Posts By Craig Gifford
Major League Baseball teams that reach the postseason typically get contributions from players and spots on their clubs previously unexpected to make an impact.
Entering the 2013 season, it was the starting pitching for the Cleveland Indians that many people thought would have to overachieve in order for the Tribe to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Cleveland’s starting pitching staff had so many questions and few answers to start the year. Could Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez rebound from disappointing 2012 campaigns? Could Brett Myers make the conversion from the bullpen back to the rotation? Could Scott Kazmir make a successful comeback from two years away from the game? Finally, what young pitchers would step up this season?
On Wednesday night, the Oakland Athletics were frustrated after a botched call turned a ninth-inning, game-tying home run into a double. It helped secure a win for the Cleveland Indians.
The Athletics had less than 24 hours to stew over it before the two clubs met again this afternoon. Rather than Oakland taking out its frustrations on the Tribe, it was the Indians who pounded the Athletics. Cleveland completed a four-game sweep of the Bay-Area visitors with a 9-2 victory at Progressive Field.
The 12,477 fans watched the Indians improve to 18-14 with their 10th win in 11 games and 14th victory in their last 18 contests. The Tribe is now just 1 ½ games behind the AL Central Division leading Detroit Tigers, who have a game later today with Washington.
Ryan Raburn was brought to Cleveland to be a super utility player. The plan was to have him take the field, part-time, at up to four different positions. During the Indians’ four-game winning streak, he sure has looked comfortable as a regular in the lineup.
Due to injuries, Raburn has manned right field during each of the latter three games. All he has done in that time is have a pair of four-hit gems on Sunday at Kansas City and Wednesday against Philadelphia, to go with two-homer games on Sunday and Tuesday. He has hit safely in 12 of his last 14 at bats.
The kind of stretch Raburn is on has certainly been done by lesser players than him before. Hitters can get hot at any moment. However, with each passing game, the 32-year-old veteran is making it harder and harder on manager Terry Francona to remove him from the batting order.
On Wednesday night the Tribe’s rookie phenom showed he does have a bit of a ways to go before he is winning hardware. However, he was good enough to out-duel the lefty. The Indians got the better of their former ace, sweeping the two-game series with a 6-0 victory at Progressive Field.
A good number of names and faces may have changed during the offseason, but the bullpen still remains the biggest strength of the Cleveland Indians. Gone from last year are mainstays Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp. Also sent away in the winter was Esmil Rogers, who became a key contributor to the 2012 relief staff.
Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti spent the offseason collecting relief pitchers the way some people collect baseball cards and stamps. He held fast to that old saying of never having enough pitching. Newcomers to this season’s pen include Matt Albers, Rich Hill Bryan Shaw. Nick Hagadone and Cody Allen, a pair of 2012 rookies, have been key contributors so far this season.
For 13 innings, White Sox starter Jose Quintana was an enigma the Indians batters could not figure out. When the two teams played on Apr. 12, Quintana shut the Tribe out for eight innings before his bullpen allowed a 1-0 defeat.
Quintana was again masterful through the first five frames of Wednesday afternoon’s game. Cleveland finally got to him for a pair of runs in the sixth. However, this time, the Indians could not figure out Chicago’s relievers. The Sox bullpen shout out the Tribe for four innings as Cleveland fell at U.S. Cellular Field, 3-2. The AL Central Division rivals split the rain-shortened, two-game series.
The Indians, who dropped to 8-11, fell behind early and never could quite catch up despite having several scoring opportunities.
On December 21, the Indians made what was perceived to be a move of little consequence. On that day, the team signed Scott Kazmir to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training. More often than not, those signings usually result in the player being released or sent to Triple-A. The Kazmir deal was perceived by Tribe fans to be just that.
When Cleveland took a flier on the 29-year-old former All-Star, it was nothing more than a shot at adding depth to a suspect starting pitching rotation. Out of Major League Baseball since the beginning of the 2011 campaign, Kazmir seemed more likely to be an emergency arm should things go horribly wrong for other pitchers.
When catcher Carlos Santana was injured, Monday, near the end of Cleveland’s demoralizing 11-6 home opening loss to the Yankees, it was a scary sight. He got crossed up on a pitch from closer Chris Perez and took a 90 mile per hour throw off his left hand, hurting his thumb. X-rays turned out to be negative and Santana is listed as day-to-day, and is expected to only miss a handful of games at most.
That is good news. One, because no one wants to see any athlete get badly injured. Two, because the thought of someone filling in for Santana, long-term, is a thought almost as scary as the sight of the injury.
In Monday’s home opener against the New York Yankees, Ubaldo Jimenez was asked by Tribe manager Terry Francona to leave the mound early, in the fifth inning. That was mostly due to ineffectiveness and the fact the visitors were lighting up the Progressive Field score board.
On Tuesday night, starter Carlos Carrasco (0-1) was equally ineffective against those same Yankees as the Indians were soundly defeated 14-1. He, however, was asked to exit the ball game early by home plate umpire Jordan Baker before the New York half of the the fourth was complete.
By Craig Gifford
If the Indians finish April hovering at the .500 mark or even a little below, many Cleveland fans will likely start getting nervous and wonder if all the offseason acquisitions were worth it. The reality is, there is no need for alarm if a team struggles out of the gate. By the same token, a fast start needs to be met with tempered expectations.
Some fans put a lot of unwarranted meaning toward early season success or failure. The only time that should happen is if a team is really doing poorly.
Take a look at recent years when teams got off to good starts and did not keep it up. The Indians of the past two seasons are a prefect example. They seemed poised to compete for, or win, the American League Central Division title midway through 2011 and 2012. Those campaigns ended with disappointing marks of 80-82 and 68-94, respectively. Needless to say, no playoffs for the Tribe either season and manager Manny Acta was fired for consecutive poor ends to the season. In came Terry Francona, with his two managerial World Series rings, and an upgraded roster for 2013.
Cleveland Indians fans have watched many superstars walk away in free agency or get traded just before the end of their contract. Each time, the explanation from management is the same and usually involves something along the lines of being a smaller market team that cannot afford to spend in the same bracket as the New Yorks, Bostons and Los Angeles’ of the world.
On Monday, a jaded Tribe fan base received a reminder of how wrong that thought actually is. The Tampa Bay Rays, the lone team in Major League Baseball with a worse 2012 attendance than the Indians, ponied up in a big way to make sure Evan Longoria would never leave for the riches of the big cities. Tampa and Longoria agreed to a 10-year, $136.6 million deal, with a $13 million club option for 2023.
After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today, we examine a player who is out of minor league options, meaning they must be on the 25-man roster.
For the last three years with the Indians, Jason Donald has been a yo-yo. He has bounced between Triple-A Buffalo and Cleveland on numerous occasions. Next year, the up and down act will end, one way or the other.
Donald is now out of options and the Tribe cannot send him to the minors any more, without exposing him to waivers. For all the reasons that would be risky, Cleveland should figure on hanging onto the super utility player rather than letting him walk away. Donald is good enough that another team would surely grab him if given the chance.