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 fret about whether or not the sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers means anything about the Tribe's future, weigh in on the Indians 2011 amateur draft picks, discuss strategy for upcoming opponents and share which Indians we would send to the All-Star Game.
I would like to thank this week's participant Lewie Pollis for his contribution. 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. Last weekend, the Indians found themselves on the wrong end of a broom belonging to the Texas Rangers. This is the first time the Tribe has been swept this season aside from a 2-game series.
How concerned are you that the Indians were swept? Even if you don't think it's an indication that they're struggling in terms of pure skill, do you see this as a potential momentum killer?
If you were the Tribe's manager, how would you attempt to remedy the Tribe's lack of offense in this series going forward?
Samantha Bunten: Sad but true fact: Every team in the majors will be swept at some point during the season, no matter how good they are. The Indians are no exception, unfortunately. But given that, it also probably means we don't need to worry about the sweep by Texas specifically as some sort of indicator that the season is going down the tubes.
The sweep alone should be of pretty much no concern. Honestly, the two losses to the Twins were far more worrisome, in my opinion. Regardless, how this reflects on the Tribe going forward isn't so much about being swept but how they bounce back from the sweep (and the ensuing losses to Minnesota).
This is a chance for the Indians to prove that they're never going to stop fighting. Any team, no matter how good, can and will have a bad week at some point during the season. What separates the decent teams from the great ones is how well they fight back after a rough patch and get back on a winning trajectory. What we've seen from the Tribe so far this season indicates that they won't be kept down for long.
Lewie Pollis: I'm not too concerned in terms of projecting the Indians going forward, but it's certainly had a dramatic impact on the standings. The Tribe's lead has dropped from seven games two weeks ago to 1.5 games now—forget momentum, we just blew through our entire margin of error. There's the problem.
I don't know that there's anything Acta can really do. The lineup hasn't looked quite right, but shuffling the batting order around won't do much.
2. Coming off being swept by the Rangers, many Tribe fans have been voicing their opinions that it's time for the team to make a roster move? Do you agree?
Is it time to call up Cord Phelps, or perhaps another minor leaguer? If you're in favor of calling someone up, who becomes the odd man out on the current roster?
Samantha Bunten: Phelps was called up yesterday and Shelley Duncan was sent down to make room for him, a smart move considering the Tribe will face just two lefties over the next couple of weeks and Duncan has largely been used as a right-handed pinch hitter.
Whether Phelps can truly ignite the offense is tough to say considering he's never been seen in major league action before, but something had to be done to shock some life into this offense, and Phelps was the best possible candidate for the job from our options at Triple-A.
Lewie Pollis: Well the decision's already been made—Phelps is up and Shelley Duncan is down. I think it's an absolutely fantastic decision. Based on Phelps' minor-league equivalency numbers and the reasonably safe assumption that he'll be better than Orlando Cabrera on defense, he'll give the Indians an upgrade of 3.0 WAR if he plays 93 games.
There's no way the Indians could get a comparable boost at the Trade Deadline, and they didn't have to give up anything by bringing up Phelps. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, the up-to three extra wins he'll provide could mean the difference between playing baseball and playing golf in October.
3. What do you think of the Indians' picks in the first few rounds of the draft this year? Do you think they chose the right player(s)/the position(s) where they have the greatest need?
Even if you don't follow the specifics of individual prospects before the draft, do you think the Indians adequately addressed needs by position in their system with their choices?
Samantha Bunten: For what seemed like ages, the Indians were mired in a horrible pattern of drafting way too many corner type players and failing to draft enough "athletes". Scouting director Brad Grant has begun to change all that for the better.
Grant has been with the organization since 1994 and has now spent about 3 three years as the scouting director. He has done a phenomenal job.
He brought in quality pitching the last two drafts, and now, when the Indians finally have no major shortages in the system at any position, he made the right choice again by drafting for upside rather than need when he spent the team's first round pick on SS Francisco Lindor.
You don't see too many high school kids drafted who scouts actually project to remain as true shortstops all the way to the major league level, but it appears Grant found one in Lindor. The pick was a calculated risk, and given Grant's track record thus far, the odds are good that it will pay off down the road.
Lewie Pollis: I'm a big believer in drafting for talent, not need. Unless there's a true dearth of options at a particular position in the organization—a problem the Indians don't have—it doesn't make sense to pick players based on guesses about who you'll need down the road. Talent and signability are the only things that should matter, and in a perfect world the second part would be irrelevant too.
That said, I've been very impressed with what the Indians have done. I'm not a prospect guy, but consensus seems to be that Francisco Lindor was a great pick and hearing people compare him to Omar Vizquel sold me pretty quickly. I also liked that the Indians took Dillon Howard, a top-flight talent with a high price tag. Obviously I'd prefer for the team not to have to blow its whole budget on draft bonuses, but the fact that we're willing to is very encouraging.
4. The Indians have a tough road ahead over the next week and a half, as they face a difficult schedule from now until mid-June. The Twins come to town this week, then the Tribe travels to New York and Detroit.
New York is in first place in the East and as of Monday and is tied with the Indians for the best record in the AL. Also as of Monday, the Tigers have crept within 2.5 games of the Indians in the Central. And while Minnesota may not be having a great season, they're always trouble for the Tribe.
Which of these three teams concerns you the most, and why? How many of these three series' do you expect the Tribe to win? And the million dollar question: At the end of the Detroit series next week, will the Indians still be in first place in the Central?
Which upcoming Tribe opponent concerns you the most?
Samantha Bunten: Given what happened in the Minnesota series, let's hope that in retrospect, that winds up being the series we should have been most concerned about. The offense completely flamed out for most of the series.
That's the key going forward as well when the Tribe travels to New York and Detroit. We need to get the bats working again. The Indians got relatively lucky in the pitching match-ups they drew for the New York series. The Detroit match-ups aren't completely set yet but we know we'll see Verlander in our first game there. Ouch.
I'm not too concerned about sweeps - it would be tough to take a broom to either of these teams - but the Tribe needs to either win both series or win one and split the other. I've had just about enough of Detroit nipping at our heels. We had a huge margin over them just a few weeks ago, and we need to reestablish that. I'm going to optimistically say we'll still be in first at the end of these two series', but barely so.
Lewie Pollis: Well we've already lost two of three to the Twins, so I'm not worried about that series anymore. The Yankees concern me a lot more than the Tigers, but then again we drew Ivan Nova and Bartolo Colon for the first two games, so maybe it won't be so bad after all.
I'm going to make a bold prediction here: the Indians win five of seven on the road trip. Either they take three of four in New York and two of three in Detroit, or—even better—they split the series with the Yankees and sweep the Tigers. Either way, I think Cleveland is still in first place by the end.
5. Fun Question of the Week: All-Star voting is in full swing, and there are a number of Indians who appear to be in the race for a spot on the AL roster for the All-Star game.
Who are your top three picks among Indians' position players for the All-Star game and why?
Samantha Bunten: Let's start with the obvious: Asdrubal Cabrera. How could you not pick him? He's not just deserving of a start at the All Star Game, he's a potential MVP candidate. Derek Jeter has had an amazing career but that ship has sailed. Just take a look at their numbers for the season; this is the year the automatic Jeter vote needs to end.
Second, Michael Brantley. Is he deserving of a starting spot on the AL All Star roster? Probably not, but he should absolutely be in the mix for the reserves. His performance this season proves that he is the player we hoped he could be when he came up and made a big splash as a September call-up in 2009. Like Sizemore, he quietly, humbly and gracefully goes about his job without drawing needless attention to himself. Unfortunately that doesn't put you on people's radar for All Star voting, but it should.
And third, another long shot candidate for the All Star reserves: Grady Sizemore. The numbers aren't there yet and he's missed a good bit of time this season but they might be there by mid-July. You know Grady will be giving his all every day from now through the break to see to it that they are.
Honorable Mention: If there were a "defensive replacement" category on the All Star ballot, there is no one more deserving than Jack Hannahan. Just sayin'.
Lewie Pollis: Asdrubal Cabrera. That's an easy one. Second among AL shortstops in WAR (2.3) and first in OPS (.897), wRC+ (155) and WPA (1.55). If Jeter beats him out for this, I might cry.
Next has to be Travis Hafner. Sure he's gotten lucky, but look at the leader boards. He'd be second among DHs in OPS (.958) and wRC+ (164) if he had enough at-bats to qualify, and he's second in WAR (1.2) even though he's played only about half the games of his main competitors. Put him in, even if he's not quite a starter.
Finally, with apologies to Michael Brantley, I have to give my final nod to Carlos Santana. WAR has him as the fifth-best catcher in the league even though his BABIP is 60 points lower than his xBABIP. If not for his bad luck with bad bounces, he'd be a no-questions-asked All-Star, if not an MVP candidate.