It only took six games, but after watching a week’s worth of failures of coming through with the big hit and horrific pitching, your Cleveland Indians finally put it all together in Sunday’s 8-4 win at Progressive Field over the Toronto Blue Jays. Rookie Trevor Crowe’s bases clearing double was the biggest knock of the day. Travis Hafner and Mark DeRosa both homered to lead the 1o hit attack. Anthony Reyes went six innings to get the Indians first win, allowing four runs on just three hits. I know, it doesn’t seem to impressive, but if not for Shin-Soo Choo losing Alex Rios’ fly ball in the sun in the sixth, Reyes may have gotten out of that inning with a better fate. Either way, a six inning quality start is a move in the right direction for the Tribe after what some could describe as a tumultuous opening week.
-The starting pitching was borderline awful. You know what, it wasn’t borderline, it was flat out awful. In six starts, the rotation of Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona, Carl Pavano, Scott Lewis, and Anthony Reyes went 26.1 innings, allowing 34 earned runs on 40 hits, walking 14 and striking out 20. Pavano’s one start was especially brutal. In a loss to Texas, Pavano couldn’t get out of the second inning. Everything he threw was flat and right down the middle. That outing was good enough for nine earned runs in one-plus inning of work.
-Cliff Lee, the reigning AL Cy Young award winner made two starts and didn’t make it past the fifth in either start. His pinpoint control kept hitters off balance all season in 2008. He only walked 34 hitters in 34 starts. So far in his two starts, he has walked five. The big curve, which was his out pitch last year, didn’t appear until his last inning of work Saturday in his lost to Toronto. Oh, did I mention Lee lost just three games last year and has lost two already? Fausto Carmona reverted to Fausto 2008 rather than the guy we saw this Spring in Goodyear. I said this more than once – if the Indians don’t get a combined 30-34 wins and 210-230 innings out of Lee and Carmona, than this team will be sunk.
-The bullpen is supposed to be one of the strongest units on this club. Instead, we watched this first week as Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt, Joe Smith, and Masa Kobayashi were unable to keep the Tribe in games when the offense fought backagainst both Texas and Toronto. Perez, the best set-up man the club has, has appeared in four games and has been ineffective in three of the four, allowing six earned runs and five hits in 3.2 IP. The most telling statistic through the first five games, all loses, was Kobayashi making three appearances while closer Kerry Wood made just one.
-Remember last April and May when the Indians couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position to save their lives? Well, I for one thought that was a thing of the past. Hopefully the first week will be the exception rather than the rule. After Sunday’s win, they are 7-44 with runners in scoring position; that’s a .159 average. Shin-Soo Choo’s RBI single in the ninth was the first base-hit Tribe run of the season that didn’t come via a home run or a double.
-To the last point above, the Tribe attack seems to be home run or bust. They are striking out at an alarming rate as a team as well. Case in point, Blue Jays Sunday starter David Purcey was all over the plate, walking six in 4.2 innings. However, the Wahoo’s K’d 10 times in that same 4.2 innings. For the season, they have 57 strike outs in six games. That is almost 10 a game, which is more than one per inning. DeRosa is the biggest culprit with 11, followed by Grady Sizemore with 10. Bottom line, the Indians need to put the bat on the ball.
-I’m not going to jump on the “Pronk is back” bandwagon just yet – he did strike out in his first three at bats yesterday – but you all have to be encouraged by the way he is swinging the bat. He has homered three times, and narrowly missed a fourth on opening day. If Pronk can keep up this current pace as a factor in the clean-up spot, the offense is going to be much better than we expected.
-On that same note, Victor Martinez looked like 2008 was just a blip on his radar screen. The bat speed is back and he is again hitting to all fields. It will also help a ton that he will be playing more first base than he has in the past. A fresher Victor is a more productive Victor.
-Anyone else excited about the future of Trevor Crowe? While he has just one hit in his two starts, it was a big one; a bases loaded, two out double clearing the bases in yesterday’s win. His speed and defensive ability allow him to be used in ways injured OF David Dellucci can’t. When DD is healthy, the right thing to do is release him and keep Crowe up here, mixing and matching in the corner spots and in Center when Grady needs a day off.
-Jensen Lewis and Kerry Wood look like a a lock down back end of the pen. Wood, the closer who has yet to get a save chance, has recorded six outs in his two innings of work – all K’s. Isn’t it nice to have a guy at the end of the game who can blow hitters away, rather than getting by on guts and nibbling corners? Lewis should have received a “save” of his own Sunday. He entered the game in an extremely tough spot; one run lead, runners on second and third with one out. He got the job done by striking out Marco Scutaro (who the Indians couldn’t get out all weekend) and inducing an Aaron Hill pop out to right. If Perez can get back on track as expected, late inning leads will turn into wins 90% of the time.
-Finally, its still early and the Indians are in the weak Central division. Despite a 1-5 start, they are only 2.5 games back of the 4-3 Tigers.
Up next for the Tribe is a trip to Kansas City for a three-game series before heading to the Big Apple to open the Yankees new stadium and face their old friend CC Sabathia. Should be an interesting day to say the least.