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It's the turning point at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

It's the turning point at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
August 28, 2013
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There comes a time in every Cleveland Indians’ baseball season when you can look back and say, “that was when Tribe’s ship sunk.” I’ve done it every year that I can remember here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and unfortunately, it always happens before the Indians can hoist up that World Series trophy.

In good years, you can point to the late innings of a game 7 in a World Series, or maybe in a game 5 of an ALCS, with your team up 3 games to 1.

In bad years, you can point to the beginning of a 5-24 month, or even worse, maybe an early thumping in April.

The 2013 Cleveland Indians are breaking that mold.

This team has been up (22-4) and down (4-16). They’ve been in first, second, third and back to second, and are in a dogfight for both the wildcard, as well as the division.

They’ve been proclaimed a break-out team destined for an early playoff run in 2013, and they’ve been declared dead.

Here they are…on August 28th, 5 ½ games behind the first place Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, three games behind the Oakland A’s for the final wild card slot, and only 3 ½ games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

It’s not been a pretty year.

There really isn’t one offensive player on this team that stands out.

You can point to Jason Kipnis, and he’s clearly their star offensive player, but his slash since the All-Star break is a measly .248/.365/.694.

You can point to Carlos Santana, but his slash line since the break is .238/.349/.421, and his offense is far to advanced for my measly mind to understand.

Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn were incredible gets, but they’ve rarely performed to their yearly norms (which is still better than Cleveland norms, by the way). Asdrubal Cabrera is playing the worst baseball of his career. While Swisher and Bourn play average to exceptional defense, Cabrera’s range has diminished to the point that has many longing for the days of Jhonny Peralta.

Compare the two players, I dare you.

Lonnie Chisenhall has been an absolute bust this year.

The fact that the highlights of the offense are generally focused on Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn, two utility and back-up players in this offense really says it all.

The offense has struggled all year. The league average is .256, and the Tribe has hovered right at that mark all season, until August. The average has dropped off to .226. Somehow, they’ve managed to remain in the top ten in runs scored (sixth), OBP (10th), OPS (10th) and home runs (10th).

This is a strange bunch, who are winning prolifically enough to be in the title hunt without a single legitimate offensive threat.

They had one once.

His name was Mark Reynolds.

On May 12, Reynolds was hitting .291, with 11 homers and 32 RBI. He was leading the league in the latter categories, and the Indians were winning…a lot. They were in the midst of their 22-4 run, and were essentially taking the American League by storm.

That’s what they can do with a force in the middle.

The problem is…they don’t have one, and they won’t get one.

But here they are, still in the hunt.

That’s how good their starting pitching has been.

It’s been a total group effort, led by who I have to believe is now one of the most underrated starters in all of baseball, in Justin Masterson. He’s made 27 starts, and he’s gotten 23 decisions. He has three complete games, and all of them are shutouts. He’s already at 182 2/3 innings on the year, and seems destined to pass his 216 innings record he set for himself in 2011, his best season to date.

He’s an ace, but not in the purest sense.

He’s as close as it gets though.

So, yeah, I guess I’m saying that the Indians are managing to make a run for the playoffs without much offense, and without a true ace on the staff.

Masterson is good, but just. not. quite. there. yet.

But he’s held together a staff that has been ragtag, and awesome at the same time.

Ubaldo Jimenez is having a renaissance of sorts this year. While he still struggles from inning to inning, he’s managed to go 9-8 with a 3.95 ERA. He’ll make your hair fall out during his 50-pitch innings, but he somehow comes through at the end. He’s like the MacGyver of starting pitchers.

Scott Kazmir has come out of nowhere, or at least out of the Sugar Land Skeeters (which is nowhere…as I’m not convinced it’s a real team). The Indians are paying him peanuts, and he’s likely going to win 10 games, pitching in the upper echelon of the 100’s with regards to innings, and strike out more than 150 batters. He can look like an ace here and there. Funny thing with regards to Kazmir is that he is supposed to get dead arm…oh wait…he already did. Then he rebounded with another solid start. He’s been on the DL as well.

Zach McAllister started off batting Masterson for the role of ace, then went down with a “rare” middle finger sprain. In Cleveland, that injury is a dime-a-dozen. Now, of course, McAllister has returned, struggled, and come back with three outstanding starts…after missing seven weeks of the season. He’s looked like an ace at times.

Corey Kluber entered the fray as a starter nobody thought would last. Oh sure, there were fairy tales in which Kluber would push the gun to the upper 90’s, but could never really harness it enough to become a really good pitcher. Well, it wasn’t a fairy tale. Kluber was outstanding, and a guy that the Indians felt that they had caught lightning in a bottle. Yeah, he sprained his middle finger as well. You know…it’s rare. He’s not back yet, but should be back by mid-September.

Danny Salazar is the best up-and-coming pitcher that none of the major prospect services knew about. They know about him now. Salazar has the type of stuff that could make him an ace, and he can dominate opponents. Of course, he can only pitch four or so innings at this point, and likely only has one more start.

I could talk about Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, or even Josh Tomlin, but who has the breath for that.

My point here is that the Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation has been outstanding…but look at it.

Justin Masterson is a guy many have questioned even being a starter. Ubaldo Jimenez many (me) have questioned whether or not he should be a major leaguer (again…me). Zach McAllister was traded to the Indians for Austin Kearns. Corey Kluber was an okay starter in Columbus in 2012, and pretty bad in 2011. Danny Salazar wasn’t allowed to throw more than 40 or 50 pitches for most of 2012, and was right around the 70 pitch count for much of 2012.

Ragtag.

The bullpen has been terrible, and I don’t need to document much of that, other than to say that the closer has been arrested for alleged marijuana, the primary set-up man is in Columbus, Joe Smith’s ERA in July was 7.88 (it’s 0.00 in August though), and the rest of the pen are really a bunch of guys that have pitched good and bad with the weather. In August though, only Chris PerezMatt Albers and Rich Hill have ERAs over 4.00. Cody Allen has a 0.68 ERA in 13 games, while Marc Rzepczynski and Joe Smith have sterling 0.00 ERAs in 11 and 12 games played.

There’s just no rhyme nor reason to this team.

Can they fix the offense and become a juggernaut? That would take a trade, and the best available players areKendrys Morales and Justin Morneau.

Morales has had a great season, but when you really never know what you are going to get with him. He hit .250 in April, .342 in May, .235 in June, .309 in July and .266 in August. Of course, those numbers seem to fit right in with the roller coaster ride that’s been the Indians.

Morneau has that clubhouse make-up that many Indians players have. His numbers though? He hit .253 in April, .315 in May, .298 in June, .175 in July, and has hit .260 in August. Roller coaster anyone?

What I’m saying is there really isn’t that guy out there to fix this club, but they certainly can help.

Remember, the Indians would be renting a player for a month. I want Kendrys Morales, especially if the Indians think they can sign him to a two or three year deal after the season, but at what cost? Would you give them a Carlos Moncrief, or a Ronny Rodriguez for a month of a borderline all-star?

I would, but would it really be worth it for the long term?

Would it really be worth it for the short term?

Those questions aren’t easily answered because Morales is far from a proven star. If you look at the moves that were made at the trade deadline, there just weren’t any that will have any long term impact other than, perhaps, theJake Peavy trade.

The Indians likely did the right thing not mortgaging their future for an unproven rental like Morales or Morneau orJason Kubel or Josh Willingham.

Morales is the best of the bunch, but the weight of a month has to be taken into account.

Which brings the Indians to today…on August 28, 2013. The Indians face the next eight ballgames against three very good ballclubs. The Atlanta Braves are on the verge of 80 wins, and shut the Tribe out in game one. The Detroit Tigers spells nemesis in some form or fashion for the Tribe, as they have manhandled the Indians at every portion of every game (I know the Indians blew some games in their last four game set, but they ultimately got swept…that’s being owned). The Orioles and the Indians are trying to garner the same prize, and are fighting tooth and nail to get it.

I take back my 5-4 comment and 4-5 comments I’ve been making over the past week.

The Indians have to win at least six games.

Why?

They have to prove to themselves that they have the ability to win against teams that are in contention. They have to prove to the league that they need to be taken seriously.

Sure, they could tread water, dominate a weak schedule down the stretch, and sneak into the playoffs.

Sure, then anything can happen. But really, do we think it can?

Do the Indians?

Maybe they do, and treading water is okay, but I don’t see it that way.

There are points in a season when a team needs to make a move. Making a move, by definition, isn’t “treading water.” By definition, it’s taking the next step. Sure, making the playoffs may be that next step, but something tells me it goes deeper than that for Terry Francona.

Something tells me that he thinks this Tribe team is ready to win now.

To do that, they have to make their move starting today, on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013, and not wait until next Wednesday.

To be the man, the Indians have to beat the man…and in this case, it’s time to beat the upper echelon in this league.

I just don’t know if they ultimately have the bats to do it.

Every season has a turning point for every team. This week is that turning point.

I just hope it’s not the breaking point.

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Rick
August 29, 2013 - 11:14 AM EDT
It wasn't a good play...mainly because he didn't make it. 9 out of 10 times, if you are paying attention to the game today, TEAMS DON'T RISK A THROW and concede the base.

The Braves didn't , and the executed like the team with the best record in baseball - a record by the way nobody expected them to have.

These have been two very tough losses to swallow when you look at the runners left on base. Masterson made one mistake and the best the offense could do was give him a no decision.

That has been the Story for the second half. Very good, bordering on great starting pitching, with a much improved bull pen, and....sometimes offense ....more often offensive silence from the bats.

Even Smith last night - he got beat by a guy who was a throw in on the J. Upton deal - who happens to be having a breakout great year. But we had our chance in the top half and could only manage a sac fly after two hits?

Tito didn't lose this game because ACab ran like a fat man into the final out. We have had the luxury of upping our expectations because Tito has this team in the hunt 10 games over where most of us expected them to be.

Playing spoilers in August. You look at our run differential and the overall offense and compare that with who we are fighting to grab the final wild card - and there is no way it computes.

Yet we still have a weeks worth of baseball to keep the improbable alive.

All the have to do is continue playing just as they have - AND HIT THE FREAKING BALL AND KNOCK IN SOME FREAKING RUNS.

And that is amazing.
Joe Chengery
August 29, 2013 - 3:43 AM EDT
My guess is, Cabrera went on his own- I don't think Tito, the bench, or the 1B coach would be telling him to steal when a.) you're not fast to start off with, b.) there are two outs in the inning, c.) you have the go-ahead run at 3rd, d.) you have one of your best clutch hitters all year with 2 outs at the plate, e.) there is a LHP on the mound, and f.) the LHP's command was off much of the inning, heightening the chances of a wild pitch or passed ball that could have led to the Indians scoring the go-ahead run even without a hit.

Obviously, the play was not a good one, and if Tito and/or company called for it, it was poor managing, but my guess is that Cabrera was behind that poor base running gaffe, and essentially short-circuited that inning. I'd call it a braincramp of sorts by not fully analyzing the situation, which arguably was the second and final turning point in the ballgame (Masterson giving up the 2-run single after walking the pitcher with 2 outs). Combine that with the unfathomable struggles of this offense, and that's one of the two main reasons we lost this game (Masterson walking the pitcher was the other).

The base running gaffe is just another example of Cabrera's poor season and why it really stings that the Indians didn't try to maximize his trade value when they had the chance, as Cabrera hasn't done much all year. It's not like he's been much of an offensive threat at all this year, so trading him likely wouldn't have hurt this offense much. Well, unfortunately, that ship has sailed- if Cabrera could show semblance of the player he was in '11 offensively, defensively, and mentally, the Indians might be able to turn around this road trip, but they have to start playing their best ball NOW, not three weeks from now. That's what will determine whether they play in October or fall short.
Canadian Joe
August 28, 2013 - 9:43 PM EDT
What the hell ???? Cabrera trying to steal second with 2 outs and man on third ? Who is managing ? Ferris Buhler ? He took the day off . So did Tito !!! Runs are hard to come by and we pull that stunt ??? Come on. I thought we were trying to win !!!!

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