Indians

Unsolicited Observations: A very much alive Tribe, Grady revisted, Kluber on the cheap, & long innings in relief

Bourn walk off

Bourn walk offThis year’s Cleveland Indians haven’t looked like a playoff team, yet the Tribe is very much alive in the standings through 60 games. At 30-30, Terry Francona and company have crawled back to the .500 mark and sit three games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.

It’s unbelievable the Indians are even in this position, as the team defense has been deplorable, the rotation has been inconsistent, and “clean-up hitter” is only something the team possesses in theory.

There’s still a lot of baseball left to play, but there is some good news. A lot of clubs are playing so-so right now. As this Washington Post story pointed out, 16 of baseball’s 30 teams are at or above .500 entering June 6. FanGraphs.com projects just three teams will meet or cross the 90-win threshold.

The site projects the Tribe will finish 82-80 and miss the playoffs.

But this is team streak. Maybe the Tribe gets on one of those good streaks and runs off 10 in a row, just like last year’s team did to end the season. Maybe Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin continue to make up for slow starts from Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. Maybe Justin Masterson starts to look like the Nasty Masty of a season ago. Maybe someone in the four-hole will drive in runs or at least hit over .200. Maybe Michael Bourn continues to trend upward at the lead-off spot.

Maybe you’re tired of “maybe.”

The point is this year’s Indians are going to be frustrating to watch, but there’s also going to be some fun moments, like the one Asdrubal Cabrera walked off the field with to complete the Boston sweep.

What I do know is that I don’t know what this team’s going to do next, but I’ll be watching all summer waiting to find out.

Seeing Grady Sizemore return with Boston brought out several emotions from my seat on the couch in Yellow Springs. There was little fanfare when Sizemore’s name was called. It was as if he was just another guy on another team. Still, I was overcome with a lot of nostalgia seeing Sizemore back in Cleveland. His talent was obvious when he was called up in 2004.

He could swing the bat, run like the wind, and he played center field like you would if you could play pro ball. We all thought he could be special. Three All-Star game selections from 2006-2008 confirmed his star potential.

He was supposed to be a cornerstone player earlier in the decade, but just as those seasons ended in disappointment, so did Sizemore’s career in an Indians uniform. Injuries robbed of us seeing how good Sizemore could be. Gordon Edes said it best in this piece for ESPN Boston when he wrote “It’s hard to remember now, but Grady Sizemore used to own this town.”

The more Corey Kluber dominates, the more I think of Cliff Lee—at least when it comes to age.

Kluber (6-3, 3.23 ERA) was never a highly touted prospect, but at the age of 28, he’s looking like an ace. His 2.7 WAR is tied for the second best mark in all of baseball (Yu Darvish). He trails Felix Hernandez (3.2), so he’s hanging with an elite crowd.

It’s hard to believe that Kluber was 7-11 with a 5.56 ERA at Class AAA Columbus in 2011. It’s fair to wonder if anyone in the organization thought he could be viable starter, let alone possess ace talent.

Lee’s prospect star shined a little brighter, but like Kluber, he became dominant in his later 20s.

The General did win 18 games as a 25-year-old in 2004, but remember back to 2007. Lee had that groin strain and never got his season on track. He barely contributed and was even demoted to the minors.

In 2008, at the age of 29, Lee barely won a spot in the rotation. We all know he went on to the win the Cy Young after going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA.

Some guys really figure it out after a few years in the big leagues, which is good, because now Michael Brantley will at least have a teammate to accompany him to the All-Star Game later this summer.

The Tribe acquired Kluber in 2010 as part of a three-team trade between the Padres and the Cardinals. Kluber only cost the Tribe Jake Westbrook, who was dealt to St. Louis.

Kluber is making $514,000 this season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He’s not eligible for arbitration until 2016 and can’t be a free agent until 2019.

While the “Immaculate Inning” was a thing of beauty, it was a relief to see Justin Masterson turn in a fully body of work against Boston earlier in the week. He tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, while walking four and striking out 10.  Masterson’s velocity has been a question all season, but it’s worthwhile to point out that his fastball averaged over the 90 mph mark for the first time this season.

It’s no secret Terry Francona loves his bullpen more than most men love their wives. When it comes to the 2014 Tribe, that’s a good thing, because inconsistent starting pitching means the club has relied on its relievers early and often. But that’s the problem. Francona’s used the bullpen phone line a lot this spring, and we’re not even close to halfway done.

Tribe relievers have hurled 195 innings this season, which ranks third in the American League. Tampa Bay and Chicago relief men have logged more innings, but haven’t been as productive. The Indians bullpen can really be credited with keeping the club competitive. The pen’s 3.09 ERA is the eighth best in baseball. In 2013, the bullpen tallied 516 2/3 innings with a 3.62 ERA.

  • vespo09

    Pitching staff is leading the league in K/9, which is nice to see. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this many guys who can miss bats – we’ve had a lot of seasons in the last 10 years or so where we relied on contact pitchers. http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2014&month=0&season1=2014&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=8,d

  • nj0

    While Carrasco has been effective as a reliever, I wonder if he gets another shot at starting. I know some will say, “don’t mess with a good thing”, but more so than any other starter, I think Carlos was hurt by our bad defense. Maybe his time in the pen helped him figure something out mechanically or get his head straight? Considering the upside, I hope he does get another chance.

  • mgbode

    the head is the issue. i hope that we leave him there for now and just get his confidence up. only having to face a few batters and not having any real lead-up to when you might face them tends to put less pressure on a player (and Tabasco seemed to struggle under the pressure). at some point, I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of trying him back in the rotation, but not anytime soon.

  • mgbode

    Gotta admit, it was pretty cool to see us win the first 2 games with Grady being the last batter faced in both of them. He was so good for such a short period of time, but it was a fantastic blip of a career. Sad to see him in a reduced state, but at least he still gets to play baseball.

  • JNeids

    Tabasco is much more effective when he only has to face batters once, so the bullpen is the perfect spot for him.

  • nj0

    That’s true of any pitcher. May be more so the case with CC, but I think his issue has been that he’s never been very effective against hitters as a starter, regardless of how many times they’ve seen him. Same thing was true with Salazar this year. Yes, he got hit harder the 2nd/3rd time through. But it’s not like he was lights out the 1st time through either.

    I’m just a believer that he has the stuff the be a starter. Maybe not a front end guy, but I’d rather take him as a good #4/#5 than a mop-up bullpen arm. I really don’t think his issue is hitters figuring him out the 2nd/3rd time. I think it’s him being mechanically inconsistent, thanks partly to that thing on his shoulders.

    Just saying that I hope when the time comes (injury, need for a 6th starter), he is considered.

  • Tron

    Carrasco does have some great stuff. It would be nice to see him live up to his ceiling. It would also be nice to see Salazar mature into a consistent starter. I always thought it would be cool to have the three young-guns of Salazar/Bauer/Carrasco anchor the rotation with two other veterans like Masterson and Kluber right there with them.