Can you climb on board the bandwagon now? There is plenty of room to join us. Still time too! After a weekend in which your first place Cleveland Indians took two of three from the best team in baseball, the Texas Rangers (and really, they were a sac fly away from a sweep), how can you not be impressed by what you are seeing? How could you not want to come out and support this team?
They spent the weekend pitching their behinds off and showing that power stroke that had been missing but seemed to re-appear this week. Manny Acta’s club is starting to come together. I know, we saw this last summer with the 30-15 start, but doesn’t this feel much better than the Eric Wedge Aprils and Mays? I will take this all day, even with an offense that still leaves a lot to be desired.
We saw great starts, a budding star player continue to crush opposing pitching, a big time hit in a home debut, and disappointing attendance figures. All of it added up to a successful weekend at Progressive Field. Let us take a look back as we do every Monday morning at this time.
The Ubaldo Jimenez Redemption Tour began Sunday. Last Week, I pretty much called the Tribe starter an unfixable disaster. I said it was time to face the facts; that the Indians had gotten completely rooked by the Rockies and that Jimenez would never be the guy the they hoped he would be. I was not alone in my views. Everyone in this town seemed to be off the Ubaldo train. Everyone except for his manager and teammates.
Maybe they know better?
In Sunday’s home start, he fell behind the first batter he faced, Ian Kinsler, 3-0, and put two men on. An entire fan base said “here we go again.” But Ubaldo recovered from there, and pitched about as well as he ever has in an Indians uniform. I looked up in the seventh inning to see that he had a two-hit shutout going while striking out a season-high six. While Ubaldo still wasn’t showing that high velocity fastball, his off-speed stuff was really working.
“Ubaldo was terrific today,” Acta said. “He proves that you don’t have to throw 99 to get people out, but you do have to throw strikes. He threw strikes today. He had very good offspeed stuff. His curveball was the best I’ve seen so far.”
Don’t get overly excited about this, Tribe fans. The guy still walked five Rangers which is way too many. He is still a work in progress and until we see this kind of effort consistently, I’m not going to back off my assertion that Jimenez is this team’s fifth starter. But yesterday was very encouraging. We’ve said it since the start of the season, Ubaldo’s success is of the utmost importance to this team if they plan on hanging atop the division all year.
Meanwhile, Jeanmar Gomez and Derek Lowe kept their great starts going. Gomez was the winning pitcher in Friday’s 6-3 beat down of the Rangers. He went seven innings allowing three runs (should have been two) while scattering hits. In the win, he lowered his ERA to 2.82. He threw just 90 pitches and induced a pair of double plays. Remember, Gomez was not considered the top option to be the fifth starter out of Spring Training, but nobody pitched better than he did Goodyear. The good news for the Tribe is that he has carried this over into April and May.
Then there is Lowe, who didn’t have his best stuff, yet bobbed and weaved his way through six innings of two run ball against one of the best lineups the Indians will see all year. Sinker-ballers like Lowe are going to give up hits. Texas got Lowe for nine Saturday night, but he once again put his team in a great position to win. If you hold the Rangers to two runs, you should win the game.
Said the quote machine Lowe: “The game is easy when you can throw pretty much any pitch whenever you want. But it’s gratifying when you don’t really have that good of stuff against this tough of a lineup. To actually only give up two runs was pretty hard to do. Some of those innings I would never want to try again.”
Lowe is the perfect middle of the rotation guy. He just goes out there and does his job. You gotta love him.
While Johnny Damon is still rounding into game shape, his addition really lengthens the Tribe lineup. “The General” made his Indians home debut Friday night and it started off a little shaky. His porous play on a Mitch Moreland liner to left cost the team a run and at the plate, he had three forgettable at-bats until he came though in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out, two-run triple, which broke the game open.
Acta has moved Damon into the leadoff spot, putting Michael Brantley in the seven hole. It really adds depth to the lineup. Shin-Soo Choo has moved from third to sixth and Jack Hannahan is back in his customary place in the order, ninth.
But as we have seen over the last two weeks plus, the Jason Kipnis move into the two-hole has been a master stroke. The JK Kid has had the reputation of a gritty, hard-nosed, RBI producer from the second base position. We all loved how he put a jolt into the offense last year when he came up, and now, he is their hottest bat.
Kipnis is on a tear and he kept it going all weekend, capped off by Sunday’s fifth inning homer. The numbers tell the story – He is second on the Indians in batting average (.300), third in on-base percentage (.377), second in OPS (.917), first in steals (6), first in home runs (5), and first in RBIs (18). All of this in his first full season in the majors at the age of 25.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. We could be looking at our Dustin Pedroia here. The kid has it all and he is just scratching the surface. He should stay in that two-spot for years to come. It fits him perfectly.
At some point, we are going to have a changing of the guard with the Left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Tony Sipp has been Acta’s late-inning guy for the last two-plus years. In 2012, that hasn’t changed. However, Sipp has really been inconsistent, especially against righties (6-15, .400 BA). His ERA sits at 9.00 and his WHIP is 1.88. Those are not good numbers considering he is usually handling key situations. Sipp should be worried, because there is a stud waiting in the wings to take his role.
Nick Hagadone again looked spectacular Saturday night, striking out two and only allowing one hit in two scoreless innings. In his two stints in Cleveland, the hard-throwing lefty has allowed just one earned run in 7.1 innings of work (1.23 ERA) and has a near spotless WHIP of 0.33. Hagadone is the future of the Bullpen Mafia, but really should be a big time member of the present group. When Rafael Perez comes back from the DL, GM Chris Antonetti is going to have a really interesting decision to make. I can’t see how you can send Hagadone back down to Columbus.
On the attendance figures this weekend…. Where was everyone? This was a weekend series with nice weather against the two-time defending AL Champions, and the best the Indians can do is Saturday night’s 21,307, which is 47% capacity? I don’t know what to say. Tickets to Tribe games are very affordable (every game has good upped deck seats available for either $8 or $14). Its a good product, and the team is in first place. Hopefully with the weather warming up, we will see more of you out there this summer. I know you can’t go to every game, but get out to the park to support this team.
Lastly, on a personal note I took my son to the game yesterday and after the win, we ran the bases, part of the Indians Sunday afternoon “Lets Move It” campaign. At each base was a current Tribe player high-fiving the kids, and waiting at home was Acta. As my son came sprinting into home, Manny was there to greet him. I asked if he could take a picture with my son, and what you see above is the result. After the win, obviously Manny was in a good mood, but he couldn’t have been nicer. It was quite a thrill for my son.
All I could think of after walking away from this was “could you imagine Eric Wedge EVER doing something like this?” Not a chance.
Up Next for the Tribe is yet another series with the Chicago White Sox, who they just took two of three from this week on the road. It will be a four-game set, played in three days, with a day/night doubleheader set for today. The 1:05 game will feature the Sox’s Perfect Game hurler Phil Humber (1-1, 4.62 ERA) and Zach McAllister, who will be called up for the spot start. The Zach Attack is 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA in AAA. The Sox and Indians will be taking advantage of a great new rule in Major League Baseball, which allows teams playing doubleheaders to add a 26th player to the roster for that day. The night cap at 7:05 will have the Sox Eric Stults, making his season debut and the Indians Josh Tomlin (1-2, 5.27 ERA).