Rash conclusions from three games of baseball

Thearon W. Henderson

What better use of an early-season offday that analyzing what we've seen in the first three games?!

On the one hand, it's only been three games, which is an awfully small sample, and because two of those games were an unplanned doubleheader, we don't even know if playing time would have been allotted the same way had the games each happened on separate days. Plus, two players expected on the 25-man roster on on the DL. On the other hand, there's not a game tonight, and the three games that have happened count, and the decisions Terry Francona made signify something, so let's dive in and draw a few rash conclusions...

The Rotation

Justin Masterson was great on Opening Day (night), throwing 7 shutout innings while allowing only 4 baserunners. In the expansion era (1961 to present) 186 different pitchers have started three or more Opening Day games. Masterson's 0.86 ERA in his three starts is tied for 4th among those 186. Masterson is probably gone at the end of this year, and the Indians aren't going to be bringing in anyone as good as him, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister don't appear to realize that the regular season has begun. Kluber especially did not look good yesterday. His velocity was there, but the command and movement were not, and velocity isn't worth much if it's not accompanied by at least one of those other two features. 8 hit and 3 walks, and he couldn't even survive the 4th inning. McAllister survived the 4th, but made it no further. He was fortunate only 3 of the 10 baserunners he allowed made it home. If you want something to overreact to in a negative way, the state of the starting rotation is your huckleberry.

The Bullpen

On the other hand, if you want to jump to rash conclusions in a positive direction, take a gander at the bullpen. They've already been asked to throw 11.2 innings, and they've allowed only 1 earned run (avert your eyes from the 7 walks, if you're trying to see the bright side of things). In terms of pecking order, it's worth noting that Marc Rzepczynski and Cody Allen were used during the 8th inning of a tied game, before John Axford was brought in for the save, while Scott Atchison was brought in during the 4th inning of a game that seemed already decided. Vinnie Pestano, Blake Wood, and Josh Outman were also used in that game; Rzepczynski, Allen, and Bryan Shaw were then used in the nightcap, a much closer contest, with Axford coming in for the save. Rzepczysnki was used for 2.1 innings, a far longer outing than you usually see from a left-handed reliever. It looks like Allen will be the top setup man, followed by Shaw; it also looks like Francona won't be afraid to stay with a guy for more than an inning when he's doing well.

Versatility

In terms of the lineup, all 12 guys on the roster have already started at least one game, and 6 guys have already started at two different positions. 5 players have already started in the outfield, and a sixth (Aviles) was scheduled to start there for Tuesday's game (which was postponed by rain). Those trends continue what we saw in spring training, and it looks like Francona wasn't just playing around during spring training; he's looking for as flexible a roster as he can get.

The Lineup

Every player has also already gotten at least 5 plate appearances, with the exception of Lonnie Chisenhall, wh o started last night but was lifted for a pinch hitter after two at bats. Chad already wrote about what the seems to tell us about Lonnie's spot on the team; three games is a small sample, but I do think Chisenhall appears to be the final guy on the roster, which makes him a prime candidate to be sent down if Jason Giambi is added to the roster in another week or two (as expected), or if another catcher (such as George Kottaras) is added to the roster. I'd rather see Elliot Johnson sent down (and I say that as someone who likes Elliot more than most), and perhaps when Michael Bourn returns the versatility Johnson provides won't matter as much, and he'll be the one sent down. We'll see.

Michael Brantley has continued his strong spring with 4 hits already; while Carlos Santana has put his slow spring behind him by reaching base safely 6 times already. Mike Aviles has the Tribe's only home run (if you bet on him to hit the team's first, you probably got pretty good odds). Yan Gomes, Nick Swisher, and outfielders not named Brantley have been less impressive.

Ironclad Conclusions

Start up the Brantley for MVP chants, but fret over Gomes losing his focus now that he's set for life. Celebrate the incredibile lineup versatility we've got, but make your peace with Chisenhall getting sent down soon. Ponder how this year's bullpen stacks up with the best in franchise history, but don't forget to wonder if this year's starting rotation is going to be 2012 all over again.

After three days of baseball, that's where we're at.

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