hall of Fame sweat that some of the other veterans on the Hart teams.
When their young talent gets injured, have development issues, or get overwhelmed, you need those solid veterans to pick up the slack ( and be somewhat still productive ). You can’t just add veterans because they have major league service. Getting Trot Nixon and Aaron Boone at the midnight of their careers diddn’t help, considering they didn’t produce over 20 homeruns and 90 RBI’s COMBINED during their tenure ( and that was over 200 games played ).
The current team is talented. But like the sheltered intellectual kid who goes off to college, gets too wild, and ends up in his own puke, the Cleveland Indians find themselves in a putrid mess.
The End of the Beginning of the End
In the end, they can save themselves for next year. Hell, they probably can make a mini-run this year. They have the talent. But they need management to hold on to this core, and add some arm depth and gritty vets to bring this team back to dominance.