@ Toronto: Lost 11-1, Won 6-3, Won 13-9
Texas: Lost 7-4, Lost 11-2, Lost 4-0, Lost 2-0
Minnesota: Lost 6-4, Won 1-0, Lost 3-2
@ NYY: Lost 11-7, Lost 4-0, Lost 9-1, Won 1-0
@ Detroit: Lost 4-0, Won 6-4, Lost 6-2
Pittsburgh: Won 5-1, Won 5-1, Won 5-2
Colorado: Lost 8-7, Lost 4-3, Won 4-3
@ San Francisco: Lost 4-3, Lost 1-0, Lost 3-1
@ Arizona: Won 5-4
THE BIG STORY: There's a popular baseball-ism about evaluating teams at the quarter turn or just after, meaning that you need a sample around 45 games to really get a handle on what a team is. The Indians made it to game 50 with a record of 31-19 and, as was outlined extensively in the last edition of this column, the team appeared legitimately awesome. Nearly as soon as the ink was dry on the personal newspaper I print and mail to myself and which contains only this column, the Indians set out undoing all of the good work they had done over the first fifty. The team has been putrid since that day, losing at home, losing on the road, and struggling, intensely, to score runs. Over the last twenty-seven games, the team has scored only 3.25 runs a game and this offensive ineptitude, along with injuries to a number of key players, including Shin-Soo Choo and Matt LaPorta, has led to much lineup shuffling—Adam Everett is now gone, Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan have finally lost their starting jobs, and top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall has joined middle-of-the-pack prospect Cord Phelps in the Cleveland lineup.
Besides general poor performance, the other major thread is that Shin-Soo Choo broke his thumb on an HBP in San Francisco and is out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.
THE BEST THING GOING: It would be inappropriate to select an offensive performance considering how terrible the offense has been, but I feel obligated to beat the drum a bit on a couple of guys. Carlos Santana, still wearing the scarlet letter of a low batting average, has OPS'd 826 in our sample and his phenomenal eye refuses to falter—on the season, he leads the Indians in walks, having drawn 53 free passes in 308 plate appearances (Choo is second with 31 BB's in the same number of PAs). His BB% is third in all of baseball, and puts him in some very good company. Carlos has obviously not reached the MVP-expectations that were foisted on him but he has maintained unbelievable plate discipline and is getting better. He is still the Indians best asset going forward.
Secondly, it's worth noting that Hafner came back from the DL and didn't miss a step—he's been OPS'ing over 1000 since his return. It remains to be seen how many games Hafner can play but this is his best offensive performance in years.
The actual best thing going might very well be the bullpen, which features five ERAs under 2.45. However, the peripherals are still a bit yawn worthy, with only Pestano, among the group with the minuscule ERAs, posting a K/9 over 7.4. Since ERAs don't mean much for relievers and I still haven't totally figured out how a number of these guys are succeeding, Rafael Perez chief among them, I'll turn to one of the very best things about the Indians season, period.
If you thought back to the goals that many set for the 2011 Cleveland Indians season, they were centered on player development. While a focus on finding pieces for the future has evaporated in the heat of a pennant race (trade for Beltran!), the clear-headed among us have probably noticed that it's becoming increasingly difficult to deny that the Indians have two very good, young starters:
|2011 - Carlos Carrasco||7-4||3.62||1.21||53||23|
|2011 - Justin Masterson||5-6||2.98||1.32||75||35|
Carrasco was brilliant over the last month, averaging over seven innings per start, posting a 3:1 K:BB and (ding ding ding) surrendering only one homerun. Masterson was nearly as good, going over six innings a start, posting a similar K:BB, and holding opponents to a 680 OPS. Masterson still struggles against lefties (OPS of 789) but he's showing that it's a problem he can work around and still be effective. Both of these pitchers are likely more middle of the rotation starter than frontline ace—that doesn't mean they're not extremely valuable players, though.
NOT AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS: The aforementioned Rafael Perez, who has a K:BB of less than 2.0 and yet sports an ERA of 1.13. I doubt anyone is silly enough to want to acquire Perez for anything more than a bag of balls but, if they are, this is about as good as he's ever going to look.
NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS: No, it's pretty much that bad.
DON'T LOOK AT THIS: .207/.295/.337—Grady Sizemore since May 30.
30 IP, 13 BBs, 14 Ks, 8.70 ERA—Fausto Carmona since May 30.
Welcome to the future, ladies and gentlemen!
THE RISKY PLAY: The Indians made one yesterday, bringing up Lonnie Chisenhall, he of the sweet swing that scouts love and the minor league stats that indicate he might need more time. Still, there are way more chips to use, even with Phelps and Chisenhall in Cleveland. Jeanmar Gomez posted an ERA of 1.75 in five June starts and, at 23 years old, suddenly looks quite valuable. Similarly, it's not obvious Zach McAllister can carry his low strikeout rate to Cleveland and still succeed, but it does seem obvious that this is the pitcher the 24 year old is—he's biding his time before he can try his hand at the highest level. Scott Barnes is the most intriguing of the AAA starters, with his big K-rate and vacant stare. The pitching staff just doesn't quit—Huff was quite good in June, and Zach Putnam might be ready for a bullpen that needs him (not the one in Cleveland, currently), and Nick Hagadone is struggling with the AAA transition but still carries the best pedigree of the bunch.
In addition to all the arms, Jason Kipnis looked like himself in June (948 OPS), Donald returned from the DL and began mashing (888 OPS), and Luis Valbuena refuses to go the way of Josh Barfield and forget how to dominate AAA (Luis had a 1074 OPS in June). In short, the Clippers roster is loaded with guys who look like they'll eventually contribute in the majors, even if none of those guys look like obvious stars.
So, what's the risky play? I guess you could move any of these young players for help (Kipnis seems to be the trade chip du jour in these parts), or you could punt on even more veterans with the hope that these young guns can contribute. A truly insane person might suggest turning Asdrubal Cabrera's hot streak into assets the Indians valued more highly, and needed more desperately, but the truth is there's a decent argument that Asdrubal is hitting a natural peak, not a fluke one, and, besides, shortstop is not an organizational strength.