Friday, 21 April 2017

Magic In Minnesota, Twins Get Swept

The Indians got back to winning ways on the road, winning their first series since the opening week in Texas. A heavy dose of rain on Wednesday night reduced the four game set in Minnesota to just three games and Cleveland emerged victorious in each one, sweeping the Twins to take their overall record to 8-7.

Here's some talking points from the Tribe's trip to Target Field.

Back Of The Rotation Getting The Job Done

The Indians sent their three, four and five guys to the mound over the course of this series and each pitcher performed well, picking up the win in their respective game.

Danny Salazar got the series started on Monday and shut down the Twins over 6 innings of work. He allowed 7 hits, 2 walks and 1 earned run, whilst striking out 7. It was his best start of this early season and Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combined to earn Salazar his first win, and seal a 3-1 victory for Cleveland.

Josh Tomlin, who was awful in his first couple of starts, also put in his best performance of the season so far. Tomlin was gifted a 3-0 lead by the time he walked out to the mound but proceeded to give 2 runs right back on a Max Kepler sac-fly and a Robbie Grossman double. Just as everyone was about to panic, Tomlin settled down and only gave up one more run, another sac-fly in the fourth inning. Overall Tomlin was effective, lasting 6 innings with 7 hits surrendered for 3 earned runs with 2 strikeouts for good measure. The offense backed him and he also picked up his first win, in a 11-4 Indians blowout. It must be his new haircut.

In the third and final game Trevor Bauer took the ball for the Indians and guess what, he pitched his best game of the season too! Similar to Tomlin, Bauer had also lost his previous two starts but despite the cold and damp conditions he pitched well, lasting 6.1 innings. He gave up just 3 hits but walked 3 as well, for 2 earned runs, and he struck out 7 batters as well. Credit must go to Bauer for working his way out of a sticky fourth inning. After a slip on the mound that resulted in a balk to open the scoring, Bauer got out of a bases loaded situation and avoided the big inning that might have lost this game. Fortunately the Tribe offense picked him up later in the seventh inning and Shaw, Miller and Allen did their thing again to seal the sweep and give Bauer the win.

It's a big positive for any ballclub when your back of the rotation guys can all produce quality starts that keep your team in the game. Fortunately for Salazar, Bauer and Tomlin, the offense was there to capitalise on Minnesota's less-than-stellar pitching staff and get the win each time out. I'm still not convinced Tomlin will be in the rotation all year long, especially when Mike Clevinger is forcing the issue down in Columbus.

The Kipnis Predicament

Rumor has it that Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is ready to return from his strained right rotator cuff injury. Kipnis opened the year on the disabled list after experiencing some discomfort in his shoulder and the club rightfully took precautions. Now Kipnis is back to full health and could feature this weekend against the White Sox in his native Chicago, maybe even as early as tonight.

This creates a roster problem for Terry Francona and co. Who makes room for Kipnis' return?

The likely choice will be Yandy Diaz. The young Cuban who took spring training by storm hasn't managed to produce those sort of numbers thus far in his first taste of the big leagues but he's been surprisingly good with the glove. Diaz is slashing just .236/.295/.255 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 2 RBI and 5 walks to 14 strikeouts and has just one extra-base hit so far, a double. He's featured almost every day at third base but hasn't made the most of the plate appearances he's had.

Nevertheless, with Kipnis set to resume his duties at second base, that means Jose Ramirez will slide back over to third base. Ramirez has been red hot to start the season, slashing .345/.415/.618 with a 1.034 OPS, plus 4 home runs and 16 RBI, with 8 walks (and just 8 strikeouts.) At this stage in Diaz's development, it wouldn't be beneficial for him to ride the bench and just fill in on Ramirez's days off. The sensible option would be to demote Diaz to Columbus and keep him playing everyday.

The only other option would be to keep Diaz on the roster and continue to use him as an outfielder, a position he's very familiar with. But I can't see this happening honestly. The Indians are committed to developing Diaz at third base and after all this early season effort, what would be the point in pushing Diaz back to a corner outfield spot? Also, the Tribe are stacked with outfielders at the moment, so much so that Tyler Naquin was dropped to Columbus only recently when Lonnie Chisenhall returned from the DL. If the Indians decide to continue carrying Diaz, they'll have to drop Abraham Almonte or Austin Jackson. Jackson in particular is unlikely to be demoted as the Indians would have to risk losing him entirely through waivers, something I don't think they'll even contemplate at the moment.

I'm sure we'll see Diaz again in 2017 but for the time being, Columbus will almost certainly be his new home for the foreseeable future.

Player Of The Series

There is always a host of candidates for this award when a sweep is involved but the lucky winner this time is Cody Allen. The right-handed 28 year-old closer featured twice against the Twins, recording his 3rd overall save of 2017 in Monday's win, and he pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Thursday as well. Allen made Indians fans sweat on Monday however, giving up 2 hits and a walk before finally ending the inning for the save. Allen loves to turn his save opportunities into a spectacle but thankfully more times than not he gets the result we all want. He is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball after all.

The Indians now travel to the south side of Chicago to take on the White Sox in a three game series, their second match-up of the season. Both teams will send their respective aces to the mound tonight, as the Tribe's Corey Kluber will faceoff against Chicago's Jose Quintana. Cleveland will be keen to continue their recent form against AL Central opposition and pad their lead at the top of the division.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Bats Still Silent, Detroit Drops Indians

The Tigers came into Cleveland over the Easter weekend and managed to take away a series victory, beating the Tribe two games to one. The series defeat capped off a disappointing homestand for the Indians, who are still struggling to put it all together since the sweep of Texas to open the season. They now sit with a 5-7 record.

Detroit took the first game on Friday night 7-6, despite the Indians' best attempts to make it close in the final innings (a Lonnie Chisenhall grand slam will help) but ultimately their comeback came up short. The Tribe lineup burst into action on Saturday though, annihilating Tigers' ace Justin Verlander in a lopsided 13-6 win, with Jose Ramirez having an especially good day (more on that later.) Sadly the hometown team couldn't win the rubber game on Sunday, as the Indians apparently used up all their runs the day before, and lost 4-1.

Let's look at a couple of talking points from the weekend's series:

Where Did You Go, Yan Gomes?

It's common knowledge in Cleveland that the Indians' Brazilian catcher has been in quite a slump, and it's lasted for over two years now. Nine games into his 2017 season, well lets just say it appears Gomes' problems at the plate haven't gone away just yet. He's currently batting just .067/.152/.167 (AVG/OBP/SLG); that's only 2 hits in 30 attempts. Fair enough Yan, one of them was a home run, but this is still a very bad start to an important season for the 29 year-old. With his backup Roberto Perez nipping at his heels and the impressive prospect Francisco Mejia on the rise, Gomes' days in Cleveland appear to be numbered and his time with the Indians might come to a close sooner rather than later if he doesn't find a way to turn things around. Despite being signed through to 2019, how long does the club endure Gomes' offensive struggles? That magical period between 2013-14 when he was the AL Silver Slugger suddenly feels like a long time ago and the current version of Gomes the Indians trot out there everyday looks like a shadow of his former self.

I've been a big Gomes supporter in the past but the odds of him recapturing some of his former glory look slim. It's still very early in the season, make no mistake about that, so there's time to turn it around yet. Thankfully he still calls an excellent game defensively but with the bat he's an awful mess right now. For his sake more than ours, I just hope he can start stringing together some hits before things turn ugly.

Carlos Carrasco - Ace In The Making

Corey Kluber is the definitive ace of the Indians' pitching staff and the former Cy Young award winner deserves his position at the top of the rotation. However an argument could be made that Carlos Carrasco is pitching as well, if not better than Kluber so far in 2017, and the Venezuelan right-hander may be on the cusp of earning ace status pretty soon.

Carrasco has been on the verge of making the leap for a couple of years but an odd injury here and there has stalled his progress and disrupted his momentum. Despite struggling with some swelling in his elbow this spring, the injury doesn't appear to have hindered him thus far.

In his three starts Carrasco has pitched 19.1 innings and given up just 5 earned runs while striking out 19 and walking 6, to the tune of a 2.33 ERA. No other Tribe starter has pitched as many innings so far this season, not even the ol' workhorse Kluber.

On Sunday Carrasco lasted 6.2 innings, scattering 4 hits for 2 earned runs. He struck out 5 Tigers but he gave up 5 walks as well, which was uncharacteristic but thankfully didn't come back to hurt him. The damage Detroit dealt to Carrasco came on a Alex Avila two-run homer in the second inning, on a fastball Carrasco mistakenly left right over the middle of the plate. After that blip Carrasco knuckled down and didn't let Detroit tag him again. However the Indians' offense couldn't provide their starter much run support and Carrasco was unfairly given the loss, despite pitching a good game.

It has long been remarked by both fans and scouts alike that Carrasco may possess the best stuff on the Indians staff. His split-finger can make opposition hitters look downright foolish and he mixes his fastball and slider to devastating effect. In fact Carrasco's slider has been called "one of the best pitches in baseball" by Baseball Prospectus. Is 2017 the year he finally puts it all together and qualifies himself as a bonafide ace? We won't know for a little while yet but he's certainly off to a good start.

Player Of The Series

Jose Ramirez wins the award this series, and by some margin. Over the course of the three game set Ramirez had 11 at-bats against Detroit and managed to collect 7 hits. It was on Saturday in particular when he really broke out, recording a hit in all 4 of his plate appearances. The dynamic 24 year-old Dominican hit 2 home runs for 6 RBI, and recorded a walk for good measure in the Indians' blowout win. Ramirez has been a fan favourite for a while now but he further cemented his place in my heart with this performance. His offensive output on Saturday catapulted my fantasy team from 9th to 2nd place in my 10 team mixed league. I am forever grateful Jose, and congratulations on winning the award for this series.

The Indians go on the road for their next seven games, beginning with a four game series in Minnesota. The Twins will likely start Kyle Gibson and the Indians will send out Danny Salazar for his third start of the season.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 14 April 2017

White Sox Wipeout: Indians Drop Series

Well that was disappointing. The Indians played their first divisional games of the season and hosted the White Sox, but unfortunately lost the series, despite winning the first game. After a walk-off victory in game one, the Tribe dropped a close one in the second contest, before being blown out early in the rubber game to lose the overall series. Let's take a look at some talking points from the past few days, starting with a positive.

Calling Dr Smooth

"He's back. Brantley's back."

So said Francisco Lindor after his teammate, and my favorite player Michael Brantley, hit a 10th inning walk-off double that scored Lindor all the way from first base to cement a 2-1 victory in the Indians' home opener.

Brantley's comeback is a story in and of itself. I don't expect even the most optimistic of us thought he would be back with the team this early, let alone contribute in such a big way. So far this season he's featured in 8 games and has batted .241/.313/.414 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 1 home run, 6 RBI, and a stolen base. His home run on Thursday night was his first since September 10 2015, a gap of 581 days between dingers.

I'm still going to proceed with caution and reign in my expectations. I don't expect him to produce those near-MVP level numbers of years past and he may well have some struggles or setbacks in his immediate future. But right now I'm just enjoying seeing him out there, back in the heart of the lineup, coming through in the clutch. It's good to have him back.

Josh Tomlin Cooked, Michael Martinez Relief Ace (!)

Josh Tomlin has not started 2017 in the way he might have hoped. In two outings so far, Tomlin has an ERA of 18.47. He's pitched a total of 6.1 innings and given up 13 earned runs. Those 13 runs result in Tomlin currently leading the major leagues in earned runs given up. There's no other way you can spin it, it's been an awful start to the year.

Tomlin's success is based on his ability to pound the strikezone. When he's on, he hits his spots with ease and gets ahead of the count, putting hitters on the defensive. But when he's off, those pitches in the strikezone get crushed. And that's exactly what happened on Thursday night. Chicago chased Tomlin from the game in just the second inning, as he surrendered 8 hits, 2 of them homers, for 7 earned runs. His first pitch of the game, the very first pitch, was knocked over the left field wall by leadoff hitter Tim Anderson. By the time Tomlin got out of the first inning, the Indians were in a 5-0 hole they never recovered from.

It's only 2 appearances but you begin to wonder how long the club will continue to trot Tomlin out there. He's looks a defeated man right now and needs a confidence boost in a big way. He is slated to make his next start against the Twins next week and for his sake, I hope he pitches better.

The pitching wasn't all bad in this series though, and the standout performance came from an unlikely source. Step forward Michael Martinez. The utility man who usually gets a lot of stick from fans got a round of applause instead, when he entered the ninth inning of Thursday's game as a relief pitcher.

What's that you say? Martinez isn't a pitcher? I'm sorry you're mistaken, but Martinez is a baseball player who can do everything. With the game already dead and buried and Terry Francona reluctant to burn another precious bullpen arm in a lopsided loss, Tito turned to his trusty do-it-all utility man Martinez. The 34 year-old veteran took the mound and pitched a scoreless inning, recording three groundball outs, and only allowed a double to Leury Garcia. Martinez was quoted after the game, via interpreter, "I'm here to help out whenever they need me. I play almost every single position, so I try to get in and help whenever I can." Martinez can confidently add 'relief ace' to his résumé now.

A couple of other honorable mentions must go to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who both pitched well in their second starts of the season. Carrasco pitched 7 innings, with 4 hits, 1 run, and 7 strikeouts and Salazar lasted 6 innings, with 4 hits, 2 runs, and 11 strikeouts, matching his career high.

Player Of The Series

Francisco Lindor will soon need a very good chiropractor, since he's been carrying the Tribe on his back so much this year. With the offense still yet to find it's mojo (*cough* Edwin *cough*), our star shortstop has pretty much been the only consistent hitter thus far. Against the White Sox he had 10 at-bats, with 4 hits, 2 of them doubles, 1 home run, and 3 walks, whilst playing his customary elite defense. For the season so far he's batting .324/.415/.765 with an OPS of 1.179. Lindor is leading the Indians in every major batting category at the moment, including home runs (4) and RBI (8). Keep it up Frankie, and hopefully the rest of the lineup will help you out soon!

Cleveland now welcomes Detroit to Progressive Field for a three game series over the Easter weekend. Trevor Bauer will toe the rubber in the first game and will face off against Tigers' left-hander Daniel Norris. The Indians manhandled the Tigers in 2016, winning 14 of 18 games, and will be looking to continue that trend, beginning tonight.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Baseball Cards: All Tribe Additions

Every year around spring training the baseball card bug bites me. It must have something to do with all that pre-season anticipation and Topps releasing all of their new designs. And each year when this feeling hits me, I head over to Check Out My Collectibles and see if I can score a bargain or two. Recently a small batch of Indians cards I'd ordered in the spring arrived and I thought I'd share them. Like my previous baseball card posts in the past, none of these are very special to serious collectors, nor are they worth a lot of money. I just buy them because I like the player and/or I like the design.

Let's begin with this Mike Clevinger 2016 Bowman Chrome - Prospects Autograph. It's a really clean auto in blue ink. It's not a particularly noteworthy card but I've been an admirer of Clev for a while now and am hoping he features for the big club in 2017. The card was just $2.74, which I think is a decent price for an autograph.

Up next is a card from the same set but from the year before, a 2015 Bowman Chrome - Prospects Autographs featuring third baseman Giovanny Urseha and his signature. The auto isn't the greatest but I still like the card a lot, and at $1.73 I added it to my basket without a second's thought. I've long been a fan of Gio's defensive prowess at the hot corner and despite Yandy Diaz beating him out for the Opening Day roster spot, I still want to see Urshela get some time in Cleveland in 2017.

This was the most deluxe card I bought from my mini haul. This Andrew Miller 2016 Topps Tier One - Prime Performers Autographs set me back $8.25. It's numbered 240 out of 249, and I don't tend to fuss over numbered cards too much but it's an added bonus. Despite Miller being in his old Yankees uniform, I still think it's a lovely card, especially with the extra large auto and gold trim. I'm like a magpie, I love shiny things.

Next up is a bit of a strange one, which I bought for a couple of reasons. When I fully got into my Indians fandom in 2008, Fausto Carmona was one of my favorite players. Coming off the back of a superb 2007 season, in which the Dominican posted a 3.06 ERA and a 19-8 record, I thought this guy was going to be a star. Unfortunately his 2008 season was a train-wreck but it did help teach me a lesson about pitchers. The second reason is because in 2012 it was revealed that Fausto Carmona was actually Roberto Hernandez, and Carmona was his alias (he was also three years older than he claimed to be as Carmona.) This got me thinking: how many people own an autographed card by a fake player, signed with a fake name? I thought it made this quite a unique pick-up and it also helped that it's a quality card, with very heavy stock and numbered out of 300 too. For the record it's a 2011 Topps Marquee - Monumental Markings that cost me $3.70 and I love it. I am still a big fan of those Indians home jerseys with the navy piping too.

And finally we have something a little simpler but still a great card. How can any Francisco Lindor card not be great? This is a 2016 Topps Update Series - [Base] card that cost $0.70 and features Lindor in his All Star garb from last year's midsummer classic in San Diego. It's the photography I love most about this card, the shot of his name across his jersey and the way his head is tilted away from the sun. Frankie is such a dude, and I pray to the baseball gods he can remain in Cleveland for the next 20 years.