Posts By Craig Gifford
In baseball circles it is said you can get a good feel for what a team will be through 40 games. As the Cleveland Indians have proven the last couple years, there are exceptions to that rule. However, it is a generally a good stretch of games to see if a team will be good, bad or somewhere in between as the summer rolls along.
This season’s Indians are again putting the old theory to the test, though not like they have in years past. Both the 2011 and 2012 Tribe were in contention for a division title beyond the halfway points of each campaign. Both clubs crumbled in the second half with young teams wilting under pressure.
The 2013 squad was built with more veterans to better face the strains of expectations to contend. The 2013 squad, to this point, is in contention. As the season hits game No. 60 tonight, though, the identity and realistic expectations one should have are as unknown as they were on Opening Day.
Spotting any Major League Baseball team a 6-0 lead is never a good idea. When it is the New York Yankees and their ace, C.C. Sabathia, it is even more ill-conceived.
That is exactly what Cleveland did on Wednesday afternoon, falling behind 6-0 through two innings at Yankee Stadium. Though they gave it a good effort, the Indians could not dig out of that early hole. The Tribe fell 6-4 and was swept in the three-game series. The Indians have now dropped four in a row and is now 30-29, two and one-half games behind the Tigers, who play this evening, for the AL Central lead.
When this week began whispers were starting to build that Cleveland Indians veteran Jason Giambi may have been washed up. He was mired in an 0-for-24 slump and manager Terry Francona was facing questions from the media as to whether or not the 42-year-old slugger still had it.
To Francona’s credit, he never wavered in his belief that Giambi could still be a valuable contributor to the team. As recently as Saturday, the Tribe skipper was quoted as saying “bleep no,” by the Plain Dealer when asked if he was worried about his part-time designated hitter.
For a fourth straight game, on Tuesday night, the Cleveland Indians watched a member of its once-vaunted bullpen implode.
Unlike the previous three affairs, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the Tribe was neither ahead nor tied. However, a rough night for reliever Bryan Shaw did turn a close game into a walkaway, 8-2 victory for the Reds at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.
The Cleveland Indians made a lot of moves in the offseason that have worked very well to this point. From free agent signings in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, to bargain-bin shopping with Ryan Raburn, to trading for Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles, to the hiring of manager Terry Francona, most of what the Tribe did in the winter has helped the team have success through the season’s first two months.
One acquisition that was looking bad over the initial few weeks was giving $7 million dollars to 32-year-old Brett Myers and making the 2012 reliever a starter. Through his first four appearances, three starts, covering 21 and 1/3 innings, the veteran right-hander was not very good. He was 0-3 with an 8.02 ERA. He had allowed a league-high 11 home runs.
Monday afternoon’s game between the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners was reminiscent of a boxing match. Both sides took turns absorbing the other’s best shots, but would not stay down for the count.
Finally, in a back-and-forth affair, it was Yan Gomes who delivered the knockout punch. A 10th inning, three-run home run, erased an 8-7 deficit and gave the Tribe a 10-8 win. It was Gomes’ second longball of the day and fourth of the season. The comeback victory completed a four-game sweep over the Mariners and gave Cleveland its fifth straight win. At 26-17 the Indians are now two and a half games up in the AL Central Division over the Tigers, who visit Progressive Field on Tuesday and Wednesday.
A count of 19,390 fans witnessed the Indians’ third walk-off home run of the year and third walk-off victory during the four-game tilt with Seattle. Gomes’ blast was the sixth time on the day a team had a lead erased. Seattle had the lead to start both the ninth and tenth innings.
The Indians made quite a few highly publicized moves over the offseason. One move that did not get a lot of attention was the first one the team made, on Nov. 3. That day, the Tribe dealt middle-reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for utility infielder Mike Aviles and a developmental rookie in Yan Gomes.
A first inning solo home run off the bat of Jason Kipnis was the only run the Indians would score in Game 1 of their doubleheader with the New York Yankees. The one tally was the only score the Tribe would need as ace Justin Masterson carved up the visitors for a complete game shutout.
Masterson struck out nine Yankee hitters while walking just three en route to a 1-0 Indians win. Cleveland improved to 21-15 and is now a half game ahead of Detroit in the American League Central Division.
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.