Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Cleveland Indians fans weigh-in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.
This week, we discuss how the Tribe's never-say-die attitude has affected their winning percentage, mull over which players' struggles we should be concerned about going forward and share which opponents' ballparks we're dying to visit and which ones we'd rather die than visit.
I would like to thank this week's participants Dale Thomas and Jim Piascik for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. After years of watching Indians teams that often looked flat and apathetic, it has been exciting and rewarding to finally have a group of guys that play with intensity and a never-say-die attitude.
Obviously, you can't will your way back from a huge deficit, but the Tribe has really done a great job of coming from behind to win by refusing to give up.
How much difference do you think this team's heart and drive has made in their record? They obviously have a lot of talent, but could some of their wins (especially the come back, walk-off wins we saw against Detroit over the weekend) have come thanks to their guts and perseverance?
Samantha Bunten: I think anyone who has played sports at any level knows what a big difference this kind of attitude makes. If a team can instill the attitude that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, individual motivation tends to skyrocket. There's something about being part of something that's bigger than you that motivates athletes at any level, be they little leaguers or major leaguers.
This Indians team displays exactly that sort of attitude, and that gives them a far greater chance for success than for a team has equally talented players but less of a team-first mentality. This team certainly has more talent than Indians' teams of the recent past, but it also has 10 times the amount of heart.
You don't hear anyone on this team focusing on their individual performance when asked. They all go right back to crediting the team. That's huge. And the biggest thing? They just simply will not give up. Ever. Even on their disastrous Opening Day outing, they fought their way back from a 14-0 deficit and they almost caught up with the White Sox.
That's the kind of attitude that will keep this team rolling when injuries crop up and fatigue sets in during the dog days in July and August.
Dale Thomas: That first game with Chicago really sent a message. We were getting killed, but the offense stepped up and gave a shout-out that they were not going to go quietly. Even though we lost that one, the rally sent a clear message that this team would not give up and moreover proved to themselves that they "shouldn't" give up as they were quite capable of scoring late.
Plugging defensive holes at second and third was also critical to the formula. A couple of unexpected good starts from the middle and bottom of the rotation fed the hungry position players. The whole deal then feeds on itself.
Pitchers pitch better knowing their offense can score. Hitters hit better knowing their pitchers can throw strikes and hold down an opponent.
Guts? Yes. Perseverance? Yes. Confidence in each other? That's the key. Every single man on the roster has contributed to this run. This is what turns a bunch of guys into a "team." Happy players just play better, and now they are playing for each other as much as playing for themselves.
Jim Piascik: I think that the come from behind wins are a byproduct of a different mindset that has taken hold this year. I was against signing Orlando Cabrera on what appeared to be a non-contending team.
On these surprising, contending Indians, however, his presence has made a huge difference. I think that the entire team is going out thinking that they can win these games no matter what and as a result is.
2. Throughout the first month of the season, there have been many instances where Tribe fans have felt compelled to worry about our team's pitching. Whether it's injuries or control problems or issues with long relief, it seems like it's always something.
And yet at the one-month mark of the 2011 season, the Indians are 19-8 and have the best record in baseball. So is it possible that we've been overreacting to our concerns about the pitching? Could it be that the team has better depth and resilience in its pitching staff than we thought?
Which pitchers have really surprised you with how well they've done? Which pitchers do you still have lingering concerns about?
Samantha Bunten: As Cleveland fans who have seen the "sure thing" slip away countless times, we're hard-wired to worry pre-emptively that something will go wrong because, well, it always does. I think most of us are sitting around waiting for the bottom to fall out on the pitching.
Still, I think we have to give the staff a little credit. Many of the pitchers we had concerns about entering the season have been rock solid, and most of those who have struggled have shown they have the ability to bounce back from bad outings quickly.
Obviously there are still a few guys who leave me feeling very concerned. The long relief in general has been a problem, Tony Sipp scares me to death every time he pitches, and as always, there seems to be two Fausto Carmonas, and you never know when Scary Fausto is going to make an appearance.
On the positive side, Justin Masterson has been a pleasant surprise who doesn't seem to be slowing down, and Josh Tomlin—wow—I'm beyond impressed with what he's been able to do.
Dale Thomas: We've seen our so-called 'ace' completely blow up more than once then come back and look like an ace. We've seen Durbin get knocked around bad, then come back and get em 1-2-3. We've even seen Chris Perez get knocked too.
We've seen starters go down with injuries, and we've seen guys we had zero faith in throw well game after game, going six, seven, eight innings. We've seen relievers come in and juice up the bases without recording an out, then get yanked so they can watch another reliever come in and totally kill the threat.
I've heard the term "luck" tossed around a lot, but I'm gonna give a shout to Manny Acta for making some very good and timely decisions. So I guess I should answer the question.
I've been pleasantly surprised with each and every one of our pitchers, and I also have lingering concerns with each and every one of 'em. Obviously Carmona tops off my list. Herrmann has already been dealt with, but he'll probably get another chance. Sipp scares me a lot, but he keeps coming through.
Then there's Durbin who's a train wreck, but has also had a couple of amazing outings. I continue to wonder if Joe Smith is his real name, and I wonder if injuries will be our downfall. For now, I'm feeling pretty darn good...and a bit lucky.
Jim Piascik: The pitchers have been surprisingly resilient this year, but I don't think they can keep up this torrid pace. We have plenty of good pitchers, but some of them are overachieving this year. I do expect Josh Tomlin to regress a little bit, though I'm very pleasantly surprised at how well he's done so far this year.
I do think that Justin Masterson can keep it going all throughout 2011. He looks like the real deal. My concerns about Fausto Carmona are being erased by his recent play, but I'm still concerned about Carlos Carrasco. He hasn't found a groove at all this year and now is hurt. I'm worried he won't bounce back well this year.
3. Just like with the pitching, the position players' bats have left us little reason to be concerned thus far.
At times we've had questions about a number of our hitters; Hafner, LaPorta, Choo, and even Santana. Mostly they (and other hitters who have struggled at various points) have gotten into a groove at the plate.
But are there any hitters (starters or bench players) whose bats are still leaving you feeling worried? Are there any players who have hit well but who you worry won't be able to keep it up?
Samantha Bunten: It's tough to pick at anyone's individual performance when the team is 20-9. Regardless of what any one player is doing individually, on the whole things seem to be working just fine. But of course it's our job to pick at these things, so we'll do it anyway.
Kearns seems to be the most obvious target. I think he's finished. That was a great offseason signing last year, but probably not a great call this time around. Hafner always worries me because there's a good chance he'll hurt himself regardless of whether he's swinging the bat well.
LaPorta and Choo seem to be coming around, and I think we need to lay off of Santana. He's still just a kid who has very little major league experience, and he's a catcher, a notoriously weak-hitting position. I think he's been fine and will continue to get better.
I'm not sure I believe that Hannahan will be able to keep that average up where it is, but hey, we brought this guy in for defense. The solid hitting he's shown thus far is just icing on the cake.
Dale Thomas: There will be a big test for Hafner whenever he gets that boot off. Most folks think he will fade, but I think he'll be fine. I also think Santana will get over whatever it is that's ailing him. The walk-off slam he hit reminds us that he is always a capable threat.
I don't have a lot of faith that Orlando Cabrera will keep that .294 average, but I do think he will continue to contribute overall. Kearns looks done. Marson will keep on being Marson and strike out a lot, but it's been nice to see him tag a few.
I think LaPorta will actually improve, and Everett hasn't had enough at bats to know much.
Jim Piascik: I've been saying it all year and I'll say it again: Austin Kearns is done. He's great in the field and all, but he can't hit one bit anymore. Every hitter currently on the Tribe has an OPS+ above 100 except Kearns, who's hanging out at a nice 30 and has only seven total bases so far. They'd be much better served cutting him and bringing Travis Buck back up.
Buck played defense just as well as Kearns this year and wasn't an automatic out at the plate. I don't think that Jack Hannahan will be able to keep up his pace this year.
The rest of the roster, I feel pretty good about, but Hannahan isn't supposed to be hitting like this. It wouldn't surprise anyone if he faded. The good news is, I hear we have this guy in AAA ready to step in when needed.
4. Injuries to Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco forced the Indians to call up youngster Alex White earlier than they probably would have preferred.
Do you think the Indians did the right thing in calling up White, even though he doesn't have much experience and he was called up early enough in the season that a service-time issue may haunt them down the road?
What did you think of the performance White turned in in his professional debut?
Samantha Bunten: Bringing up White was absolutely the right call. You worry about service time issues when you're in fourth place or when your major league roster has so much depth you don't need to take chances. When you're in first place and short on starters, you pull the trigger.
White's first outing (two runs, six hits in six innings) demonstrated that he's ready to be here. I don't expect him to pitch that well every time he takes the mound during his first few major league appearances, but I think it's a good indication that he's ready to handle the challenge and that he was the best option for the Indians in this situation.
After all, did you want to see Huff again? Yeah, me neither.
Dale Thomas: Wow...when two starters go down bang-bang like that I don't see that the Indians had much choice in bringing up White. I mean what were they gonna do? Bring Huff in again?
I'm really bummed that I had to miss the first eight innings of that game. It's the only one I've missed and wouldn't you know, it would be White's debut.
I guess he found himself a bit vulnerable to the long ball, but six innings, two runs, four strikeouts and an ERA of 3.00 is not too shabby at all. It's a very good start.
The walks aren't so good, and I never get too excited when a pitcher shows well on his first outing. Marte did pretty good in his pitching debut too. Heh...so can White play third?
Jim Piascik: I absolutely think the Indians did the right thing. Now is hardly the time to worry about service time and penny pinching issues like that. The Tribe is contending right now and should be putting the best players possible out there.
White has pitched very well at every level of the minors he's been at and deserved the start. Plus, who would you rather have on a contending team: Alex White or David Huff? For me, it's a no-brainer.
White's debut wasn't necessarily pretty, but he got the job done. Only allowing two earned runs in six innings is a very good start to a career. Sure, he needs to cut down on the walks and home runs, but it's still a great stepping off point for Alex White.
5. Fun Question of the Week: We've discussed which are our favorite ballparks to travel to when the Indians are on the road before on Tribe Talk.
Now let's think about parks we haven't been to. Tell us, what opponents' ballpark would you love to visit the most? What park holds no appeal for you and would come in last on the list of stadiums you'd like to travel to?
Samantha Bunten: Busch Stadium and Turner Field are at the top of my list for parks I'd like to see that I haven't gotten to yet.
As for those I'd rather pass on, let's start with Oakland. Every time the Indians play the A's in the Coliseum, I cringe at what a horrible, horrible venue it is. The Coliseum is one of the last terrible reminders of how stadiums built for both baseball and football never work out quite right.
Beyond that, I have a no-dome policy. Baseball is meant to be played outdoors, and I have no interest in seeing it played inside something that looks like an airplane hangar (I'm talking to you, Tampa Bay). A few games in the Hump Dome in Minnesota during the pre-Target Field era was all it took to convince me that I never wanted to take in a ballgame in a dome again.
Dale Thomas: Yankee Stadium is a clear winner at the bottom of my list, but that may be more about the people in it than it is about the stadium itself. I also have no desire to ever go to Chicago's south side for ANY reason.
I'd really like to go to Busch Stadium one of these days. Mostly because I used to watch the Cards as a kid in their rusty old ballpark, but what a cool venue! I heard you can even watch a game from the sidewalk outside.
AT&T Park in San Francisco would be high on my list. I kinda like the water feature there. Fenway would also make my list if it weren't for the team that plays there.
Jim Piascik: I'd love to go see Wrigley Field when the ivy is in full bloom. There's something about going to a stadium that's seen the same level of misery us Cleveland fans have seen that appeals to me.