Indians-Rangers Series Puts Cleveland's Bats Back to Sleep

Jeff SmirnoffSenior Writer IMay 25, 2008

The Cleveland Indians lost two of three to the Texas Rangers over the weekend.

Sunday's loss was a perfect example of the Indians' frustrating season. Ben Francisco, who has been one of the few bright spots on offense, let a single bounce through his legs in the top of the 10th inning to allow the winning run to score with two outs.  Of course, it came off the bat of the Indians' inept former utility man, Ramon Vasquez, who is currently hitting .356 for the Rangers.

Just when you thought the Tribe bats may have started to awaken from their slumber, putting up fourteen runs in the first two games of the series, it was back to business as usual with one run on nine hits on Sunday.

After scoring one run in the first, the Indians had two runners on with one out and failed to score another. They had the bases loaded with one out in the second—and failed to score ANY runs.

Runner on second in the third inning with one out? No runs. Lead-off hitters in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings all get on base? Eliminated by a double play in EACH of those three innings.

Runner on second with one out in the ninth? Stranded.

The awful strikeouts by Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta and the weak groundout to second by Victor Martinez in the bottom of the 10th were a microcosm of the season. None of the Indians hitters can come through when it counts—especially the ones they have counted on over the past three seasons.

An interesting tidbit from the Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes: Indians starters Aaron Laffey (1.60), Cliff Lee (1.66), and C.C. Sabathia (1.66) entered Saturday with the three lowest ERAs in the AL since April 17. The Indians record in those 33 games? 17-16. Sabathia's seven-inning, one-run performance will lower the Indians' record to 17-17 over the last 34 games. Ugly.

So now the Indians have lost eight of their last nine after winning eight of their previous ten. They are managing to hang around in the weak AL Central but have shown very few signs of life offensively. The Indians made some roster moves over the weekend, but they were all pitching related.

Fausto Carmona was placed on the 15-day DL after injuring his hip in Friday's game. Bad news, as Fausto will be out for at least four weeks, but the timing works out with Jake Westbrook's activation from the DL on Wednesday. So Laffey will be sticking around as he tries to be the Fausto Carmona of this year, filling in during injuries and pitching well enough to warrant staying in the rotation.

Jensen Lewis was also optioned back to AAA Buffalo to sort out some velocity and mechanics issues. Crafty veteran Scott Elatron and oft-shuttled Edward Mujica were recalled to take the two roster spots. One—probably Mujica—is headed back to Buffalo when Westbrook is activated Wednesday, but the Indians are more than comfortable with an 11-man staff given the efforts they have been getting from their starters.

Craig Breslow was designated for assignment on Friday to activate Joe Borowski from the DL. No fault of Breslow, who had pitched decently, but the Indians just don't need a 12-man staff with the rotation they have. Maybe they should have shipped out Jorge Julio, after his brilliant performance in relief of Carmona on Friday. The five-run, six-hit, three-walk gem in one and two-thirds innings of work was pure crap—and that is an insult to crap.

Borowski gets ripped a lot, even by me, and deservedly so—but the effect he had on the set-up men did make be raise an eyebrow. Rafael Betancourt threw one and two-thirdd scoreless innings in two appearances, while Masa Kobayashi threw three innings of what would have been scoreless ball if not for Francisco's error. Only Rafael Perez gave up a run in one and two-thirds innings on Friday but bounced back with a scoreless one and two-thirds on Saturday.

Even Iron Joe's performance in his return on Saturday was impressive, for him. He tossed a scoreless inning, with only one weak flare to left on just 10 pitches. Hopefully the bullpen can get itself sorted out—which would leave only one MAJOR problem for the club.

But the offense continues to weigh down the team each and every night. When  your two rookies, Francisco and Michael Aubrey, are the only two guys hitting on a consistent basis, you are not going to win many games. The fact that they are both hitting in the top five of the order should be all that has to be said.

What can the Indians do to to fix the offense? Short of a trade, which in NOT going to happen before July, hope that some guys "find themselves" and make some minor tweaks from within. He had a nice run, but David Dellucci has reverted back to David Dellucci. The Looch hit into two double plays Sunday, killing potential rallies both times.

Ben Francisco has been playing every day, and rightfully so. Shin-soo Choo is almost ready to come off the DL and should be given The Looch's at-bats. He can platoon with Franklin Gutierrez in right field. What they do with Dellucci is really inconsequential at this point. He is serving no purpose right now.

I know his defense is sick, but it might be time to let Asdrubal Cabrera get his bat sorted out in AAA Buffalo. I know Josh Barfield isn't tearing it up down there, but maybe they can flip roles from last year. If Laffey can be this year's Carmona, why can't Barfield be this year's Cabrera?

I hate to say it, because I am the biggest As-Man apologist out there, but it's time for "The As-Man To Go-eth" to AAA and get right.

And just do something with Andy Marte. Play him, trade him, designate him for assignment—I don't care. But right now he is doing nothing, and that CAN'T be good for his development as a player at this point. He can't be any worse than Casey Blake—who may lead the team in RBIs, but that isn't saying much when your team averages barely 3.5 runs per game.

Continue to play Francisco every day and give at-bats to Aubrey. Hafner and Garko have not shown they know how to get out of a slump—maybe sitting on the bench and watching a young, hungry player get hits might do the trick.

Dropping Sizemore down to the three-hole again like last year may be an option, with Choo coming off the DL. He has some speed, and Sizemore may be hitting sporadically—but at least he's hitting. Other than that, I am at a loss.

Despite losing eight of nine, the Indians remain in contention. A three-game series in Chicago against the division-leading White Sox can put them right back in the mix after getting swept by the Sox in Cleveland just three days ago.

If this team is still wallowing in self-pity after blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2007 ALCS, then it's time for them to get over themselves. That's the only thing mentally that these guys may have weighing on their brains. It's time to suck it up, be men, and win some ballgames—before it's too late.