Monday, September 18, 2017

Down the home stretch we go

There are three major tasks left for the Indians in their remaining regular season games:

1. Get home field advantage in as many rounds as possible.   If we hold our tenuous 1.5 game lead over the Astros it would mean that the Astros have to play the Red Sox in the first round and we get to play the wildcard winner.   While nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs I would rather risk playing the wildcard in a short (best of 5) series than having to go through both the Red Sox AND Astros.  We are currently 3.5 down from the Dodgers for best overall record in the major leagues this year.   That seems daunting with only a handful of games but I guess it is possible.

2. Keep guys healthy and get guys healthy.   Right now it doesn't look good for either Michael Brantley or Brad Zimmer.   We need to find a way to get at least Brantley healthy.

3. Set the post-season roster.   Without Brantley and Zimmer and with all the bullpen arms we have, this could be a huge task.  As far as the outfield, we are really short there.   In the playoffs you can deal with one of your hitters being an easy out.  You can even get by with two.  Once you get to three easy outs, however, your run-scoring ability is in jeopardy.   We have too many question marks in our lineup right now.  Diaz, Kipnis, Chisenhall, Guyer, Urshela and the catchers.   You could easily envision three easy outs in that lineup, especially if Diaz wilts like Naquin did last year and, if Bruce struggles against lefties, sometimes four.  While some or all of these could catch lightning in a bottle for a series or two, with the way they currently are and with our Naquin experience last year, it is apparent that we have huge question marks in LF and 3B, to say nothing about our catchers who have been OK recently but represent a huge question mark in terms of hitting in the post-season and no one likes to go the playoffs with question marks.   The bullpen is another question but for another reason.   We have SO many guys who are performing who would you take for your bullpen.   Guys like Tomlin or McAllister could be left off the roster as we look for better matchup guys.  Tito has to be a mastermind and pick the guys (maybe different guys for each series) who will give him the best chance to win crucial matchups late in the game, especially as it is likely that Miller can not be used as he was last year.

These are the points of concern as we head down the stretch.   With us playing the Angels and Twins in two of our four remaining series, we have the competition level necessary to get our guys ready for the playoffs.  Now we just need to make those decisions...and hope that Brantley makes a remarkably speedy comeback and does a Schwarber-like recovery in terms of shaking off the rust, as well.   So, while we have clinched and while THE STREAK is over, we may have more drama, uncertainty and concern now than we had at any time this season.  It can still all work out but, as a Cleveland fan spoiled by playoff runs the last two years in two sports AND knowing how the playoffs can hinge on being as strong throughout your lineup as possible, I want as many cards stacked in our favor as possible when we head into October.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Let's influence some Cy Young voters

Tom Hamilton said tonight that Corey Kluber's performance tonight may have won him the AL Cy Young award.

Certainly it didn't hurt.

But let's get back to a point I alluded to in my earlier post about the Indians beating up on Sale and, as a result, making Kluber's numbers look better than Sale's.  At the time I said that voters should look at Kluber's and Sale's numbers against teams that will be in the playoffs.

If the playoffs started today, here are the teams that would be in: Cleveland, Boston, Houston, New York Yankees, Minnesota, Washington, Chicago Cubs, LA Dodgers, Arizona and Colorado.

Sale has faced the Yankees (5 times), the Indians (twice) and Minnesota (twice).  Here are his numbers:

9 games 54.1 IP  52 H  30 R  28 ER  16 BB  77 K  8 HR

Sale had no complete games and only went 7 or more innings 4 times in these 9 games.

Kluber has faced Arizona, Houston, LA Dodgers, Minnesota, NY Yankees (twice), Boston and Colorado.   Here are his numbers

8 games 60.2 IP  34 H  16 R 14 ER  11 BB  78 K 6 HR

Included in Kluber's stats are two complete games (Colorado, Yankees) and 7 of those 8 games he went 7 or more innings.

When you compare overall pitching stats Kluber is ahead of Sale.

When you factor in how they pitched against playoff bound teams, Kluber buries Sale.  No contest.

Hopefully these numbers make it to the people who vote on the Cy Young award.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Streak

OK, this stretch has been wonderful if you are an Indians fan.  There is no doubt about it.   Plus, with Ohio State losing, the Browns being, well, the Browns and the uncertainty about the Cavs this year and next and Isaiah Thomas' hip, it's good to be a Cleveland sports fan who can focus on the Indians.

The numbers in this 18-0 run are ridiculous.  Every sports reporter/writer has gone over them ad infinitum.  

The most striking comment that I have heard over and over again is how there is a different offensive hero every night. 

The next most striking comment I have heard is really a question:   Are the Indians' "running too hot" right now.?  Basically, that means are the Indians playing too well right now and, like the Astros and Dodgers, will it time out so that they go into a slump come playoff time?

Let's address this all.

First, it is hard to win that many games in a row in the major leagues.   There are just too many variables, too many things that can derail you.   First, you face a hot pitcher.   Or you play a tight game that is decided by luck late.  Or your relief pitchers are tired from overuse and one or more of them have a hiccup.  Or a starting pitcher implodes.   And, finally, you have one day where your offense, as a unit, just goes cold at one time.

But, if you were going to have a streak like this, I think the bulk of this streak is more likely to happen in September than in any other month.   Why?

1. Teams out of contention (especially those who are rebuilding) start emptying their farm systems to give young players their first taste of the big leagues.  Likewise, teams who have locked up their playoff spot and playoff slot may be less inclined to go all out to win a September game as opposed to giving their players a rest. 

2. Your roster expands meaning you can give some of your players rest which keeps them fresh.  Do this appropriately, say one hitter a day, and your lineup doesn't suffer.

3. The expanded roster can, in theory, bolster your bullpen.   If done correctly, there would be no need to use your set up men (Smith and Shaw) in 5-0 games.  Instead you can use a guy just called up from the minors.  In a reasonable world that guy should be able to hold a 5 run lead, even if he stumbles.

Now, in order to make this happen the team, in this case the Indians, would have to get production from their younger players and from players who had struggled or been injured most of the year and guys on the bubble who really want to make that playoff roster.

So, you keep your key guys humming along as usual, give them a little more rest than usual because your bench is playing well.  And, all the time, you are playing against guys and teams who might still be finding their way in the big leagues and, in some cases, veterans who might not be as energized because they are on a losing team. 

I don't know the future.   Maybe having this streak now will doom the Indians in the playoffs as one talking head wondered about this morning.   However, I think just the opposite is true.   The Indians are winning while giving their players a rest.   I heard a stat today that Giovanny Urshela is the only guy who has played in every game of the streak.   That is huge.  Teams like the Red Sox and still playing meaningful games.  Ditto for all the teams in the wildcard hunt.  And the Astros are trying to find themselves.  Meanwhile the Indians are playing well without a lot of high leverage innings or at bats.  As I said previously, what this does is give Francona the toughest job in baseball: picking the Indians post-season roster(s).  So many guys are playing well, who do you pick for your bench and your bullpen?

Which brings me to my last point on this post.   I was half kidding when I said that the Indians, if they swept the Orioles, might not lose another game this regular season.  But, with some luck if the Angels and Mariners drop out of the wild card race and if the Twins clinch the last wildcard spot before their series with the Indians at the end of the month, the stars might just line up for the Indians to run the table.   Obviously all the caveats above for how you can lose a game still apply.  However, like has been the case in the current streak, all those anomalies that cause teams to lose random games don't seem to be impacting the Indians right now as the odds on favorite in all these games, the Indians, seem to be holding to those odds.

Hey, I don't know the future.  The Indians could lose to the rookie pitcher they will be facing tonight.   They could lose a random game any time.   However, most of the rest of the season is set up so that they have a real chance, with a little luck, to run the table and end with, dare I even say it out loud, a 37 game winning streak going into the playoffs.  Nah, can't happen.  Too many variables, right?  Hmmmm!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Random thoughts

Our thoughts our with the families impacted by Harvey and our prayers are for those who have been or likely will be impacted by Irma.

As far as baseball goes:

1. 15 in a row is just amazing.  What is really hard, though, is that I believe it can happen again at some point this year or next year.

2. Both Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis, though not able to play, made their way to Chicago to participate in the Indians' football fantasy draft.   Does that sound strange to anyone else?

3. Does it strike anyone as funny that Adam Plutko, who hasn't played in Class A ball in about 4 years, is able to be placed on the Lynchburg roster for their playoff series?   Didn't help tonight is he poured on the gasoline in the 9th inning 5-run rally that led to a crippling 10-9 loss in game 1 of the playoffs after the Hillcats led 4-1 and 9-5. 

4. 15 in a row, mostly without Salazar, Brantley, Chisenhall, Miller and Kipnis....who would have thunk it?

5. If we can get by the Orioles in the next 3, with our depth, is it possible that we could run the table the rest of the season?  That is crazy talk, I know, but man are things breaking right for us right now!

Minor League Predictions - How did I do?

Here is what I predicted at the beginning of the year:

Overall I said this would be a down year in the organization.   Except for Columbus, which would have strong starting pitching and really good AAAA position players and Mahoning Valley, which would have a confluence of 2017 draftees who would make the pitching staff and position players from last year's draft and this year's lower rounds, the other teams in the system would experience down years although both Lake County and Lynchburg would benefit from veteran pitching, LC in the first half and Lynchburg in the second half, to make the playoffs. 

Columbus - 89-55 - International League Championship
Akron 74-70 - No playoffs
Lynchburg 68-76 - second half champion, playoffs, first round loss
Lake County 70-74 - First half champions, playoffs, first round loss
Mahoning Valley 45-31 - best team in club history at this level, league championship
Arizona Indians - 21-36 - worst team in club history at this level

Here is what actually happened

Columbus -  71-71 - The pitching never materialized as Plutko and Morimando did not have great years and Cooney was hurt all year.   The veteran hitting kept us in the race most of the year but, without dominant pitching, they just scuffled along.

Akron - 69-71 - As predicted, they struggled.  Francisco Mejia was able to carry the team in the first half but he and the team couldn't keep it going in the second half.

Lynchburg - 87-52 - A perfect example of where the whole is MUCH greater than the sum of the parts, this team may not have many future big leaguers but they played well together.   I had predicted that Civale and Bieber would dominate the second half to get this team to the playoffs.  I was half right as Bieber did his part when he passed through but it was really Civale, after his promotion from LC, who dominated for an extended time.   So I was right on with their second half success but off by a lot in the first half.  We will see what the playoffs bring but a number of the hitters have moved from organizational players to marginal prospects. 

Lake County - 54-85 - I correctly predicted a second half collapse but I thought that Bieber and Civale would stick around long enough to help them win in the first half.   Turns out that the lack of quality hitters and the early promotions of Bieber and Civale really did in this team giving it one of the worst records in Lake County history.

Mahoning Valley -  44-29 with one game to play - This team did not have the best record in team history as I predicted as, in 18 years of operation there were 3 teams with better records.  A couple of the top prospects, Nolan Jones and Will Benson took a while to get going and a couple of other guys, Ulysses Cantu and Oscar Gonzalez, couldn't maintain their hot starts, leading to more losses than I predicted.   I correctly predicted that the pitching the Indians got in the 2017 draft would help them dominate.   All that together means that they will fall just short of the club record of 49 wins but still are in good shape for the upcoming playoffs after winning their division with late season spurts from Jones and Benson.

Arizona Indians - 15-41 - As predicted, this team turned out to be the worst in Indians' history in rookie ball, finishing with a worse record, by one game, than a previous GCL team.   As the highest draft pick was a low second round tools guy in Holmes and the DSL guys who came up were very unpolished, this team really never had a chance to be successful.   Still, when you meet a prediction this dismal, something probably could have been done better.

There you have it.   Predicting minor league success is difficult but I nailed a few of these predictions and I was even right about the second half performances of Lynchburg and Lake County. The only one I truly whiffed on was my prediction of extreme success for Columbus.  The injuries in Cleveland sapped some of their position player strength but it was the pitching that really did them in.

As far as the Indians, remember I predicted them at 94-68 and winning the WS.   Right now the final regular season record is easily projectable from where they are and who knows about the playoffs although they will have to have some great play and luck to beat Houston now that the Astros have Verlander.  Plus, even if they do win the AL, they still have to get by the NL champion.  A big hope there is that the NL playoffs will be so tough that the NL winner will be exhausted by the time they get to the WS.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Oh, man! Do I remember this time of year!

Looking at the recent Detroit and now the Chicago series do I remember this time of year!

The clock would turn to September and we would see these guys come up from the minors.  Now, before the internet exploded with minor league baseball all you would know was that so-and-so was being promoted.   Sometimes the guy, like Corey Snyder, would be hyped to the nth degree so you would be pumped when he came up.   Sometimes these guys would just show up without much fanfare.

The only constant was that the Indians were essentially eliminated by Sept. 1st.  

The Tigers and the White Sox are in deep rebuild.   The Indians, well, they never were in rebuild mode because that skyscraper crumbled in about 1960 and was never rebuilt.   What the Indians were doing in the 60s, 70s and 80s was moving from one dilapidated structure to another, putting a fresh coat of paint on a condemned building trying to make it seem like it was, somehow, new and improved.  You have to have been to the mountain to truly be in rebuild mode and Indians fans in those decades were the equivalent of living in St. Louis and straining to see the rocky mountains in the distance.  There was no hope, just a few 'faces of the franchise' to root for surrounded by fill-in veterans who couldn't hook on with contenders and placeholder career AAAA guys...and the joke of movies like Major League to portray the flailing and gnashing of teeth as the Indians would trade pitching for hitting and, finding out that they didn't have enough pitching, trade the hitting to get pitching back.   You get the idea. 

Now we are competitive year after year and it is teams like the White Sox and now the Tigers who are trading any tradeable piece that they can trade for any good return in prospects that they can get back.   They hope that a confluence of prospect development and veterans still being under contract or newly signed as free agents will occur as it did for the Indians in 1994-2001 and, from what I can see, for the Royals in recent years.   Certainly, the Tigers and, I think, the White Sox will have the cash to pull this off.   More than the Royals or the Indians ever will if they fall into these doldrums. 

So, Indians fans, remember those hollow decades of baseball in Cleveland and, when you watch the Tigers and White Sox roll out guys with ERAs over 6 and batting averages under .200, few of whom you have ever heard of, that we as fans have been there and done that and hope we don't have to go back any time soon.

As much as I don't want to say it because they are division rivals, I wish the Twins, Royals, Tigers and White Sox luck in their rebuilding.   Heaven knows that I, as an Indians fan, have been there and done that and I don't wish that experience on anyone.   Fortunately, for me and the rest of the Indians fans, we get to have some fun each September and, hopefully, in October.

Labor Day thoughts

First order of business: prayers to the people in Texas and Louisiana impacted by Harvey.  Thanks to all the people who have been donating time and money to help these people in need. 

This season is somewhat similar to last season.    You gotta love that.

We have a 9 game lead and things are looking good right now but let's take a look at the construction of the post-season roster which, this year, may be very, very difficult and guys who we all think are locks for the roster may not be such locks after all.

The roster looks pretty deep right now.   The only problem is that, without Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller in 2016, we aren't prepared if Kluber or Carrasco get injured in September.

Here are some thoughts to think about as we go through September and think about the post-season:

Tyler Olson, Craig Breslow or neither - This may really suck for Olson but Breslow is more the known quantity if we want a LOOGY.   But do we even want a LOOGY?  I guess it depends on Miller's health.

25th man competition - Erik Gonzalez, Giovanny Urshela, Abe Almonte or no one?  Again,  it all depends on Miller.  If he isn't there we may have to have another situational reliever and may work with a really short bench.  Frankly, in the 10th inning of the 7th game of the WS I would want any of the three of these guys as the 25th man.  Any of these, or Yandy Diaz, would be a huge upgrade over Michael Martinez.

Which outfielders do we take?   Again, this depends on an injury, this one to Brantley.   Doing the math, if Brantley is healthy, we have an issue.  One of Brantley, Zimmer, Chisenhall, Jackson or Bruce doesn't make the post-season roster, even if Miller is healthy.  With Santana maybe playing in the outfield if we get to the WS, it makes having 5 regular OFers that much more unnecessary.  If I had to leave out an outfielder I would, unfortunately, have to leave out Zimmer.   The Tyler Naquin experience last year should show you that.   I see the same issues on offense with Zimmer in the post-season.   You may be able to weather that if everyone else is clicking but if Kipnis is not rostered (see below) you then would have multiple possible holes (CF, C, 3B) in your lineup.  Unfortunately that is an open invitation to waste a Corey Kluber gem by losing 1-0 or 2-1 or 3-2.  We need 8 strong hitters in our lineup plus our catcher if we want to maximize the effectiveness of our starting pitching. So, what about Kipnis?

Kipnis or no Kipnis - My heart says to keep the faith that he will miraculously become the Kipnis of 2016 in this last month.   However, if he isn't 100% and close to 100% of what he was in 2016, the guy becomes an albatross.   You have to play him because he is Jason F'n Kipnis.  However, if he is just an easy out, why play him?  Sure as heck not for his defense and he can supply the same bench and clubhouse presence even if he isn't on the active roster.   The team would be better with Kipnis not on the roster and Urshela or Diaz (at least in the AL playoffs) at 3B. 

As far as the rest of the bullpen, barring injuries, it is set with Otero, McAllister, Allen and Goody.

The rest of the September callups have essentially no chance to make the 25 man roster.

It is quite possible, as much as the rules allow, that we may see a different roster each level of the posts-season IF we continue to advance.

Some very interesting decisions for our manager and the front office brain trust.   Let's hope Tito is as up to that task as he is at getting his players ready for the post-season and managing the guys he is given IN the post-season.