Tribe Down, But Not Out
By Craig Gifford
Thumpings of 12-7 and 9-2 at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, one of the worst teams baseball, means the Tribe’s dream season and chances of winning the AL Central Division championship have gone up in smoke. Right? ….. Wrong!
It does look bad. Cleveland enters Thursday six games behind the front-running Detroit Tigers, a half game ahead of the Chicago White Sox. With 35 games to play, there is not much room for error on this club at this point. However, even in a dark moment, here are some reasons to stay optimistic.
1. The Bullpen Mafia
Although the Tribe bullpen has not been quite as dominant as it was the first half of the season, it is still solid and one of the better ones in baseball. Chinks in the armor have appeared with this group. That is especially so in the case of closer Chris Perez when he enters a tied game, rather than a save situation. His head doesn’t seem to be quite as into the game and he has let some chances for victories get away lately.
That was most apparent Monday night when he allowed a 2-2 game with the Mariners to become a 3-2 loss in the ninth inning. It was a tough loss for the Tribe. Still, he is an All-Star closer and with good reason. Perhaps manager Manny Acta would be best served to use another one of the strong bullpen arms in tie games and save his back-end guy for the saves.
There are plenty of options out in the center field ‘pen ready to come in and take the mound late in games. While Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano have hit a couple bumps in the last month, their ERAs still rival many of the top relievers in the game. The same can be said about Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp, who have been the most consistent guys out of the pen all year. Despite some recent struggles, there is still plenty to like about this unit and its ability to keep the Tribe in games.
2. The Starting Rotation
We go backwards from the guys who end games, to the guys who start them as the number two reason to stay interested and have hope. Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin give the Indians a chance to win every single time they start. Neither of the two completely blows up when they start and will typically get you late into a game. Josh Tomlin, in a years time, has gotten through at least five innings every start of his career until yesterday. Masterson has blossomed into a true rotation ace. Whenever those two pitch, a Tribe fan has to feel good about a potential win, especially if the offense can put a few runs on the board.
Meanwhile, the rest of the rotation has the potential to be solid. Fausto Carmona has looked more like the top starter he was supposed to be at the start of the season, since coming back from injury in early July. If midseason pickup Ubaldo Jimenez can get back just some of his form from years past, the Indians have four starters you can feel good about, which is more than the Tigers can say.
Add in the potential return of Carlos Carrasco and an improved David Huff (taking away Saturday’s awful start) and the Indians rotation is fairly deep. A solid rotation can carry a team far and if the Indians’ gets clicking as it could, the last month of the regular season could still be memorable.
3. The Schedule
Over the last month-plus, the Indians get a healthy dose of the AL Central. That includes 12 games against bottom-feeders Kansas City and Minnesota. The Indians also get a four-game set with struggling Oakland A’s next week. It is all about taking care of business against the lesser lights.
On top of the potential of getting fat on teams in or near the basement of their divisions, the Tribe can also create their own fate in head-to-head match ups with the White Sox and Tigers. They have six games left against both squads, including the final three games of the year in Detroit. It is unreasonable to think they can win all 12 against those two, but winning around eight and taking care of business against the lowly teams would be a great combination to make the final week of the season meaningful.
4. The Unknown
With DH Travis Hafner possibly out the rest of the year and second baseman Jason Kipnis injured until early to mid-September, the Indians are scanning the waiver wires for a potential pick up in the next week. Can they get a new toy to help the sputtering offense? The biggest name out there is Jim Thome. Bringing back the all-time leader in Cleveland home runs and the man who just hit his 600th career bomb would generate a lot of interest. Hideki Matsui is another interesting name out there.
Tribe management does not think the Indians are out of it and are looking to make a waiver wire deal by Aug. 31. It will be interesting to see what they do.
So there you have four reasons to remain interested and have hope, and there are surely more. If the offense can give just a little bit, the pitching and schedule are there down the stretch to close what has become a widened gap with Detroit and give Cleveland a pennant chase to the end.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images