Monday, June 25, 2007

Ten Days That May Shake The Tribe's World

By dropping two of three to the dreadful Washington Nationals this weekend, the Indians have put themselves in a position where they must either snap out of their offensive funk right now, or face the prospect of putting their whole season in jeopardy.

Before I tell you why I think that's the case, I feel a need to spew some bile about this weekend. Want to know just how bad it was? Take a look at the future Hall of Famers who held the lndians to a grand total of five runs in three games.

  • On Friday, the Indians faced the "ace" of the Nationals' staff, Micah Bowie. Bowie has been a starting pitcher for all of a month, having made his first start since 1999 in May of this year. He threw over 100 pitches against the Indians in just 4 1/3 innings, but still allowed just one run. Bowie has a lifetime ERA of 5.73, and the remaining 23 pitchers that the Nats used to shut the Indians down on Friday night have similar pedigrees.
  • Saturday, it was the immortal Matt Chico who held the Indians to one run in six innings. Chico currently sports a 5.08 ERA, and last year at this time, he was playing Single A ball in the California league. Thank God for Victor Martinez.
  • Yesterday, it was the turn of five time Cy Young Award winner Jason Simontacchi to stymie Tribe bats. Simontacchi, who sports a 5.81 ERA, held the Indians to one run on four hits in six innings of work.
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, here's why I think that what happens over the next 10 days may determine the rest of the Tribe's season. First, let's take a look at the Tribe's schedule itself. Thanks to MLB's insane scheduling, the Indians start a four game set with Oakland tonight without any rest, and once they finish that, they get to jet back across the country, again with no rest, to start a home series against Tampa Bay [Update: Jeez, I'm a moron. They're at home all week]. The team then hits the road again for series against the Tigers and Blue Jays before heading to the All-Star break.

Off days? Forget it. Last Thursday was the final off day for the Indians before the break.

That means that the four remaining games on this road trip come against the team with the best pitching in the American League. Add in the jet lag factor to the series against the Devil Rays [see prior reference to me being a moron] and the fact that the blazing hot Tigers and surging Blue Jays await next week, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the Indians could dig themselves a hole over the course of the next 10 days that they might find it pretty hard to dig out of after the break.

For the first time in years, the Indians made it through April without shooting themselves in the foot, but with a 10-11 record going into the last week of the month, it looks like we're staring our old nemesis, the June Swoon, right in the face.

Does this come as a surprise to Tribe fans? Given the attendance this year, my guess is that we've all been waiting for the wheels to come off all season long. I mean, how excited do the Indians expect fans to get when they try to convince us they've addressed the holes on this team with acquisitions like Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez, David Delluci and Trot Nixon?

A lot of true believers are counting on the Indians battling it out with the Tigers for the rest of the summer. I hope they're right, but I'm starting to have my doubts. One thing's for sure--for better or worse, we'll know a lot more by the All-Star break.

2 comments:

Joey Peeps said...

Gee, you're a miserable prick. I'm certain I'll be labeled a Pollyanna for this, but I don't share your doom 'n gloom outlook on the Tribe. Yes, the bats have gone cold over the past 2-3 weeks, but most teams -- even very good ones -- will go through a stretch like that; witness the Tigers -- they had a rough patch back in May. And this is shaping up to be a pitcher's year -- not 1968, mind you, but offensive struggles are not isolated to a handful of teams so far this year.

The nice constant the Indians have had this year is solid starting pitching. I've not taken the time to dissect (or even find) this year's stats vs. 2006 (and prior), but my hunch is Tribe starters are delivering more quality starts than last year. That, of course, relieves pressure on the bullpen, which is improved over last year, to be sure. Joe B. can be frightening in the ninth, but at least there are some solid guys in Betancourt and Fultz to help get the game to Joe. If this does indeed turn out to be a pitcher's year, then I'll take my chances on most of these guys.

So too defense; again, I've not researched it, but this year's squad seems better than 2006, especially up the middle. Barfield has been a nice boost, Jhonny is, well, never gonna be Omar, but Victor (and pitchers) are doing a better job with the running game, and of course Grady is as good as they come in center.

Now, does all of that mean we'll be freezing our asses off at the Jake on October nights? I don't know . . . but I do think this team will be in the hunt well into September, if not for the division, then for the wild card.

Hornless Rhino said...

Joey,

I am indeed a miserable prick, and it's hard to be downcast after last night's 9th inning heroics. Nevertheless, this is a team whose offensive productivity has plummeted over the past month, and that's cause for concern when you're in a race against a team that mashes the ball like the Tigers do--particularly when Detroit's pitching is likely to improve during the second half of the season.

The Indians have been able to hang with the Tigers for two reasons. First, Detroit's pitching staff has been banged up, and second, the Tribe's been able to score runs at almost the same pace that the Tigers do.

The bad news for the Indians is that the Tigers starting pitchers are finally getting healthy. Kenny Rogers just had his first start of the season, and pitched six innings of scoreless ball against Atlanta last week. Nate Robertson, who threw over 200 innings last season and had a 3.84 ERA, is also just back from a stint on the 15 day DL. (The good news is that Detroit's bullpen is still banged up--Rodney just went back on the DL and Zumaya isn't going to be back until August).

The prospect of improvement in Detroit's pitching is bad enough, but when you combine that with the Tribe's offensive struggles, there's definitely something to worry about. The Indians have been held to three or fewer runs 11 times since June 1st. Yes, I know many of those games involved interleague play. So what? Those games count too, and the teams involved in them (Florida, Washington and Cincinnati) are among the very worst teams in all of baseball.

Cleveland's pitching is clearly better than last year, but that still puts the team in the middle of the pack in the American League. Yeah, its a marked improvement over last year, but it isn't good enough for them to score 3 runs and expect to win a lot of baseball games. The bottom line is that if the Indians want to hang with the Tigers, they've got to keep hitting the ball.

So far, the Indians have risen to the challenge against the A's, and there's reason to hope that the Indians can get their offense going consistently once again. (After all, I'd like to think that Travis Hafner's going to hit a little better than .259 from here on out.) But if they don't do that, I don't like their chances, regardless of the improvements in pitching and defense.