Suddenly, things have gotten worse for a Cleveland Indians team that has been having a Season of Disasters.
Having struggled to hit the ball all season long, it's been the pitching that has carried the Indians through. Coming off a strong spring, Jake Westbrook was expected to have a big season. Instead, he recently incurred his second injury of the season and now will be out for a long time—the whole season, actually, possibly more. He faces Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. Typically, it takes a pitcher a minimum of 12-months to recover from the procedure.
The Indians have played around .500 ball or just below for most of the season. But, how long will it last? The Indians are in need of a hitter if they want to salvage this season and make a run in the widely underachieving AL Central, which has been a saving grace for Cleveland.
Pitching depth is a strength, although with Westbrook is on the DL and with Fausto Carmona out they can’t afford to deal a minor league pitcher to get that needed hitter.
The Indians are also encountering new problems. The bullpen that was the best in the big’s last season has had very little success in 2008. Japanese import Masa Kobyashi has been solid, but no other pitcher has done their job. Joe Borowski had been hurt but is still JoBo. Rafael Betancourt, who was the best set up man in baseball last season has been ineffective all season, as has been his counterpart Rafael Perez, who has had plenty of ups and downs. Jorge Julio is no longer with the team and Jensen Lewis has been sent down to reclaim the form that made him a 7th-inning stud last season. Julio should have been bounced before camp, but the Indians didn’t learn their lesson from 2006 when they thought Danny Graves and Steve Karsay could be effective in the bullpen as minor league free agents.
In the recent week a trip to Texas—though losing two of four to the Rangers—woke up the Indians bats. They are scoring at least four runs per game but in Texas their pitching deserted them and their bullpen was still out of whack.
The Indians are coming around hitting-wise, at least a bit, but Hafner is still out and the only players really hitting at the moment are Casey Blake, Ryan Garko, and Ben Francisco. The Indians need Hafner to rebound in the worst way and need someone else to get hot. Either way if they want to get into this race, they need a proven hitter they can plug into left field or second base because Dellucci and Cabrera are not hitting their weight right now.
Cabrera left a game earlier last week with an injury, and could possibly bring in Josh Barfield at second base. While not as good as Cabrera with the glove, he's no slouch, but isn’t hitting in AAA either. The Indians might have until the All-Star break to come within a few games of whoever might be in first place at that time, the way everyone in the AL Central has played.
If the Indians cannot close the gap, expect the white flag to go up. The offense has started to come around and score some runs. If Cleveland can tinker the bullpen and fix Betancourt’s mechanics, things could turn around fast for the Tribe.
However, they still need another hitter. There’s still over 30 games left for the Indians to try and get better. They need another bullpen arm, a bat and overall need the luck of being healthy to turn this ship around.
What questions do the Indians need answered, should their season go downhill? Can Fausto Carmona be a true ace? Will Cabrera hit? Can Peralta be a consistent hitter? Will the once hyped Andy Marte ever show up? Can Barfield hit in the American League? Can Betancourt return to form? Will Laffey and Sowers hold up the demands of a 162 game season? Can Garko be a consistent hitter? Will Sizemore turn into the 30/30 player everyone expected?
They need to figure out who to root out and who is a true cornerstone. If it does downhill, expect veterans to be traded, others to have their playing time cut. But certainly the Indians one way or another have plenty of things to figure out whether they turn their season around or not, because some of the veterans the have cannot be counted on, and some of their young core players are having a hard time re-adjusting.
The biggest dilemma they will face is not only to try to get things going and get into the race again, but also what happens if they cant do it. They will have a hard time trading ace C.C. Sabathia for a number of reasons. Sabathia will be a free agent at season's end, and teams are unlikely to sell the farm to get a two month rent an ace.
Also the with the injuries at pitching this season they have had to keep Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers up with the team. It has given them the opportunity to see what the younger pitchers can do at AAA, but if they want a hitter to help or to trade Sabathia, they need someone to step into the rotation. They would have to wait until Carmona comes back to trade Sabathia, and make him the ace.
Whichever way the Indians go in the next month will truly show the Cleveland faithful that Eric Wedge, Mark Shapiro and this team are the team to bring home a trophy.