Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Tribe fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the Indians each week throughout the season.
This week, we discuss how Grady Sizemore can fight his way back from a physical problem and how David Huff can do the same from a psychological one, offer our best strategies for defeating the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, and share our definition of the ultimate ballpark experience.
I would like to thank this week's participant, Dale Thomas, for his contribution. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. Indians' fallen hero Grady Sizemore has hit yet another painful road block in his career, this time in the form of a somewhat mysterious injury to his left knee.
Sizemore is scheduled for surgery this week. It's still unknown whether he will undergo a minor procedure that will have him out 6-8 weeks or microfracture surgery that will end his season.
Do you expect to see Sizemore back on the field in a couple of months, or do you predict that his season is over?
Further, do you think he'll ever return to being the player who once appeared to be a potential Hall-of-Famer? Do you think his struggles are purely injury-related, or are there other factors contributing to the problem?
Samantha Bunten: Unfortunately, I think Grady is probably done for the season.
It's always hard to tell with Grady, because you'll never hear him whining or asking for a day off to "rest." Sizemore is the ultimate "keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, and play" kind of guy, so the extent of his injuries is hard to determine until it gets so bad that he winds up on the DL or in surgery. Even then, Grady is always going to be the guy who will tell you he's fine or lobby to get back out there while most people would still be laid up on the couch eating pizza and watching daytime television.
So I can only conclude that when even Sizemore himself is saying he may be done for the year, that means we won't see him again in 2010. We will know more, of course, after today's procedure. If the first procedure does the job, he could be back after the All-Star break, but if he winds up having the microfracture surgery (which, for anyone who doesn't know, is a nasty business involving drilling holes in the knee to help build up cartilage—Yee-ouch!), he's finished for the season.
As to whether he can return to form, I'd say that is entirely injury-dependent. If Sizemore can stay healthy from now on, I would never bet against him. He has never, ever struggled when he wasn't injured. His talent and effort should never be in question.
The bigger mystery at this point is whether he actually can stay healthy. He's now had enough injuries over a short period of time that it appears he might be more fragile than we once thought. Unfortunately, there comes a point where the ability to tough it out just isn't enough.
And certainly there are other factors contributing to the problem, although they all relate back to the initial injury in the second half of last season. It's a vicious cycle: you can't hit because you're in pain, you start pressing, your plate discipline goes out the window, your stats drop like rocks, and you may even hurt yourself again as a result.
Dale Thomas: I think Grady is done for this season. Although I know very little about this injury, it appears that he is in pain, indicated by his limp. This leads me to believe that there's something going on other than a deep bruise. Like maybe a possible fracture.
I hope, wish, and fully expect Grady to return to his early career form. I mean, all this stuff going wrong isn't like he "all of a sudden" became lazy or old or incapable. He was on a path to greatness, improving year after year through 2008 in dingers and doubles, RBIs, and a batting average hovering somewhere around .280. He also won a couple of Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award.
I think his fielding percentage has been pretty steady at third or fourth in the league, and oddly first in 2009 and thus far into 2010.
Even with only 439 at-bats in 2009, he still had 18 homers and 20 doubles. 2010 has produced zero long balls and a poor batting average, but he's still got a couple of triples, a few stolen bags, a handful of doubles (minus the thumb) and only one GIDP. I just think it all screams "temporarily out of order," but nowhere near "done."
What all contributes to this? I have no idea, but injuries tend to bring in other factors: some with the head, some with the body.
For example, there are all the adjustments to the swing and the general approach to hitting. People and coaches can flat-out mess with you. You watch hours upon hours of film. They change your swing, trying to accommodate for this or that, so pretty soon a batter is thinking more than he's swinging.
It's like that old thing where if you're driving a car and you have to "think" through everything required to stop, you wouldn't get it stopped before you run over that squirrel. Grady is running over a few squirrels out there.
He's got to get back to "see the ball, hit the ball." I don't think people have messed around with the way he fields the ball, and it seems his glove is fine.
And have I mentioned that on a really bad day for Grady, he's still better than most of our team? I expect Grady to be back. Rock solid.
2. This week the Tribe takes on their division foe, the Detroit Tigers, who have given the Indians fits so far this season, taking four out of five games. The Tigers are also hitting .286 against Tribe pitching thus far in 2010.
What is your plan of attack for vanquishing the Tigers this week?
Also, keep in mind that in the five games that have taken place between the Tigers and Indians thus far, the Tigers have only outscored the Tribe 28-23.
Could this mean the Indians had some bad luck in terms of how the runs they scored were distributed over the course of the match-ups, or is this simply another example of how they fail to bring runners home in critical situations in close games?
Samantha Bunten: As we know at this point, things didn't work out too well against the Tigers in this series. Our defense and closer tried to give away the first game, of which we barely got out alive, we were summarily drubbed in the third game, and then the second game—well, whether Jim Joyce says so or not, we were on the wrong end of perfection.
Earlier in the season, we did have some bad luck against Detroit, but several of those games were lost on horrible, horrible fielding blunders. We've talked in the past about how the Tribe's defense isn't as bad as people seem to think, but the second Detroit series of the season saw the Tribe drop more than one ballgame due to mistakes made at key points in the game.
Overall, in order to beat Detroit, as is the case with every other team we face, our hitters have to learn to focus on having smart at-bats, rather than trying to be the hero or going to the plate laden with a sense of impending doom.
Too often our hitters get down in the count or face a pitcher who has been overpowering their bats, and either resign themselves to making an out or flail desperately at pitches out of the strike zone in a vain attempt to "make something happen."
This team needs a refresher course in pitch selection and plate discipline, and needs to keep their focus on getting on base and moving runners. Quit trying to be the hero. Even if you put one over the fence, that doesn't help much when there's no one on base and you're down six runs.
Dale Thomas: Plan of attack: Throw strikes. Hit Ball. Catch Ball.
I think our starters will do fine against Detroit. I worry a lot about our relief pitching. If the starters can go deep into the games, we'll be fine...IF we don't commit huge, careless errors.
I do think we had some bad luck against the Tigers, but at the end of the day, the Tribe didn't step up at critical times, and I mean in every aspect of the game.
While the Indians pitchers were on the mound, Detroit batters were struggling and they gave them freebies. As for hitting, opportunities were plentiful. We did not hit in critical situations with runners on. The play in the field griped me more than all the rest. Yes, there's the infamous "bad hop," but most of the errors I saw from the Tribe were due to a lack of concentration.
For example, in Tuesday's game we entered the ninth up 3-1. Kerry Wood zipped through the first two batters like he was an actual real closer. Then Russell Branyan let potential out number three go through—I mean, talk about a routine, simple third grade play. Total boot. No weird hops, no nothing, and the ball wasn't even hit hard.
Okay, so a guy gets on, so what, who cares, no big deal because our "closer" had two down and was looking good. Ha! Then all of a sudden he couldn't pitch anymore. Ball... ball... ball.... so all he had was a fastball. One pitch and everyone was sitting on it. Talk about scary!
So yeah, the guy hitting .170-something drove in a run after a zillion fouled off fastballs, so then it was 3-2. Here's where the luck came in—Wood threw a first pitch fastball strike. Then he actually got a 90 mph cutter over the plate for a called strike two. The batter couldn't just sit on the heat now, so a fly ball to left—out number three, Tribe wins.
But gawd, I never saw a team try so hard to lose a ballgame, and they almost did it!
So for the rest of this series, my game plan is to rub a chicken foot on a bat, sing the anti-curse chant in a language I don't understand, stick a few pins and sharp sticks in my Chevy (made in Detroit), sacrifice a maiden or two, and write Indians' player salaries on a chalk board 100 times. $400k $400k $400k $400k WHOOPS!! $11M (Hafner, Westbrook, Wood) $400k $400k $400k $400k $400k $400k $400k $400k...
3. This weekend the Tribe will also face another division rival in the Chicago White Sox.
Initially they seemed to have Chicago's number, but the last series versus the White Sox produced far less desirable results.
What was the Tribe doing right in their first two series against the Sox that they failed to do in the third series? What do you think is the key to beating Chicago this weekend?
Samantha Bunten: We've talked about this issue before, and at the risk of over-simplifying the matter, it seemed that the Tribe just played good baseball in their first two series against Chicago. Their pitchers were efficient, their hitters put together good at-bats and moved runners, and the defense refrained from booting easy plays.
In the third series, none of that happened, and that's why they fared poorly. Additionally, my observations have led me to believe that, historically, the Tribe seems to have a particular problem with allowing the White Sox to get in their heads and rattle them.
Whether this is the product of Ozzie Guillen's dugout antics or the pressure of the shred of rivalry we have left with Chicago is hard to determine. But, for whatever reason, they seem to have had trouble keeping their cool against the White Sox.
In order to win this weekend, the biggest thing is that they need to keep their heads on straight. Chicago has good pitching, but they are hittable, as the Tribe already proved this season.
The Sox bats, while potent at times, also tend to be a little streaky. Some of that is out of our pitchers' hands, and it is dependent on whether their hitters are slumping when we get into town this weekend. But it's also something we can capitalize on if our pitchers can hit their spots and take advantage of a team that tends to slump as a group.
Dale Thomas: In the first and second series our starters pitched well. Our relievers pitched well and forced double plays Our position players hit the ball and moved runners.
In the third series we didn't do any of that. I attribute this to "trying to win." If I were Manny Acta, I'd go into the weekend trying to lose. "Don't even think about winning," I'd tell my team, "Lose at all costs." "Do not concentrate on grounders, and presume your backup will catch those flies!"
"Do not throw strikes, and do not act like you want to be at this game." This should work well because if we try to lose, we will, no doubt, "lose" at losing, which means we will win. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. So simple. So pure. It'll work.
4. Last weekend saw the Tribe involved in a terrible series with the New York Yankees. The only thing scarier than the way the Yankees summarily trounced the Tribe in three out of four games was the terrifying moment when David Huff took an Alex Rodriguez line drive to the head.
Fortunately, Huff seems to be okay, and he escaped without even suffering so much as a concussion. He's very lucky to have avoided any severe physical consequences, but the potential psychological damage is yet to be determined.
Do you think a pitcher's ability to focus and maintain accuracy on the mound is hindered when he endures an experience like this? Is it ever possible to overcome the newly-acquired fear of getting hit in the head again?
Of the long list of pitchers who have had this sort of horrible experience, are there any who you noticed were either exceptionally quick to overcome the fear, or any who appear to still be struggling with it years later?
Samantha Bunten: There is nothing scarier than a baseball coming at your head at speeds in excess of 100 miles-per-hour from 60 feet away. A ball coming off a bat in the majors takes about a third of a second to reach the mound on a come-backer line drive, meaning only luck and blind instinct separate a pitcher's chances of making a great catch from his chances of landing in a hospital.
And that's what's so terrifying about getting hit in the head in a situation like this—as a pitcher, there is pretty much nothing you can do to prevent it. Lots of injuries are easier to overcome psychologically, because the player can seek comfort in thinking about what he might do differently to prevent a repeat occurrence. Not so in the case of a screaming liner at your head while you're on the mound and possibly still off-balance from finishing your pitching motion.
Herb Score is, especially for Indians fans, the tragic example of a pitcher who never recovered from being hit in the head. Score was phenomenal—a potential Hall-of-Famer, in fact— before he was hit. Afterward, he struggled to remain even an average pitcher and retired shortly thereafter. A sad story of a pitcher who, through no fault of his own, saw his career end due to both physical and psychological damage from an unlucky shot to the head.
Regarding someone who did make it back from a similar situation, you have to love Mike Mussina's post-beaning career, which lasted years and saw him pitch as well, if not better, than before the ugly, ugly incident in 1998. Mussina took a line drive to the face that broke his nose, blacked both of his eyes, and gave him a minor concussion.
Mussina managed to get over the fear and get back on the mound to pitch effectively during the rest of his career, but it wasn't without suffering some psychological damage. Three years after the incident, Mussina would tell ESPN's "Outside The Lines" that, "My injury, it was almost entirely mental. I mean, I got stitches and my nose was broken, but that doesn't affect the way I throw. It was mentally getting over the fear that every ball I threw, every ball that someone made contact with, was coming back at me."
And finally, we have to give a shout-out to our own David Huff, who got RIGHT back out there and made his next start after the horrible, scary incident last weekend. An admirable, courageous thing to do which is very, very worthy of our praise.
Dale Thomas: Oh yeah, get beaned by a line drive, and there's just no way to "ignore" it.
Some pitchers may have the talent to throw good games afterward, or have the ability to simply put it out of their mind. I think a lot depends on the severity of the injury, and where exactly it hit you. Like bullets, some may glance off, and some may try to go right through your skull.
On Herb Score: In his three seasons before being hit by the line drive, Score never had an ERA above 3.00 (2.85 in 1955, 2.53 in 1956, and 2.00 in 1957).
In his five seasons after the incident, Score never had an ERA below 3.00 (3.95 in 1958, 4.71 in 1959, 3.72 in 1960, 6.66 in 1961, and 4.50 in 1962.)
Tom Gordon got hit eight times! He claims he never thought about it at all while pitching. He just continued to strike people out. Then again, he ended up painting gazelles or something...
If you check out a time line on this kind of thing, you'll find out that the number of pitchers hit by line drives jumped up big time in the mid-1980s. From about 1985 to the present, the number has doubled. Prior to that it was pretty steady dating all the way back to 1900. If I were a pitcher, I'd be thinking about this and trying to figure out why.
Come to think of it, I took a line drive right in the ear when I was in Little League. Perforated my eardrum and had a major concussion from it. I never thought about it at all when I played after that...no fear, no worries. Go figure!
5. Fun Question of the Week: There's no better way to spend a summer day than at the ballpark. Even if your team isn't performing well, taking in a game live still usually makes for a good time.
Describe your ultimate ballpark experience at Progressive Field for us: where is your favorite place in the stadium to sit? What is your favorite stadium food? What is your favorite stadium "tradition?" (It could be anything from the entertainment elements of the park provided by the venue and its staff, or a tradition you personally have created and engage in during all of your ballpark visits.)
Samantha Bunten: The best part of the ballpark experience is always those traditions you establish to make it your own. My dad and I have a routine we go through every time we go to the ballpark, right down to where we sit or stand at a given time, what ballpark activities we engage in, what we eat, and all the silly little things we always do that wouldn't be at all interesting to anyone else, but are a vital part of the ballpark experience for us.
These things are as much a part of our enjoyment of the event as the ballgame itself, so much so that when I attend a game with someone other than my dad, everything just feels wrong because we're not on what I consider the ultimate Progressive Field routine.
My favorite place to sit is Section 113, right next to the vistor's bullpen in the first or second row. The view of the field can't be beat, the crowd in that area is the best in the ballpark, and you can usually have some fun with the visiting pitchers in the bullpen, who are surprisingly friendly with the fans and much more willing to engage with the crowd than you might think.
So I think the ultimate ballpark experience is different for everyone who attends. Part of what is so great about baseball is that in going to a game, it's so easy to make it your own. For me, the ultimate experience is being with my dad, a little friendly banter with the bullpen pitchers, and a good crowd willing to have some fun right along with us. And a Tribe win is always nice, too.
Dale Thomas: Thinking back over all the great times I've had at the ballpark, I'm going to have to say the ultimate experience just keeps happening.
The thing that makes it so cool for me is being with my daughter. It's SO much fun to be with someone who loves the sport, has a sense of adventure and isn't afraid to "test" the ballpark rules here and there. This is how bad seats turn into good seats, rain delays aren't boring, and victory is ten times sweeter.
It's not really about where I sit or anything like that. In fact, some of the best times I had were in standing-room-only sections.
So! Once we were standing on the home run porch by the left field foul pole. It was here that we actually got a player to reposition himself by explaining to him that he "had to stand on the brown spot," which was this dead patch of grass in left field that never went away. I mean, after all, the reason it's brown is because that's where everyone stands, right?
I've also enjoyed sitting by home plate where I got to harass Albert Belle just after he switched teams. He went 0-for-4 that day.
Then there's what we call "the friendly section," located in right field near the visitors' bullpen. This is where people don't seem to mind if you steal a better seat than you had. Or, if you're lucky enough to get an actual seat over there, it's always nice to talk to the pitchers, or maybe listen to the players giving their cell phone numbers to another player during warm-ups. Then, of course, you can call them during the game. It's also THE place to be if it's raining.
The ninth inning is always best viewed from the bridge that leads to the parking lot. This provides a full panoramic view of the playing field, as well as a quick exit if needed. There's something mysteriously lucky about standing here. If it's a close game, the odds of winning go up tremendously. This is just a true fact. I don't know why more people don't know about this.
Section 144 row AA, seats one and two are the absolute best seats. They're just behind the visitors' dugout and the view is phenomenal. Lots of foul balls zing by, and it's close enough to where the players look life-sized.
The suites are good for business outings because those folks who don't care about the game can stay inside and indulge themselves with chocolate-covered strawberries, while the rest of us can sit outside with hot dogs.
Speaking of hot dogs, this is something that has to be part of any trip to the ballpark. They are best when passed down a row of 15-20 people. I don't know why—it just is.
Oh! And one last very important thing: Make sure you sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." I'm not talking about mouthing words here, like the national anthem. Belt it out. Be heard. Be a rock star for 90 seconds. It's way stronger than voodoo.