Cleveland Indians: 5 Ways the Tribe Plays Baseball in October
The Cleveland Indians have been off to a hot start and are on top of the American League Central with one-eighth of the season over. With a relatively easy April and May schedule, the Indians can increase their lead in the standings and create a buzz with the fans and around the league.
As of today, the Indians have six players (Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin) who are making their cases for the All-Star game. With two of their best hitters (Shin Soo Choo and Carlos Santana) and ace (Fausto Carmona) off to a slow start, the Indians still have plenty of room to improve.
With the market the Indians play in, the goal will be to compete this year without sacrificing the future. Don’t expect GM Chris Antonetti to bring any big-name/salary players in by trading away prospects like Lonnie Chisenhall or Alex White.
The following slides will show five ways the Indians can stay on top of the AL Central and play in the postseason.
1. Manny Acta Shouldn't Hesitate to Switch Up the Batting Order
Manny Acta has stayed pretty consistent with the batting order against right-handed and left-handed pitchers.
1. Grady Sizemore - CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera - SS
3. Shin Soo Choo - RF
4. Carlos Santana - C
5. Travis Hafner - DH
6. Orlando Cabrera - 2B
7. Michael Brantley - LF
8. Matt LaPorta - 1B
9. Jack Hannahan - 3B
1. Grady Sizemore - CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera - 2B
3. Shin Soo Choo - RF
4. Carlos Santana - C or DH
5. Travis Hafner or Shelley Duncan - DH
6. Orlando Cabrera –-2B
7. Austin Kearns - LF
8. Matt Laporta - 1B or Lou Marson - C
9. Adam Everett - 3B
The old-school thought is to stay consistent and to not mess with something that is working for now. That idea might have been alright for the 1995 Indians when they had seven All-Stars in the lineup with defined roles.
That isn’t the case with these Indians.
If Santana continues to slump, there should be no reason why Acta doesn’t slide him down to the seventh spot in the lineup. Sizemore can move to the third or fourth spot, and Brantley could move back up to the leadoff spot.
I could also see LaPorta and O. Cabrera switching spots sometime before the end of the season.
This team is built on versatility, and Acta should use that to his advantage.
2. Manny Acta Shouldn't Overuse the Starting Pitchers or Bullpen
With Mitch Talbot on the DL, the average age of the Indians' pitching staff is 24.5 years old. They have an average of 2.25 seasons under their belt. Take 33-year-old Chad Durbin out of that mix, and the numbers go down even further. Only one starter and two relievers have significant experience in the playoffs.
With all of that in mind, Acta and pitching coach Tim Belcher have to manage the pitching staff. It wouldn’t hurt to have guys like Jeanmar Gomez and David Huff make a few spot starts to rest the starting staff.
As for the bullpen, their work needs to be balanced. If one of the guys needs a rest, Frank Herrmann, Jess Todd or Jensen Lewis could come up and fill the spot for the time being.
Most of the pitchers on the team aren’t used to a 162-game season. If healthy, they are going to be asked to make it through the long season and possibly (hopefully) pitch another month into October.
If Acta wants to be successful in the playoffs, his most important job will be to keep the pitching staff healthy and be ready for the end of the season.
3. Acquire a Right-Handed Hitting Third Baseman
This isn’t a knock against Jack Hannahan. Trading for a right-handed third baseman is more about balancing the lineup. The Indians currently have five starters who hit only from the left side, and most of them are their best hitters.
Hannahan has a .286 batting average. with four home runs, 11 RBI and a .348 on base percentage. He is also playing excellent in the field, which the Indians haven’t seen at the hot corner since Travis Fryman was in uniform.
I’m not saying this to “bring back the good old days,” but I think Casey Blake would be a perfect fit for this team. Blake is more versatile then Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan because he could play third, first or a corner-outfield spot.
Hannahan could continue to start at third against right-handed pitchers, and Blake could face lefties. Blake could also give LaPorta, Brantley, Choo and Hafner a rest at times.
Blake is being paid $5.25 million this year, and he has a $6 million club option for next year. If the Los Angeles Dodgers fall further back in the standings, it may not take much to trade for him. Given the current situation the Dodgers are facing as a franchise, they may be willing to let Blake go for a low-level prospect and cash.
4. Acquire a Veteran Left-Handed Starting Pitcher
In my opinion, this is the least important out of the five things the Indians need to do, but it wouldn’t hurt. The Indians starters are all young, right-handed and have a similar pitching style.
If the perfect left-handed experienced starter were made available, I think the Indians should make an offer. I searched through the rosters to try to find the right guy, and there are only two realistic options.
The best option for the Indians would be Randy Wolf.
Acquiring Wolf would take a bit of luck. The owners would have to sign off on taking the remainder of Wolf’s $9.5 million contract for this year and next year. Also, the Milwaukee Brewers expect to compete in the NL Central and won’t be moving Wolf unless they significantly fall back in the standings.
Wolf is 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
Another option would be Seattle Mariners' pitcher Erik Bedard. Bedard was signed to a non-guaranteed contract in December and has started off very slow. Bedard is 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA and 1.98 WHIP.
With the Mariners struggling again this season, I’m betting Bedard could be had for very little. If the Indians did acquire Bedard, hopefully the change of scenery would help him perform like he did in 2006 and 2007. If not, then keep him on a very short leash and cut your losses.
5. Extend the Contracts of Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo
The Indians have a strong farm system with depth at every position except for the outfield. They have a few lower-level prospects who are promising, but other than Nick Weglarz, the Indians don’t have any outfield prospects ready to break out.
The Indians are 26th in payroll at $48.3 million. Only four players (Hafner, Sizemore, Choo and Carmona) make over $2.5 million, and 64 percent of the players will make less than $1 million this season.
Sizemore and Choo are perfect players to build a team around. They are constant professionals with All-Star ability. The Indians should make re-signing these two guys their top priority.
Sizemore is signed through next season, and the Indians have Choo locked up through 2013. Antonetti should offer a Victor Martinez-type deal (four years for $50 million) to both players and see what they counter with. Meet somewhere in the middle and lock these guys up for years to come.
Signing these guys would show the team and the fans the owners are committed to winning now and in the future. Having Choo and Sizmore playing with a sense of stability could only help the team this year.
It also puts the idea into the other player’s heads that if they perform at a high level, then they will be rewarded. Keeping fan favorites in Cleveland will only improve ticket sales, which will have a positive effect on the team when they play at home.