Who would have thought?
All those great teams of the 1990's and even some of those in the 2000's, and this seemingly rag-tag bunch has notched one of the best records ever in Tribe history.
The same team that was pegged the worst team in the game by many experts.
Since our last edition, the Wahoo's cruised to six home victories, running their total record to 19-8, including a 13-2 record at the Jake.
For this week's edition, we will tackle the debut of Alex White, our favorite unheralded bench players, and the keys to success for another West Coast road trip this week.
Stalwart Geoff Estes once again takes the field for questions, with rookie Dillon Painter joining for his debut.
Alex White performed well in his debut (6 IP, 2 ER, 4 K’s). With Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco down with injury, and Jeanmar Gomez being called up as well, how do you see the rotation shaking up when, particularly Carrasco, returns from injury? What do you think Gomez and White’s statuses will be?
Alex Painter: It has been established that Carrasco's injury is not as severe as Talbot's. It is pretty clear that White is more in the club's future plans than Gomez. Therefore, it would not surprise me if Gomez retains the spot over White so he can save a year of service time leading to arbitration. I will say though if the Indians keep up their torrid pace, and if White gives them a better chance to win every five days, the job is his if they stay contending.
Dillon Painter: Although Alex White performed extremely well in his debut, I do believe that when Carrasco is healthy and returns he will regain his spot (4 or 5) in the rotation. I also think this is really dependent on how White will continue to perform and how Carrasco continues to progress in his rehab. Gomez as done an admirable job at 4th in the rotation, but once again I think that when Talbot becomes healthy, he should be able to supplant Gomez in the rotation. As I see it, current rotation (although you could make the argument of Masterson being the "ace") of Carmona, Masterson, Tomlin, Gomez, and White will continue, until Carrasco and Talbot become healthy again.
Geoff Estes: I was very impressed with White on Saturday. The way he looked shaky early and then bounced back to put together six solid innings showed a lot of character. Jeanmar Gomez hasn’t looked too good since being called up, but it is still a small sample size, and I was actually more impressed with him at the end of 2010 than Josh Tomlin, who has been awesome.
Once Talbot and Carrasco come back, I think (assuming everybody is healthy), that Fausto and Masterson will still be one and two, with Carrasco or Tomlin as the number three, and then Talbot rounding out the rotation. White should get at least one more start before that happens, so if he looks great, he may get a chance to be in the rotation, but I think Talbot regains his spot until he either is injured again or loses it based on performance.
Since our last edition (April 25), the Indians have gone 6-0. What have been the keys to victory this week?
Dillon Painter: I think the two most important keys to victory this past week was the bullpen and balance on offense. Up to this point, our starting pitchers have allowed the Tribe to stay in games, especially in this past week. However, our bullpen continues to put the nail in the coffin on our opposition. Most notably, Chris Perez is tied for 2nd in the AL in saves (7) and rookie Vinnie Pestano, continuing to sport an ERA of 0.82, being able to get us out of jams (i.e. loaded bases vs. Tigers). On offense, night in and night out, someone different is seemingly stepping up. Whether it be Brantley, Santana, or LaPorta, to highlight a few in this past week, a new player seems to emerge and provide clutch hitting at the plate.
Geoff Estes: The keys to victory this week has been timely hitting, late-inning resolve and resilient pitching. The timely hitting and late-inning resolve have been extraordinary. The wins against Detroit were all in the last at bat after trailing earlier. The other positive thing about those big hits is that it seems someone different is always stepping up, which is great.
The reason I say resilient pitching is because the pitchers have been sneakily really good this past six games. Masterson’s start was a perfect example: He gave up two runs early, then settled down to keep the Indians within striking distance. The bullpen has been very solid too. The pitchers are not getting shutouts, and grabbing headlines, but are keeping the big innings out of the equation and giving the lineup a chance to win it every night.
Alex Painter: In short, resiliency (looks like Geoff and myself were thinking the same thing here). This is a team who has shown they will not quit at any stage in a ball game. They had come-from-behind wins, an extra inning win, as well as the familiar formula of getting an early lead and not giving ground for the rest of the game. We look to be firing on all cylinders as of now.
Shin-Soo Choo seems to be busting out of his early season slump very well as of late. Will Carlos Santana be next? His last three hits have been home runs, but he is still hitting a .191 clip. Although his round-trippers have been clutch (walk-off grand slam against Detroit), will he be considered more of a power guy or should we be expecting his average to climb here as well?
Alex Painter: There is no question that the man can flat-out knock the cover off the baseball. And regardless of batting average, he is still drawing walks at a good rate (nearly one a game). He exercises good patience at the plate. He started the season hot, and I think now he is warming up with the last couple of games. Look for his average to steadily climb, while continuing to hit for great power.
Dillon Painter: I do believe that Santana will be the next one to bust out of his slump. Santana is very patient at the plate, seemingly drawing a BB almost every game, but it is important to note that he is continuing to hit the ball hard throughout his "slump." Expect to see similar production, and a rise in BA, out of Santana, as his confidence at the plate continues to grow, as we saw with Choo. His last three hits, all HR's, could very well be something the fans should expect to see night in and night out of Santana.
Geoff Estes: I always thought of Santana as an average guy who is good for 20-25 home runs when he is on. The homers have been nice, but I think he needs to focus more on the average. Choo has been hitting line drives for hits, and the power has followed. I feel that Santana needs to do the same to be effective. Hitting between Choo and Hafner should allow him many RBI opportunities, and give him a chance to score when he does reach base. I’d be surprised if his average isn’t up to somewhere like .235 -.240 by the end of May, and then over .250 by mid-late June.
Through the first month of the season, who have looked like bona-fide “All-Stars”?
Dillon Painter: Three players stick out to me as "bona-fide All-Stars". The first is Justin Masterson. With a 5-0 record and a 2.25 ERA, he continues to be a key factor the the Indians successes. As long as he continues to pitch into the sixth and seventh inning, expect the Indians to continue to win and/or have a chance to win games. The second, Grady Sizemore. He continues to be a fan favorite and deservedly so. At this point, he is hitting .340 with 4 HR's and a perfect fielding rating. Not bad for coming off microfracture knee surgery. The last, Travis Hafner. If his production thus far is any indication for the rest of his season, the "Pronk" of old is BACK. Hafner continues to provide power in the middle of the lineup and look for him to make an impact during the Tribe's west coast outings.
Geoff Estes: Justin Masterson has been an All-Star through the first month for sure. If a middle-reliever has had a better April than Rafael Perez I have yet to hear about it, but set-up men have a hard time making it. Numbers-wise, Brantley is a candidate with his .309 avg. If Grady Sizemore stays on the pace he is on, he will certainly be an All-Star. The real bona-fide All-Star through a month is Masterson, just because Sizemore hasn’t had enough games in yet to be real sold on him being an All-Star in 2011.
Alex Painter: I think you guys covered this one pretty well. I will throw a sleeper into the mix; Matt LaPorta. I know the first base ballot is pretty full, but if his average continues to climb and he keeps playing a solid first base, maybe he could make a splash.
The Indians have boasted a very solid bench this season. Who has been your favorite reserve this season and why?
Dillon Painter: My personal favorite off the bench this year has been Shelley Duncan. He always seems to provide a lift in the offense through timely hits (.333 BA, good for 3rd on the team) He has stepped in nicely for the injured Hafner. The versatile Duncan, I believe, will continue to contribute when his number is called.
Geoff Estes: My favorite reserve this year has been Shelly Duncan. Lou Marson looks like a different hitter than last year, which has been nice, but Duncan seems to always be in the middle of the big rally when he is playing. He has been a real spark plug in the lineup.
Alex Painter: I am certainly inclined to say Shelley Duncan as well, he is proven clutch time and time again. I think it's impossible to not like a guy like Lou Marson though. Even Adam Everett has provided some good play.
With another West Coast road trip coming up, how do you see the Tribe faring? Particularly against the Angels who got the better of the club earlier this season?
Geoff Estes: The upcoming Western road trip worries me a little bit. The confidence for the young Tribe is running high, but a bad road trip could bring it down real quick, regardless of their overall record. This is a young team, and I worry about the effect of any kind of extended losing streak. As for this road trip, I would love to go 3-3. The A’s pitching is scary good, but I truly feel the Indians can win two out of three from them. Anaheim worries me, but hopefully Jered Weaver is still out and we can avoid him. Getting one win in each series is a must, but stealing a series win from one of the two teams and coming home 3-3 would be great.
Dillon Painter: The boys have been playing great, exceeding virtually all expectations thus far. With their new-found confidence, I expect the Tribe to fair well out in California. The A's and Angels both sport records of .500 or better at this point in the season. An interesting matchup will obviously be our young squad verse Weaver. All in all,I do believe the Tribe will take care of business, similar to how we handled another AL West opponent (Mariners) and come back with a record of over 20 wins ready to take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Progressive Field May 10th.
Alex Painter: Geoff and I look at this trip very similarly. It isn't easy for a ball club to have an extended stay out West (but hey, it has to be nicer weather out there). Composure will be the key. If the club drops a couple games, they mustn't get rattled. Stick to the game plan and they should be fine.
The Indians currently have a 19-8 record, good for first place by 4.5 games over the Kansas City Royals. Here is how the whole division is looking:
As previously discussed,the Tribe have a West Coast road trip coming up. They will open with the Oakland Athletics for the next three days, followed by the Angels, who took two of three from the Indians earlier this season.
Thanks again to Geoff and Dillon for making this possible.