Sipp and Santana Could Provide Tribe Jumpstart
By Craig Gifford
On May 24, a mere 22 days ago, the Cleveland Indians had just swept the Detroit Tigers. They were riding high at 26-18 and held a three-game lead over the Chicago White Sox who were about to visit Progressive Field. Then, it all unraveled.
Since that high point, the Tribe has gone 6-12. They were swept by the Sox in that three-game series to kick off the bad stretch. In the middle of this, Cleveland did go 4-2 on trips to Detroit and St. Louis. However, the past three days, getting swept by the Cincinnati Reds, has shown something is not quite right with the Indians.
Cleveland needs something to get things going in the right direction again. The prevailing thought is that the Indians need to go out and make a trade for a power bat or an arm to strengthen a struggling pitching staff. San Diego power hitter Carlos Quentin is apparently available and some fans and media have started saying the Tribe should look at him before the Tigers swoop in.
That is one route for improvement. However, the cheapest and easiest route for the Tribe to get going again is in house. Particularly with two key players who have had their fair share of troubles lately. Catcher Carlos Santana and relief pitcher Tony Sipp are two players that could dramatically change Cleveland’s fortunes if they could get back to being the players they have been in the past.
This is especially true for Sipp. Sipp’s problems have been present all season. A key set up man the past couple of years, the left hander has labored his way to a rough 6.65 ERA in 26 games, spanning 21.2 innings pitched. This is nowhere near the pitcher Sipp has been in the past. Last season, Sipp was a go-to, back end of the bullpen guy. He had a sterling 3.03 ERA in 69 outings. In 2010, a down year for him, it was still a 4.14 ERA. This season’s struggles have come out of nowhere and do not seem to be injury-related.
The Tribe really need Sipp’s left-handed arm. Rafael Perez, another late-inning lefty, went on the disabled list in April after only eight outings and his return is yet to be pinned down. Sipp is the only southpaw in the pen with any real Major League experience. With Perez injured and Sipp struggling, the Indians called up rookies Scott Barnes and Nick Hagadone. Both have looked good at times. However, both have shown why you can not necessarily count on a first-time big leaguers late in games.
Cleveland needs Sipp to get back to normal. Closer Chris Perez and right-handed set up man Vinnie Pestano have been every bit as good as last year. Perez, perhaps even better. If Cleveland could get Sipp going again and have three dominant backend guys like last season, it would make a huge difference.
It is hard to say what can get the 28-year-old going again. Time and patience is slowly running out. A trip to the minors is possible. He does have three minor league options left. However, an extended stay there seems to defeat the purpose. Shipping off Sipp and calling up another rookie would just make the relief corps even more inexperienced. It would be another new face to throw into huge situations. The hope is Sipp can get it turned around at the big league level and be the pitcher he has been the last three years when he could be counted on as much as anyone in the game for a key out.
As for Santana, the Tribe’s big bopper in the middle of the lineup has not been doing much bopping of late. Since a concussion in late May, Santana has not been the big contributor he was in April and the first half of May. In nine games since being reactivated, the Cleveland catcher is hitting only .151 (5-for-33). His tough stretch actually began three games before the injury as he has five hits in his last 43 at bats, a .116 clip.
Santana, known for his power bat, has just five home runs and 27 RBI in 52 games this season. His recent nose-dive at the plate has dropped the batting average from what was a decent .272 to a paltry .229. Santana’s history says he can and should turn things around. He hit 27 home runs last year, his first full Major League season. More was expected this year from a guy who was a feared hitter in the minors.
It is highly doubtful the Indians would even entertain thoughts about trying to get Santana going again on a trip to the bush leagues. As a pure catcher, Santana is having his finest season. He has thrown out 35.5 percent of base stealers, second in the majors. He is still a more feared and accomplished hitter than any catcher the Tribe has in the organization. There is little question Santana will right the ship. The question is, when will he?
For Cleveland’s offensive fortunes to increase, the answer needs to be soon. The talk is he needs to cut down on his massive swing at the plate. It is a swing he has always had, though, and one that has served him mostly well. The real issue could simply be in shaking the cobwebs from the concussion. It has only been 33 at bats after a week away from playing. The Indians still have time and should be patient with him.
The patience of the fans, however, may be growing slimmer. Coming home for six games this weekend, the Indians must turn the page on the sweep laid on them by the Reds and get back to winning baseball. It would help a great deal if Sipp and Santana could again be the key contributors they have been and can be again.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images