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Six Points for an Indians Sunday

Six Points for an Indians Sunday
June 10, 2012
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Six Thoughts for Six Days of Baseball:

1. Jose Lopez's importance

Entering Saturday’s seven fifteen game against the St Louis Cardinals, Jose Lopez was hitting .274 with 2 homeruns and 18 driven in. His production has become increasingly important with the losses of Hannahan and Hafner as well as the lack of production from first base. Lopez’s resurgence coinciding with Santana’s injury was lucky as the Indians need Lopez to hit from the right side in order to break up the lefty heavy lineup. While it seems trivial to have one or two right handed hitters in the lineup, they can have a large effect. When facing an all left-handed lineup, right or left handed starters can focus on a relatively similar and easy game plan. Whether it is executing a changeup or multiple backdoor sliders, it is important to give the pitcher a different look in order to throw off his ability to execute and locate.

Returning to Lopez and his post re-call production, it is becoming more and more clear that Lopez has something to offer this club moving forward. While his positional versatility cannot match Donald’s, his abilities at the plate far outreach the power starved Columbus shortstop’s. In Lopez, we are just two years off a season in which he hit .270 with 25 hr’s and 96 RBI’s . It is clear that the current Lopez, while being two years older, is also about 20 pounds heavier. His weight is a large concern in terms of his ability to contribute at different spots on the diamond. If Lopez becomes saddled to a third, first and DH role he still holds some market value as a right handed hitter.  His production much akin to Austin Kearns of a few seasons ago (netting Zach Mcallister) could provide the Indians with some older assets of value to liquidate at the deadline if this team goes south.

2. Michael Brantley's emergence

Much has been made about Michael Brantley’s hitting streak and the positivity is warranted. His recent outburst has established two important things about his role with the Indians going forward and his approach at the plate. Perhaps the more important streak for Brantley, however, has been his seven consecutive stolen bases. Throughout this season, it has been clear that Brantley has the best two-strike approach on the team. He has shown an increasingly above average ability to put the ball in play.

The change I have seen through the past few games is that Brantley is taking advantage of the whole field. Brantley is, in a way, counterintuitive. Most players who don’t use the whole field are dead pull hitters. Brantley is, however, incredibly prone to drive the ball the other way. He seems most comfortable letting the ball get back in on him. The improvement is a lot like the one made last year by Asdrubel Cabrera except without the home run power. This change is that Brantley has looked to pull inside fastballs earlier in counts and has found success doing so. It is clear that with Brantley’s ability to hit in two-strike counts, he is starting to swing with more authority early in counts. His new approach is a terrific improvement and has allowed him to barrel the ball up at a higher rate.

3. Where do you hit Brantley?

The real concern with Brantley moving forward is what place he should fill in the lineup. Brantley began the year in the leadoff position and was abysmal.  His average and O.B.P. in the top spot was unacceptable. Coupled with starting 2 of 6 in stolen base attempts, Choo was moved to the top of the order and has produced admirably. Brantley really lacks the power necessary to stay in the six hole even if his streak continues. Ideally, he needs to establish himself at the top of the lineup. That is where the stolen base streak comes in. Having  successfully stolen bases seven straight times, it is clear that he is becoming the type of player necessary to set the table. I believe his bat control, patience at the plate and speed make him best suited for the two hole.

4. Missing person

Carlos, where is the production? Upon return from his concussion, not an altogether irrelevant factor Santana has continued his downward spiral at the plate, causing worry about whether or not last year’s batting average is closer to his potential than we might expect. Santana is an interesting case as his BB/K (2011(.73)-2012(.80)) has actually improved over last season while his average has decreased through a third of the season. Santana is frustrating because while he is lauded for his plate discipline, he has been declining in his ability to square up strikes as his swing continues to grow exponentially longer.

5. Jimenez needs to show some consistency

Heading into Sunday’s start, Ubaldo has the opportunity to, once again, build on a solid start and build some hope or faith that he is beginning to straighten himself out. Tuesday’s start was solid but not overwhelming. The location of his pitches was still inconsistent and he often escaped 2-0 or 3-1 counts. The contact was solid against a lineup struggling outside of Cabrera and Fielder. The most consistent pitch from start to start for Ubaldo has become his curveball which has been called heavily of late. His road has to straighten here. The Tribe can no longer survive rocky and inconsistent outings.  It would be a major step forward for Ubaldo if he can go out today and take advantage of the Cardinal’s thin lineup, grab a win and clinch a series like an ace would or his former self.

6. Looking forward

As the Indians have spent the past few weeks treading water because of injuries to important pieces( Hannahan, Cabrera, Hafner and Santana) and disappointing starting pitching. There is reason to be optimistic about a June run. Four consecutive series against mediocre NL central foes Cincinnati, Houston and Pittsburgh as well as a series against the sliding Orioles at Camden Yards sets up nicely for the Indians to head into the all star break in control of their destiny. Furthermore, this current lukewarm play will give way to a strong contending team if Masterson and Jimenez continue to stabilize at the top of the rotation.

To follow Mike on twitter: @MichaelHattery

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

Tim J.
June 11, 2012 - 8:48 AM EDT
While the Pirates and Reds are near the top of the NL central it is the only worse division in baseball than ours. I very much prefer the mediocre central to either the NL East or West. Baltimore while their record is better now has a negative run differential and is sliding from a start comparable to our 30-15 start last year.. And none of us thought oh Kearns has trade value but he did and the Indians got a PTBNL for Kearns who is pretty good. And the constantly injured Brian Roberts will not offer nearly what you expect. Brantley clearly should not hit six either with has lack of power as it is more of a power roll than two and finding a slot for him is important moving forward.
anonymous
June 11, 2012 - 5:16 AM EDT
Oh and call them "sliding" if you will but the Oriles still have a better record than the tribe. Be a fan but not an idiot, dont forget Roberts is coming back very soon too and if yoh think that doesn't matter then remember a fellow named Sizemore...
criznit
June 11, 2012 - 5:09 AM EDT
He is also a crappy 1B IMO
criznit
June 11, 2012 - 5:07 AM EDT
Correction - you did mention Lopez's ability to play 1B, but this will have extremely little value for a team in the hunt IMO.
Criznit
June 11, 2012 - 4:53 AM EDT
Ummm. hate your opinions dude.. Brantley does not have the power at the plate to warrant batting second period. Either he bats lead off or battles Kotchman/Damon/Duncan for 6th hole duties. Otherwise he bats ninth and gets to many hits for that. When Hafner returns then it is a different story. He should stay in the 6th hole unless you move him to lead-off.

Lopez has ZERO trade value at this point. AND considering Chiz and Hanny (once he returns) doesn't have much of a spot. That is unless you decide he is better than Kotchman at 1B. Which he is not simply because Kotchman is a great defender. Lopez trade value = money/PTBNL.

Um and as far as facing "medicore" NL foes - Pittsburgh is tied for 1st place, Cincy has a great team, (not a slouch or medicore as you called them) Houston is well Houston....

I dont know much about you as a writer/baseball guy but seriously once you said Brantley ideally belongs in the 2-hole I came to the conclusion you are an idiot.. Sorry but no way that make sense and no way Lopez matters to any other team at this point. He will shortly be battling Chiz and Hanny for playing time and he hasnt done enough to take time from them unless Lopez/Hanny starts taking time from Kotchman which you failed to notice/mention.
Rob
June 11, 2012 - 12:31 AM EDT
What's the point of having LaPorta up if he can't even get atbats over Duncan and Kotchman? No ab's for 3 games. I'd honestly rather see Carrera and Goedert up over Duncan and Cunningham. Carrera at least has an extra outfielder profile with some speed and plays d well. Im sure he can hit .200 like the others as well. Painful to watch most of the lineup this series. Santana looks way out of whack right now, definitely not seeing the ball well..hopefully he gets it back together or Brantley will be in the 4 hole.
Avory
June 10, 2012 - 10:43 PM EDT
Andrew, I see no scenario where Choo isn't a superior option to Brantley at leadoff. Brantley will never walk enough to justify replacing Choo. I really like Choo, Cabrera, and Kipnis at the top, and regard Brantley as an excellent 8 or 9-hitter in a good lineup. Hitting six shows how thin our order is, and why there isn't going to be a team out there we will scare anytime soon.
Justin
June 10, 2012 - 10:38 PM EDT
I have no problem keeping Choo in the lead off spot. I don't know why people continue to think he is a power guy...

Any word on where Hannahan will be rehabbing this week? Lake County is home starting Tuesday and in town all week, so they seem the most logical.
Avory
June 10, 2012 - 10:38 PM EDT
This team can play with most and lose to anyone; I don't regard Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or Baltimore as mediocre, and Houston certainly showed what they were capable of on the southside of Chicago this weekend. I'm not looking to fatten up on any of these teams, just hoping to grind out as many series wins as possible. There's really no easy out there.
Andrew
June 10, 2012 - 10:20 PM EDT
Ideally, you'd like to see Brantley leading off, Cabrera two, and Kipnis three. Remains to be seen if Brantley can handle that.

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