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Right on or way off: Will the Indians be in first after June?

Right on or way off: Will the Indians be in first after June?
May 22, 2012
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Here’s another installment of ‘Right On/ Way Off’, where I offer four statements about the Tribe that are potentially provocative, with the intention to promote dialogue about relevant points to the Indians’ success. There are a lot of things to delve into, especially with a key three game set on tap against the other key player in the American League central, Detroit. What a perfect place to kick it off:

Cleveland will still be in 1st place by this time in June…

Here’s a great way to get two opposing sides barking, as there seems to be a schism amongst Tribe fans, in which one falls into one of two camps, either ‘waiting to fail’ or ‘enjoying the ride’. With such a famished fan base in northeast Ohio, it’s too easy to fall into the former side.

The thought process has more-or-less followed as such: the Indians have a bunch of holes, therefore they are destined to fail. However, I’d like to see a reversal on that thinking, in which fans recognize that it’s impressive that Cleveland has a 2.5 game lead on Chicago and a 3 game lead on Detroit, with a quarter of the season in the books, in spite of their readily apparent weaknesses (i.e. left field, first base, the top of the rotation).

If Cleveland has any legitimate shot at a division crown, it’s imperative that they improve upon last year’s head-to-head record against Detroit, who took 12 of 18 games last year, including the last ten straight, outscoring the Tribe 76-31. One can definitely make the argument that there are two non-contenders in the division, Kansas City and Minnesota, therefore it’s a three horse race.

If Kotchman builds upon his recent tear and returns to career averages, the top of the rotation reels in their control issues, and left field isn’t a complete black hole, then this is a suddenly very well-rounded team, with a great young core of talent in the lineup, a formidable bullpen and back end of the rotation. Chicago could be the wild card, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Detroit continues to scuffle to figure it out and with all three ponies having comparably challenging schedules the next month, I’ll wear my homer badge proudly, and say right on.

Matt LaPorta should be on the 25-man roster now…

There has been a lot of speculation regarding when the Indians will call up Matt LaPorta. In a simpler scenario, this situation would already be resolved for most other players that have an OPS over 1.000 in AAA, while the major league team has a perceived weakness at his position. Unfortunately, LaPorta has a history of not being able to hit major league pitching, with a career triple slash of .238/ .304/ .397, which gives him that dreaded quad-A label.

At 27-years old, LaPorta’s chances of making it in the big leagues as a plus everyday player are fading by the week. Even with Casey Kotchman heating up on a recent tear, many have speculated that LaPorta’s call up is imminent. Kotchman still owns a paltry .208 batting average on the season, but he’s actually showing strides, finding the right side of the Mendoza line.

In the month of May, Kotchman is hitting .276/ .348/ .397 with 10 RBI in 18 games played. These numbers are much closer to what the organization had hoped for when they brought in the slick-fielding veteran first baseman. If Kotchman continues to claw his way toward his career averages of .268/ .336/ .398, then LaPorta might have to settle for finding a role in left field.

Since LaPorta definitely needs consistent at-bats to get the four-A rating monkey off his back and Kotchman has found his swing, in addition to being a vastly superior defender, I’ll say slow down, this one’s way off.

Choo should be locked into the leadoff role all year…

The leadoff spot in the lineup is one team problem area that Choo’s presence has remedied. The dismal duo of Brantley and Damon has done nothing to suggest that they would threaten Choo’s hold on the leadoff spot, even if his numbers take a relatively drastic hit. With only seven games under his belt at the top of the lineup, it’s a small sample size, sure; but, Choo’s resurgence is impressive, with an average of .379 and an OPS of 1.057, raising his season numbers in those categories to .267 and .774 respectively, a far cry from his slow start that had critics wondering if the underwhelming Choo of last year was here to stay.

Luckily, he’s caught fire and plugged one of the holes that stuck out like a patch of unmowed lawn. With Kipnis and Cabrera locked in to the two and three spots, the top of the lineup appears in order, setting the tone for an equally fearsome middle of the lineup. The point that it all comes back to is the importance of having a spark at the top of the lineup. With a 5-2 team record with Choo at the top, there’s no reason to see this changing anytime soon.

I’ll acknowledge that Choo isn’t an ideal leadoff hitter, as he lacks game-changing speed, but shoot, the last time we had one of those was back when Kenny manned the leadoff spot in the glory days. The truth is, there are only a handful of great true leadoff guys in the game, so even having a guy who just gets on base seems suffice enough. Again, since laid-back Brantley makes sense lower in the order and Damon is still looking for his swing, this one only makes sense, right on.

The Tribe should stick with Damon, as long as he’ll stick with them…

Manny Acta recently spoke up to the media, expressing his commitment to the struggling Tribe left fielder, Johnny Damon. Acta unequivocally proclaimed: “We don't have a timetable or anything … Damon is here to play for us up until he doesn't want to be here. We signed Damon to be part of the Cleveland Indians. Johnny was signed to be part of this ballclub until the end."

An intriguing quote, to be sure, Acta references the opt-out clause in Damon’s contract, in which he can be released if he isn’t getting enough playing time. No one except Damon and the Indians brass know, quantitatively speaking, how many at-bats Damon is demanding, but one thing everyone sees is how rough of a go it has been for the man, who’s chasing 3,000 hits.

With an abysmal .167 batting average, there is little evidence to suggest that Damon will find his stroke, something Cleveland could definitely use out of its left field position. Some say he’s still in spring training mode and hasn’t had enough at-bats to get warmed up. Either way, Manny’s quote suggests that the Tribe is happy with keeping Damon around, but is Damon happy with the Tribe?

At this point, it’s moot, because Damon would be hard-pressed to find another starting gig in the majors right now. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires if Duncan/ Cunningham/ LaPorta start siphoning at-bats from him. Additionally, if Damon somehow finds his stroke, will he skip town to play for a contender that has a need, like Boston? Ideally, Damon turns it on and hits, at the very least .240, good enough to merit the majority of playing time in left. This is a tough one to predict; regardless, I say set him free if he hasn’t shown signs of life by the end of June, so it’s way off.

User Comments

May 23, 2012 - 8:42 AM EDT
One thing about last night was great he came in to an ovation. Good to see. I did think it was a bit ridiculous though that the boo birds were out immediately after he allowed two baserunners. It is absurd. There is not a closer in the game that is perfect 1-2-3 every time out, but apparently Cleveland expects him to be.
May 23, 2012 - 8:39 AM EDT
Norm, I disagree, which is fine. I give the writers the freedom to share their own opinions without approval. I very much disagree on the Perez thing, but I don't want people always agreeing with my opinion. I do think while what Perez said is "true" it was something that was not needed. Do you think had Mark Shapiro or Chris Antonetti ranted like that it would be acceptable? For as right as we may think they are by what was said, as a business, you never call out your customers. Shoot, I even practice it myself....I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to blow up and say something about a certain person or respond to a certain ridiculous comment.....but in the end, you just keep the comments in-house.
May 23, 2012 - 8:39 AM EDT
Nice to see Chris Perez receive the accolades when he headed toward the bullpen in last night's game.. The applause didn't stop as he entered to a STANDING OVATION by the 15K fans in the stands who came out to watch the Indians mow-down motown. CP did his job.. just like he has all season and last..

W/R to the comment regarding entitlement.. what are you a SHEEP???????? Don't say anything that might be regarded as controversial or negative.. BIG BROTHER is watching?. Grow a pair.. CP is where he is at because he has no fear.. especially of being wrong.. The subject of his rant, fans in the stands, shows that he is right.. Not enough people are going to the games... but lots are watching.. Was he right in his comment about who is throwing footballs for the pathetic Browns?. Yes, on that again.. two years ago (could be three..who knows or cares at this point), the Browns brought in Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert with the latest five year plan.. This marked the fifth five year plan since the Browns returned 13 years ago.. DO THE MATH.. Browns fans are loyal.. Browns fans fill the stadium. What are they doing to deserve such loyalty? Did the Browns front office go out and acquire an impact free agent during the off season..NO! They are building the team from the ground up.. Developing and drafting players who will make the club a contender.. Sadly.. this fifth try (or is it the sixth five year plan?) shows no sign of being any different than the previous four or five FIVE year plans.. smh..

Does this sound familiar?.. uh huh..

The Indians made a plan to rebuild the club in 2002 pointing toward contending in 2005-2007..Guess what?. What they said is what they did. Look it up.. The Indians then made plans to put together a contender pointing toward the 2011 - 2013 years as their "point" years for contending. They did this after the 2008 season. Low and behold, exactly what they said they were going to do.. is coming to fruition. Maybe the Indians should be trusted a weeeee bit more. They say what they're going to do.. and do it and do it without the benefit of filling the stadium.. Guess what?.. if more fans come to the games, the cycle of contending, trading/tearing down, and rebuilding will be much much shorter.. Even in the lean years, the club will be capable of surprise.. but only if the number of fans in the stands rises.. Remember.. just like football, baseball is a business.. not a hobby played with by billionaires.

What say you?
May 23, 2012 - 4:59 AM EDT
Another luxury I guess professional athletes have, eh Norm?-- throwing their employers under the bus ("no free agent wants to come to Cleveland"), being able to complain about their jobs despite high pay ("no fun to play in Cleveland"), speaking for all the others you work with ("everyone here would say the same thing I'm saying"), and blaming the customer for not buying the product ("where is everyone? And why is anyone booing?")

I'm second to no one for castigating the ridiculous negativism in this town, the constant self-pity by fans, the bandwagon mentality, and absurd criticism of a committed ownership with deep roots in Cleveland, but there was nothing constructive about Chris Perez's comments over the weekend. None. Had there been, you can be darn sure management would have been secretly thrilled by him saying what he said. But they weren't, not by a long shot, and they were right, and Chris was wrong, regardless of whether he spoke any "truths." (Which really, when you break it down, was nothing more than a mind dump of a rant by a fellow with a bruised ego and a sense of entitlement.)

Back to the article above, I think Adam pretty much hit the nail on the head, except that I think the rope for Damon is a lot longer than people think if the team pretty much keeps winning.
May 23, 2012 - 4:59 AM EDT
Sorry Tony, I don't buy your explanation. Why can't he say it? Your writer engaged in a personal attack by your writer because he did not like Perez' comments about Cleveland. Otherwise, why did he characterize his headline as Perez pouting? He did everything but pout and said the same thing other players were sayhing but more candid and forcefully. Perez is entitled to his just as you, Jim and this writer are entitled to yours. If you have no problem, fine. But if I want to read this type of slanted writing, I would have kept reading the opinion pieces rampant on Swerb and LGT.

I have always admired your journalistic integrity over the years since you started the site and hope the standards are not being reduced. If you don't have trouble with the headline, then you have a less sensative nature than I do.
May 22, 2012 - 11:54 PM EDT
Just so you know, there is no "out clause" in Damon's contract...Nor is there a no trade...there are some verbal agreements, but nothing written.
May 22, 2012 - 11:32 PM EDT
I see no problem with what was written about Perez. When you talk like that, you open yourself up to criticism. He said nothing that was wrong in a sense in that he was spot on as it is something that just about every Indians person in the organization has thought at one point or another....but the difference is you simply cannot say that or call out the fans, no matter how wrong they are. I give Perez props for having the guys to say what he did, but it was disrespectful not just to the fans but to his employers as well. Just always best to keep it quiet publicly and vent behind closed doors.
May 22, 2012 - 11:28 PM EDT
Not much but at least it is better than the ridiculous piece of crap you wrote about Perez! Seems like the fans who attend games rather than write were OK with him. Just becuase there is freedom of the press, it does not mean you have to go out of your way to denigrate the truth.

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