It has been a season to forget so far for the Cleveland Indians as they sit dead last in the American League Central Division at a woeful 41-53, 13 games behind the division leading Chicago White Sox. Only the Seattle Mariners have a worse record in the American League.
It could have been worse if not for a four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays to end the first half of the season. It was worse when the Indians lost the ten games prior to those four. On May 15, the Tribe sat at 22-19, 1.5 games ahead in the AL Central, and have been in a complete free fall since, going 19-34.
The same issues have been prevalent throughout the season. Hitting, especially that of the situational variety, has been so awful that it would be comical if it were not so depressing.
Add to that a total 180 degree turn by the bullpen, the strength of the team in 2007, and it has been a recipe for disaster. The Son of the Bullpen from Hell has the potential to ruin your night on any given day.
Injuries to key cogs like Fausto Carmona, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Jake Westbrook have also contributed to the Indians’ downfall but this team was treading water when those guys were on the active roster. The injuries haven’t helped things out, but are not the underlying factor as some may believe.
I graded the Indians at the quarter mark of the season and with the All-Star break behind us it’s time for a re-review of the team. I will spare you my grades for Tribe skipper Eric Wedge and GM Mark Shapiro. Sports Illustrated’s John Heyman couldn’t have said it any better in my opinion.
Those who have departed us, CC Sabathia, Iron Joe Borowski, Jorge Julio and Craig Breslow are all spared from my wrath. Unfortunately these guys are not…
The A List
Casey Blake (A-), Aaron Laffey (A), Cliff Lee (A+), Grady Sizemore (A)
What Blake has done this year with his limited talent is amazing. He is the perfect jack-of-all-trades guy who is under appreciated and over criticized. He should not be an every day player but it’s not his fault the Tribe has no one better.
Maybe he does have those pictures of Uncle Eric, a midget, a donkey and a parking cone that some cynics think he does. It wouldn’t hurt I guess. He is one of the few position players who have been productive all season. Hopefully they can turn him into some mid-to-upper level prospects before the trade deadline. That would be the smart thing to do.
Laffey has had a few bad starts here and there but we often forget he is a young, raw rookie. When you remember that, what he has done can not be overlooked.
Laffey's averages are actually better than that of Jake Westbrook right now in his second season. That is something to hang some optimism on even if the kid gets carded buying a Slurpee.
What else can be said about Lee and Sizemore that hasn’t been said already? Lee started the All-Star game and has somehow won 12 games in half of a season with an offense that prevented him from winning 15. The only real questions are can Lee keep it up the rest of 2008 and beyond.
My only thought on Sizemore is can he bump up the average a bit and cut down on the Ks just a little bit more. I am hard on Grady because I firmly believe he can be one of the elites in MLB. He needs to hit close to .300 and have a little better discipline to reach that level. He is so damn close he can taste it. You can do it!
The B Squad
Jamey Carroll (B), Shin-Soo Choo (B), Ben Francisco (B), Masahide Kobayashi (B+), Rafael Perez (B-)
Carroll has been a pleasant surprise if only for the fact that he is NOT Ramon Vasquez or Mike Rouse.
He plays the game hard and is just one of those guys who you love to watch. He has come up with a few clutch hits here and there and seems to be a nice little piece of the puzzle. His wacky eyes still freak me out, but hey he plays hard.
Choo and Francisco have had little hiccups here and there but continue to hit. Francisco also looks to be an above-average fielder which is something I did not expect from him.
The fact that these guys are hitting third and fifth in the order has to be taken into account. That is not where they are going to hit normally but with injuries they need to take advantage of the experience.
Kobayashi has been a pleasant surprise out of what has been a bad bullpen. He has had his share of rocky outings but has given the Tribe more than I expected. It will be key to see if he can get enough save chances in the second half to evaluate if he is a future closer or not.
Also, still no appearances in any Japanese alternative lifestyle films! Glorious!
Perez has been very shaky all year but his flare-ups seem to be less frequent and less dramatic than some of the other relievers. I attribute it to more of the league adjusting to him in his second full year than any sort of performance drop off.
How he throws so hard when he may weigh as much as Kate Moss is beyond me but who am I to complain.
The C List
Scott Elarton (C+), Sal Fasano (C), Andy Marte (C-), Edward Mujica (C), Jhonny Peralta (C-), Kelly Shoppach (C)
Elarton was a solid long man out of the pen but doesn’t fit into the team’s long term plans. I hope he gets his personal issues worked out.
Fasano gets a C just for his mustache alone but has hit surprisingly well and definitely has a little of the fire that others on this team lack.
Marte and Mujica have come on a bit lately as they have actually gotten to play for a change. It is imperative to see what they can get from these two guys in the second half as they need to make a decision on both by the end of the year.
This is my main frustration with Uncle Eric. Why did these guys rot for so long on the bench when almost everyone else was stinking it up? I will give him credit for finally giving them a shot but the fact it took him so long to do it is a head-scratcher.
Peralta continues to drive me and many other Tribe fans insane. He shows you these flashes of brilliance but then had days were he looks lost and disinterested. He is like a poor man’s version of Manny Ramirez with less talent.
I want to like him but I can not. Not right now. Maybe because he plays shortstop and Omar Vizquel spoiled us, maybe because he wears Bret Butler’s old No. 2 or maybe I just don’t think he is a “core guy”.
Whatever it is, I need to see the consistent Peralta of 2005 and 2007 for me to lay off him. No more of this bipolar crap.
Shoppach has been solid if not above average with his opportunity to play every day. His strikeout rate is maddening and the fact that he is the Clow Prince of Passed Balls in unbelievable. You are a catcher, you should CATCH the ball! It will be interesting to see if he stays behind the dish when Victor Martinez comes back.
D is for Derailment
Paul Byrd (D), Asdrubal Cabrera (D+), Ryan Garko (D), Franklin Gutierrez (D), Jensen Lewis (D-), Jeremy Sowers (D-)
Derailment is the one word that can explain all of these guys. In 2007 it looked like all of these guys could be part of that “core” that the Indians needed to compete for the playoffs consistently. In 2008 these guys don’t even look like they should be in the big leagues sometimes.
Byrd has continued his trend of following a good year with a bad one and was, at one time, on pace to break the MLB record for homers allowed in one season. He has always been hittable but this year has been ridiculous. It’s a nightly conga-line around the bases when the Byrdman pitches in 2008.
Cabrera, Garko and Gutierrez have been horrible at the plate after solid 2007 campaigns.
For how outstanding he is in the field, the As-Man has been equally awful at the plate. Hopefully, his stint at AAA Buffalo will right his ship. I got spoiled yells “The As-Man Cometh!” every time he got a clutch hit during the 2007 stretch run.
I miss those times…(A single tear running down my cheek.)
Garko is streaky and looks to be nothing more than a weak hitting, nonathletic corner man at some moments. He’s been so bad that Casey Blake is getting regular time at first base.
Gutierrez just looks lost at the plate and went almost a month at the plate without a hit. He may be only a fourth outfielder down the road unless he shows signs of life.
Lewis and Sowers have been bad but have shown glimpses of their 2007 and 2006 forms, respectively. Is Lewis’ problem his motion, velocity or both? Or is it the fact that the short form of his name is Jenny?
Sowers I am at a loss for any sort of reasoning. For a guy who looked so good in 2006 he had a rough sophomore year in 2007 but seemed to have a great attitude on getting back to where he could be.
2008 has shown nothing but the fact that if his control is anything short of pinpoint, he is in trouble.
The second half will go a long way in seeing where these guys fall into the Indians’ long term plans. They need to step it up or they may not be here in 2009.
What the F happened?!?
Rafael Betancourt (F), David Dellucci (F-), Tom Mastny (F), Brian Slocum (F-)
These guys have been worse than bad. Betancourt has been so, so bad it makes me want to puke. When you go from being the best set-up man in baseball to the worst you get and F.
I expected a drop-off but this is ridiculous. I now shudder when he comes into the game where as in 2007 you knew the game was over when he entered.
I gave Dellucci a B in my First Quarter Report Card with the comment that I wanted to punch myself in the face for it. Do you see why now?
He teases us with an extra base hit now and again but it is the long stretches of strike-outs and pop outs to the catcher that are maddening. I bet you want to punch yourself in the face, too, when he is at bat.
Mastny has pitched a little better lately but overall has been a train-wreck. This is after looking like a real player two years ago and most of last year.
Slocum I don’t have words for. He’s been that bad. It’s like I ate five Fiber One bars in one sitting and pooped eight times in 24 hours when he pitches. That’s the only description I can come up with. Way to step it up when you have a shot, guys.
Josh Barfield, Fausto Carmona, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Jake Westbrook
It is a shame Barfield got hurt because it would be nice to know if he fits into the Indians’ long term plans. Carmona and Martinez will hopefully be back after the All-Star break so we can adequately judge if they are on their way back to being upper-tier players.
If Westbrook contributes significantly in 2009 I would be surprised. Let’s hope he is one of the guys who comes back stronger after Tommy John Surgery and not a guy who never regains his stuff.
Jake is a likable, solid middle of the rotation guy that a lot of teams don’t have. He is another player who is often overlooked by the fans.
The 500-pound gorilla in the room is Hafner. Will the Pronk we all know and love return or will we be stuck with this Travis Hafner fellow who stinks? If it is the latter, there is a huge hole in the Tribe line-up in 2009.
My fear is that he is done. He has just lost it mentally and that he will never regain it physically because of it. I hope and pray I am wrong. To see him hit from 2004–2006 was must-see TV.
Incomplete—Too Little Time
Michael Aubrey, Matt Ginter, Juan Rincon, Jorge Velandia
Aubrey hit a couple of homers and played a great defensive 1B while he was here but did nothing to make me think he is more than an athletic, lighter hitting Ryan Garko.
Ginter did a nice job in a spot start while Rincon has looked wild as hell since his promotion.
Velandia is just filling a spot until Barfield or Cabrera return. Aubrey is the only one I see being here in 2009 and even that is a stretch due to his lack of power at a power position.
So there you have it. It has been a rough go of it for the Tribe and their fans, in 2008. They need to use the rest of the season to get everyone healthy, see what they have in some of the younger guys and not be afraid to make moves to acquire some young talent.
For if they do not do that, they have little chance of completing in 2010, let alone 2009.