Wednesday, June 13, 2018

England Tribe - World Cup Hiatus

Regular readers will have probably already noticed, but I've been rather quiet on this blog in the past few weeks.

The cause of this? World Cup fever.

Every four years when the World Cup rolls around, it devours my sporting attention span. I obviously still follow the Indians on a daily basis, but sadly I can't commit to much writing. As an Englishman, football takes over and devours every waking moment of my spare time.

Therefore, I will return to the blog in about four or five weeks, just in time for the All Star game, when the dust has finally settled in Moscow.

If you are following the World Cup, enjoy the tournament!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

White Sox Wipe Out, Tribe Sweep Chicago

The Indians finished their recent home stand in style, with a three game sweep of the lowly White Sox, taking their current win streak to five games and stretching their lead in the division to 4.5 games over Detroit. All in all it's been a very successful conclusion to the month of May.

Here are a few talking points from this series:

Offensive Turnaround

In the month of April, the Indians struggled to get much momentum going on offense. The lineup had a combined batting average of .231 for the first month and scored just 95 runs. That placed them 25th in the league for runs scored, behind offensive juggernauts like Texas, San Diego, and Cincinnati. And yes, that is sarcasm (apologies to Rangers, Padres and Reds fans).

May has been much kinder though and the hits have come back to Cleveland with a vengeance. With one day remaining in May, the Indians lead the big leagues with 170 runs scored this month. Their .282 batting average is also top of the majors. The Tribe's overall record in May has been distinctly average (only 14-13), but the offensive revival has really helped pick up some of the slack caused by a malfunctioning bullpen.

In the sweep of the White Sox, our ball club outscored Chicago 25-10, and recorded 40 hits, many coming from our most important contributors, like Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley and Francisco Lindor.

What a difference a month makes.

Greg Allen and the Outfield Logjam 

I have been an unabashed Greg Allen fan for a while now, and seeing him perform so well lately has been immensely rewarding. Since Allen rejoined the team at the start of this month, he's been a reliable figure in the outfield. So far in 2018 the rookie has slashed .270/.303/.381 but he's really grown in confidence as the month has progressed.

Since the 18th of May, Allen has started to show signs of figuring things out at this level. His slashline of .316/.366/.447 is impressive and this offensive output has been matched by his abilities on defense. For example, Allen made a great diving grab in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game, robbing a hit from the White Sox with his athleticism. His speed is also a huge weapon for him offensively, and even though we haven't seen many stolen bases from him yet in the majors, Allen's record in the minors suggests he should cause opposition pitchers havoc on the basepaths.

Allen's performances in the sweep of Chicago mark his best series to date; in 14 plate appearances Allen collected 5 hits and scored 4 runs, as well as picking up the first stolen base of his major league career (and hopefully the first of many to come).

Unfortunately, Allen may find his time in Cleveland coming to an end. Bradley Zimmer, Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer, the Tribe's trio of injured outfielders, are all currently rehabbing their bodies back to health in Columbus. Each of these veterans started Wednesday's Clippers game against Buffalo, so it's only a matter of time before they make their way back and sadly, a rookie like Allen will probably be the one to make way.

Perhaps Allen could stick with the club, and I think his performances and contribution to the team merit him staying up. For a more in-depth analysis of the overall situation in the outfield, Michael Bode over at Waiting For Next Year has done a wonderful job summarizing everything, and you can read that here.

At the very least, Allen has certainly made it a difficult decision for the front office to send him back to Triple-A.

Here's are some short notes about the series:

  • Corey Kluber continues to be an absolute force at Progressive Field this season. His victory in Wednesday's 9-1 rout was his eighth of the campaign, and he has a 5-0 record with a 1.26 ERA in five starts at home. Kluber has also not walked a batter in his last 28.1 innings. 
  • Michael Brantley is riding a 19-game hit streak, which is currently the longest in the majors. Brantley is hitting .366 (30-for-82) with 6 homers, 19 RBI and 20 runs over this span.
  • News broke on Tuesday that Jose Ramirez was supposedly nearing a suspension for using a substance banned by MLB. This false report from the Dominican Republic has been categorically refuted by Ramirez himself and all of the upper management as well. Hopefully that is the last we hear of that. Don't try and take our MVP down!

Cleveland now carry their winning ways to Minnesota for a four-game series with the Twins. Indians pitching prospect Shane Bieber is expected to make his first start in the majors on Thursday night, and he celebrates turning 23 years-old as well. Bieber has a 5-1 record with a 1.10 ERA over 10 starts between Akron and Columbus, with 61 strikeouts and only 3 walks. He takes the hill tonight and fans are eager to see this exciting prospect in an Indians uniform for the first time. Happy Birthday Shane and best of luck in your debut.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Winning In The Windy City

Whoa, where did that month go? I've been absent from the blog these past four weeks, and sadly I don't always get the time to write on here as much as I would like. Y'know, life and all that.

In my time away from England Tribe, our Cleveland ball club have had mixed experiences. Win one, lose one, win one, lose one, repeat. The bullpen have taken the brunt of the blame, and that big Bryan Shaw sized hole has been harder to fill than perhaps anticipated.

Nevertheless, the Indians have just completed an eight game road trip, going 4-4, and topped it off with a nice series win against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Let's take a quick look at some of the talking points from their trip to north side of Chicago.

Michael Brantley Is The Hero You Don't Deserve

Have I mentioned how much I love Michael Brantley? It's ridiculous that a man closer to 30 years-old than 20 still has such a thing as a "favorite player" but I do, I really do. Brantley has been my favorite guy on the Indians for most of this decade and I was overjoyed when the team picked up his option for 2018. It was frustrating to see fellow fans deride and dismiss him on Twitter, criticizing the Indians for apparently making the mistake of resigning him (but what else should I expect on that hellish platform).

Despite all his issues with injuries in the past, I have always been a firm believer in his ability. I still think he's the best all-around hitter on the team, and that's quite a statement when the Indians are carrying All Stars like Lindor, Ramirez and Encarnacion. He's undoubtedly the best outfielder at the very least.

Recently, Brantley has been proving me right, performing like the Brantley of old. Currently he leads the team in batting average at .338, he's second in RBI with 30, third in OPS at .937, third in runs scored with 23, third in total hits with 51, and he has the least strikeouts among guys with over fifty at-bats, with just 12 in 163 plate appearances. That's an incredible statistic, and he's actually fifth-best in the entire league, and second-best in the AL, only behind the Angels' Andrelton Simmons.

As the Tribe roll out of Chicago and head home, Brantley carries a 12-game hitting streak and he was absolutely key to the Indians' success in the Windy City.

During Tuesday night's demolition of the Cubs, a 10-1 rout for our boys, Brantley had 2 hits and scored 2 runs but it was on Wednesday night he really proved his worth.

With the sun setting on the lush green of Wrigley Field, Brantley stepped to the plate in the third inning with Rajai Davis stationed at second base, with two outs already recorded. Cubs starter Jon Lester fell behind 2-0 to Brantley, and on the next pitch the veteran outfielder laced a single into right-center field, dropping just over the outstretched arm of Javier Baez. It was enough to get the speedy Davis around third and heading home, and put the Tribe on top 1-0. It was all the Indians needed in the end, as they held on to record the win and the series sweep.

I'm realistic and appreciate we haven't even started June yet. The dog days of summer are yet to come, so perhaps it is too early to start believing in Brantley's health. But all the signs so far have been positive, and with a healthy Brantley in the lineup these Indians are a much more potent and dangerous team.

Here a few other scraps of note:
  • Jose Ramirez has really made up for his slow start to the season, and has been on an absolute tear of late. He had 2 hits in the series, one of which was a 3-run homer in Tuesday's win, and he recorded 3 walks that day as well. Ramirez currently leads the club in home runs with 14, and leads the team in RBI (34), walks (27), OPS (1.000), SLG (.609), and OBP (.391) as well. He's a force of nature at the moment.
  • Trevor Bauer and Adam Plutko were the Tribe's starters for the series and both had seriously impressive outings. Bauer pitched on Tuesday night and lasted 6 innings, scattering 7 hits and 2 walks over the course of the night with 6 strikeouts, to collect his fourth win of the year. Plutko, in just his second spot-start of 2018, was outstanding and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He ended up with a very respectable pitching line of 6 innings, 2 hits, 4 walks and 4 strikeouts. Plutko's performance was good enough to earn him permanent residence in the rotation (for the foreseeable future), as he replaces Josh Tomlin as the fifth starter, with Tomlin joining the bullpen.

The Tribe now begin a lengthy homestand, welcoming the reigning champs to town. The Indians are currently 24-23 and will play the 32-18 Astros over a four game series, with both teams set to start their aces in Thursday's opener. Corey Kluber will face off against Dallas Keuchel in a hotly anticipated matchup.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tribe Overcome Mighty Machado and O's

Despite dropping the first game of their series at Camden Yards, the Indians won their next three to clinch a four-game set against the Orioles, taking their overall record to 12-8. With a week still left in April, the Tribe have already established a slim lead in the AL Central, with all of their rivals currently sporting sub-.500 records.

Let's take a look at some of the talking points from the Indians' successful trip to Baltimore:

Rotation Domination

I'm running out of superlatives for this pitching staff. Everyone knew heading into this season that the strength of this team lay in the rotation, but it still astounds me that they can be this good.

Even in the Indians' 3-1 loss to begin the series on Friday, the quality of the pitching performance by Trevor Bauer was still better than what most of the league can trot out every fifth day. Bauer was on the hook for the loss that night, but his performance was decent: 7 innings of work, 5 hits and 3 walks given up for 3 earned runs, one of them a homer off the red-hot bat of Manny Machado (more on him later). Bauer had 6 strikeouts as well, and over four starts this year has a tidy total of 27 K's in 27 innings. He's off to a great start this season, and this loss is just a case of poor luck. The offense took a night off and couldn't support Bauer, and he was unfortunately matched up against Dylan Bundy, who was absolutely dealing Friday night, with that nasty slider of his.

Saturday afternoon saw the Tribe back on track, with Mike Clevinger having a career day on the mound, pitching his first complete game shutout in a 4-0 win. Clevinger, who has struggled with high pitch counts in the past, was completely locked in against the Orioles, utterly dominant for nine scoreless frames, allowing just 2 measly hits and 2 walks, with 3 strikeouts. It was a seriously impressive performance from the 27 year-old right-hander, who is off to an amazing start in 2018.

Corey Kluber got the nod on Sunday afternoon and pitched well in the Baltimore sunshine, picking up his third win of the campaign in the Indians' 7-3 victory. Kluber lasted 7 innings, surrendering 6 hits for 3 earned runs, to go along with 4 strikeouts. It wasn't a vintage Kluber display but, like most teams, the Orioles' lineup still struggled to give him much trouble. All except Machado (again), who tagged the Tribe ace for 3 hits on the day, including 2 home runs. Machado's first home run of the day simply destroyed the baseball, with an exit velocity recorded at 107.9 mph. Sheesh...

Carlos Carrasco was sent to seal the series win on Monday night and he delivered, pitching beautifully in a tight 2-1 Indians win. In yet another pitching duel, Carrasco prevailed over Kevin Gausman, allowing 6 hits for 1 run over 7.1 innings, with 7 strikeouts and 2 walks. Carrasco preserved his perfect record and is now a clean 4-0 to start the season. He constantly mixed his pitches to induce swings and misses, and gave the Baltimore lineup nightmares all evening.

Manny Mania Is A Real Thing

Manny Machado was a one man wrecking crew throughout this series, and did everything he could to help his Orioles to victory. Thankfully for Indians fans his efforts were in vain, but Machado is an interesting talking point.

Over 4 games and 16 plate appearances, Machado batted .500 with 6 hits, 4 walks, and smashed 3 mammoth home runs. These weren't home runs that just cleared the fences, these were absolute monsters, with two of them coming off reigning AL Cy Young winner Kluber. That's no easy feat.

On the season so far, Machado is batting .360 with 8 home runs, tied for second in the league, only trailing Mike Trout (who has 9). He has 14 walks and 15 strikeouts, a relatively promising ratio for such a young slugger.

Baltimore have surely resigned themselves to losing Machado, as the 25 year-old is a free agent at the end of this season. His availability was a hot topic at the Winter Meetings, with trade rumors for the O's franchise player doing the rounds. Surprisingly, Machado stayed put, but most observers don't expect he will last the season at Camden Yards, and will be dealt to a contender by mid-summer.

Could the Indians be one of those contenders? Will they enter the race for "Manny Machado, Super-Rental?"

Because that's exactly what he would be, a 4-5 month rental player, available to the highest bidder at the end of October. Realistically, the Indians will not be one of those bidders, as a player of Machado's quality will be far too expensive and command too much for Cleveland's modest bank balance.

Which leaves the question, would a trade for Machado on a short-term basis be worth it?

Baltimore would obviously demand a high ransom for their star player but if Machado is the last piece of the puzzle to clinch a World Series, then you have to consider going all-in. In my opinion, Machado is a talent that could swing a World Series in Cleveland's favor.

For fun, let's look at a possible trade scenario:

  • Indians receive: Manny Machado SS 
  • Orioles receive: Jason Kipnis 2B, Triston McKenzie RHP

Before you come at me with flaming torches and pitchforks, just hear me out.

McKenzie is considered by most analysts to be the Indians' top pitching prospect, a 6-5 starter who throws a 90-95 fastball with unbelievable location, and an excellent curveball. At just 20 years-old, McKenzie is the kind of prospect a General Manager like Dan Duquette could fall in love with.

So why include Kipnis I hear you ask? Adding Machado would create a real logjam in the infield, so someone has to make room and as much as I love Kip, he's the odd man out in this hypothetical situation.

Machado would take over duties at third base, with Lindor staying put at shortstop, and Jose Ramirez naturally replaces Kipnis at second base, a position he has displayed considerable ability at as recently as 2017. I would be very conflicted to lose Kipnis, but in truth, I think most Tribe fans would rank Ramirez above him, which makes Kipnis expendable (it hurts just typing that).

Do I make this trade if I'm Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff? In a heartbeat.

I'm firmly of the belief that Machado is the kind of player that could tip the scales in Cleveland's favor. With a dominant rotation already in place, and with elite bullpen pieces like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in support, Machado would take the Indians to the next level.

I'm clearly all-in on Machado, and the Indians should give serious consideration towards joining me.

Making Moves For Melky

A final piece of news to end this longer-than-usual series recap: Melky Cabrera has been signed on a minor-league contract. The switch-hitting veteran is expected to report to Triple-A Columbus after a physical has been completed, and he will be looking to add some pop to the Tribe's outfield.

In 2017 Cabrera slashed .285/.324/.423 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 17 home runs and 85 RBI in 156 games, split between the Royals and White Sox. At the very least, he could offer some depth support if our current outfield options get hurt or under-perform.

The biggest question mark with Cabrera is his defense, and the numbers certainly don't like his glovework: in 2017 he had a -20 DRS rating and an overall UZR/150 of -11.4. I'm not a firm believer in defensive metrics telling the entire story, but Cabrera's stats don't exactly fill you with confidence.

Overall, I think he could be a useful signing, and honestly it's surprising nobody picked him before the Indians did. With Lonnie Chisenhall still out of action for the foreseeable future, having Cabrera as an option is not a bad way to go, and comes with very little risk.