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Tribe Happenings: Indians are a cut below the Tigers

Tribe Happenings: Indians are a cut below the Tigers
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Comparing the Indians and Tigers

The Indians (45-42) and Tigers (48-38) are in the midst of a big four-game series this weekend at Progressive Field. Going into play on Sunday, the Tigers have won seven straight over the Indians this season, are 8-2 overall against them, and sport a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central.

Aside from the first week or two of the season, the Indians and Tigers have occupied first place in the AL Central the entire season. After some early season struggles and an 8-13 record, the Indians went on an 18-4 run and raced out to a 2.5 game lead in the division on May 20th, but then after a 4-16 stretch fell 5.5 games out of first by June 10th. Then they followed that up with a 15-5 stretch to climb to a half game lead on July 2nd, only to lose their last four games.

But the Indians have struggled in their head-to-head meetings with the Tigers, being outscored 68-37 in their ten games against them this season. Which begs the question, are the Indians realistic contenders in the AL Central or not?

Both teams certainly have their warts. The Tigers have bullpen issues, especially at the closer’s spot, and they also have a few holes in their lineup in left field and catcher. The Indians have holes in the middle of their bullpen, particularly lefty relief, and they have an inconsistent starting rotation.

But when you compare the two teams, the Tigers are the much more imposing team. They may not have the depth on their roster from 1 through 25 like the Indians do, but the four best Tigers players are clearly better than any player on the Indians roster. That meat at the top of their roster is what truly separates the two teams. The Tigers have two anchors at the top of their rotation and two in the middle of their lineup, while the Indians have none in the lineup and only Justin Masterson in the rotation – and it may be a stretch to consider him an anchor in the same sense of Justin Verlander or even Max Scherzer.

The Tigers boast a pretty formidable starting four in their rotation with Verlander (9-5, 3.54 ERA), Scherzer (13-0, 3.09 ERA), Anibal Sanchez (7-5, 2.70 ERA), and Doug Fister (6-5, 3.80 ERA). A big reason why they have not lived up to expectations to date has to do with Sanchez missing some time over the last month due to injury and their bullpen woes. But with consistent starting pitching like that, they will have very few losing streaks and could get hot and run away with the division at any time.

The pitching is ultimately the difference between the Indians and Tigers. The Tigers have it, the Indians simply don’t. The Tigers currently rank 4th in the American League in pitching with a 3.74 ERA, while the Indians rank 13th with a 4.41 ERA. As for that starting rotation, well, the Tigers lead the AL with a 3.67 ERA from their starting pitchers, while the Indians are 11th with a 4.54 ERA.

In past seasons, the Indians have been able to close the gap on teams with better starting rotations because of their good bullpen, but that has not been the case this season. The Indians bullpen has been by far the biggest disappointment with the team to date - some due to injury, some due to poor performance, and some due to poor roster construction. They are 12th in the AL with a 4.15 ERA from their relievers while the Tigers – who lack a true closer – have been better this season with a 3.92 ERA from their relievers and rank 9th in the AL.

To compete head-to-head with the Tigers the Indians obviously need to find a way to upgrade their rotation, which is why they are talking to teams that have starting pitching available for trade. But by the same token, the Tigers are looking to upgrade at their biggest position of need and no doubt will come away with a closer and maybe another reliever by the time the trade deadline passes on July 31st.

That distinct advantage the Tigers have with their starting rotation is something that is hard to overcome over a 162-game season unless a rash of injuries occurs. To date, that has not happened with the Tigers, so the Indians are going to have to take a serious look at their rotation and where they can make an improvement with it to get it up to par with the Tigers and other AL playoff contenders.

As far as the lineup goes, the Indians match up much better there, but the Tigers still rank 2nd in the AL with 430 runs scored while the Indians are 4th with 414 runs. The Tigers also rank 1st in the AL in hitting (.280) while the Indians are 8th (.258), the Tigers are 2nd in on-base percentage (.348) and the Indians 5th (.329), the Tigers are 3rd in slugging percentage (.431) and the Indians 5th (.421), and the Tigers are 2nd in OPS (.779) and the Indians 5th (.750).

Both teams have their problem spots in the lineup, but the one glaring difference is what the Tigers have hitting third and fourth compared to the Indians. The Indians one through nine approach with the lineup is nice – and no disrespect to Nick Swisher - but he should not be hitting cleanup on a contending team. He is a complementary bat to a lineup who should be hitting sixth - maybe fifth. The Indians lack that true cleanup hitter or anchor to the lineup to truly make it a top offense in the league, and is a big reason why the lineup is prone to slumps.

The Tigers on the other hand have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting third and fourth. Those two can single-handedly carry an offense and win games, something which the Indians do not have in their lineup. Jason Kipnis is as close to an anchor  the Indians havbe in their lineup and a guy that can carry it, but he’s not the run producing bat that can change a game with one swing every time he steps into the box like Cabrera and Fielder.

Ultimately, that is the separator and why the Indians will probably come up short to the Tigers this season.

Now, I'm not saying to pack it in and forget about the rest of the season. No way. Baseball is an unpredictable game so you never know what will happen. This is just a realistic appraisel of the two teams and where they stand on July 7th.

If the Tigers remain healthy the rest of the season they will probably at some point take off and win close to 93-95 games. Right now they are playing below expectations as their expected win-loss record is actually 53-33. The Indians are playing right at their expected win-loss of 45-42, which means if the Tigers were playing up to the numbers to date they would currently own an 8.5 game lead in the division.

 It remains to be seen what moves – it any at all – the Indians make as the trade deadline nears. But in order to win the division the Indians need to upgrade the rotation and maybe find a veteran professional bat to plug into the middle of the lineup. It is a tall order to make one of those upgrades - let alone two - during the season, so the Indians have their work cut out for them.

But this series with the Tigers is an in-your-face reminder of how one team is more prepared to win over the long haul and has the roster to go deep into October, while the other team is still finding their identity, consistency in their play, and may still be a significant piece or two away from being a true playoff contender.

Indians shopping for starters

The Indians have a starting pitching need, and according to ESPN’s Buster Olney the Indians are one of a handful of teams scouting and checking in on Cubs right-hander Matt Garza. He is in his final arbitration year making $10.3 million this year and will be a free agent after this season. He was limited earlier in the year because of injury, but he has compiled a 4-1 record and 3.45 ERA in nine starts along with a nice 2.8 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9.

Garza is pitching as well as he ever has in his career, which bodes well for him landing on a contender this month and for the Cubs who will ask for a lot in return even for a two or three month rental. He would fit right in with a team like the Indians looking for starting pitching that maybe is not top shelf but that is consistent night in and night out. Since 2008, barring his injury last year and into this season, he has been a proven innings eater who has the stuff and consistency to be a solid number-two or number-three starter in a rotation.

It remains to be seen what the Cubs will be asking for Garza. With his salary and him being on the verge of free agency, it is hard to see the Cubs receiving a big time return for him, but with so many teams in the mix looking for pitching the price will surely be higher than normal. It should not take a top shelf prospect like shortstop Francisco Lindor to acquire him, but probably will require at least two “B” type prospects along the lines of a Danny Salazar,Tyler NaquinRonny Rodriguez or Cody Anderson. Bottom line, an organization is going to probably have to part with two of their top ten prospects to acquire him, just not their top one or two players.

Other pitchers that the Indians could be connected to over the next several days are Yovani GallardoRicky NolascoBud Norris and Jake Peavy. Gallardo would be an interesting pickup since he is under control for two years after this season, though he has struggled this season and makes you a little fearful he could be anotherUbaldo Jimenez in the making.

While the Indians are shopping for starters, they also have strong interest in acquiring bullpen help. Their biggest weakness to date might be left-handed relief pitching so they may try and swing a deal for one, but they could also use another right-handed arm in the pen as well.

If they really want to impact the bullpen rather than go the band aid route, two names I’d go after would be right-hander Steve Cishek of the Marlins and left-hander Glen Perkins of the Twins. Both would be a shot in the arm to the bullpen and worth the high price to acquire them since they would be under team control for a very long time – and Perkins only gets $3.75 million in 2014 and 2015 and has a $4.5 million option in 2016, so he is not that exorbitantly priced over the long term.

McAllister on the mend

Right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister is working his way back into a starting option for the Indians. He threw a 60-pitch bullpen session on Friday throwing only fastballs, cutters and changeups, and was scheduled to begin throwing his curveball on Saturday during flat ground drills. The curveball is what troubled his finger the most when he initially suffered his sprained right middle finger, so the Indians have eased him back into throwing them.

If McAllister’s finger responds well to the bullpen session on Friday and the flat ground work on Saturday, then he could begin throwing his curveball in a sim game on Monday. The Indians are hopeful that he can begin a rehab assignment shortly after the All Star break, which would be a huge boost to the starting rotation provided he is 100% healthy and can use all of his pitches without limitations.

McAllister has been sidelined since June 3rd and the Indians clearly miss him. Prior to his injury he was 4-5 with a 3.43 ERA in 11 starts and consistently went six innings every outing and did not allow opponents to score more than three runs off of him.  He competed and kept the team in games.  He had become such a key piece to the rotation and made significant strides forward to being an innings eating consistent middle of the rotation starter that with his absence you can see just how important he is to the staff.  

All Star honors

On Saturday, right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson and second baseman Jason Kipnis were officially selected to the 84th MLB All Star game that will be played on July 16th in New York’s Citi Field.

Kipnis, 26, got the well-deserved first time nomination thanks to a huge month of June where he hit .419 (39-for-93) with 12 doubles, one triple, four home runs, 25 RBI, 17 runs scored and 30 walks in 27 games. Overall, he is hitting .296 with 13 homers, 54 RBI 19 stolen bases and .904 OPS in 77 games. Among AL second basemen he ranks 4th in hitting (.296), 2nd in on-base percentage (.380), 2nd in slugging percentage (.524), 1st in OPS (.904), 3rd in runs (48), 2nd in doubles (22), 2nd in homers (13), 2nd in RBI (54), 1st in steals (19), 2nd in walks (41), and 3rd in WAR (3.9).

Masterson, 28, is also a first time selection to the All Star team and more than deserved a spot on the roster. In 19 starts this season he is 10-7 with a 3.78 ERA, and has 131 strikeouts in 128.2 innings pitched. He only ranks 19th in the AL among starters in ERA (3.78), but he ranks 1st in innings pitched (128.2), 3rd in strikeouts (131), 4th in wins (10), 17th in WHIP (1.22), 4th in groundball double plays (15), 7th in K/9 (9.2), 7th in batting average against (.229), and 7th in OPS against (.640).

Parting shots

Through May 9th, a span of 31 games, Mark Reynolds was hitting .291 with 11 homers, 29 RBI and 1.013 OPS, and also had a 14-32 walk to strikeout ratio in 110 at bats. Since then, a span of 53 games, he is hitting .177 with 4 homers, 18 RBI and .522 OPS, and has a 22-74 walk to strikeout ratio in 181 at bats. His .522 OPS over that span is the fourth worst in the entire American League among qualified players. … Jason Kipnis snapped his 16-game hitting streak with his 0-for-4 day on Saturday, and also suffered the double whammy as he failed to draw a walk nor was hit by a pitch so his 36-game on-base streak also came to an end. … With Justin Masterson already reaching 10 wins and over 125 strikeouts this season, he has joined Gaylord Perry (1972, 1974), Sam McDowell(1969, 1970), Luis Tiant (1968) and Bob Feller (1940, 1941, 1946) as the only Indians pitchers to reach both of those benchmarks prior to the All-Star break.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

July 8, 2013 - 11:51 AM EDT
I agree with norm tony. it seems that there is a certain pay scale for 7th 8th and closers. 15 for 3 for established 8th inning guys 3.5 million for 7th inning guys and whatever the market will bare for established closers. Smitty may want 8th inning money and pestano and brantley are arbitration eligible after this season so i am not sure the tribe will satisfy smitty's demands as i think he is gonna want 8th inning money which is 14 to 16 for 3 yrs. and cody allen can take over the 7th inning so maybe better to spend elsewhere and hope either allen or lee can do the 7th inning.
July 8, 2013 - 5:12 AM EDT
Really liked the article Tony. Not sure I reach the same conclusion but I like the analysis. And they should be. The Tigers have a much larger fan base, greater attendance by far and a payroll beyond Cleveland dreams.

As far as organization goes, it is not that difficult to see the flaws in our system. Columbus is a complete wasteland for position prospects. Marginally better for pitching but no healthy surefire prospects except Bauer. Akron has some prospect talent in the IF and other places but not much pitching. Carolina has a couple of good prospects but a weak team. LC has some emerging talent but is a long was away from help to the big club. Beyond that there are some distant hopes and the best prospect in the system, Frazier.

I really doubt we can catch the Tigers by trading our prospects and hope we don't. I wouldn't mind picking up a good LH reliever but would like to keep the rest internal. The FO did a real good job IMO last offseason and I would rather wait than overpay at the deadline this month. This is not a bad team but it is not as good as a healthy Tigers.
July 8, 2013 - 12:57 AM EDT
I think CC Lee is in the mix. He is the next pen arm the Indians could call upon at anytime now that Guilmet has gotten his shot.

I wouldn't say the system is devoid of talent. Upper level pitching, yes, but they have good talent otherwise. They have a ton of middle infield prospects which teams covet second to the Indians have a lot of trade assets on the position player front.

I agree Indians should buy and sell. Might need to trade Ubaldo for a Single-A prospect in order to create space for a Gallardo, Garza, etc upgrade. Also, I would seriously look into what Joe Smith would fetch in a deal. He is a free agent at the end of the season and I am not sure he stays or the Indians can give him 3 years and $11-15 million like he will want. Also, I think the Indians should package prospects to make a big splash, provided one is available.
July 7, 2013 - 9:13 PM EDT
I think this year we should go for it. To truly be a Tribe Town as the saying goes we need to win. My suggestion is to go to a familiar trade partner Seattle. They desparately need position players. Trade Michael Brantley, he would be there best outfielder, Carlos Carassco and Jesus Aguilar for H Iwakuma, Oliver Perez and Raul Ibanez We get a number 2 starter signed for2 1/2 years, a top lefty on one year, and a old but having a great year(21 HRs) OF to fill in for Brantley. Seattle will probably lose Perez and Ibanez anyway. Iwakuma I believe is like 32 but made the AS team and can be had due to all the young pitching prospects Seattle already has plus Carassco. I know I hate to trade Brantley but you have to trade something to get a pitcher like Iwakuma, and he is low salaried as well.
July 7, 2013 - 9:11 PM EDT
I saw Adams pitch today. 1and 2/3 at 96mph plus and hit 99 once. I know its AA BUT 99 is still 99.
July 7, 2013 - 7:38 PM EDT
Trading Salazar for a 3 month rental would be a huge mistake, since Tribe is unlikely to make the playoffs even with Garza. Let's get some pen help first and foremost. Let's unload some quality AAA guys who, because of the current team, likely won't see any playing time in MLB, such as McDade, Fedroff, along with perhaps a regular like ACab or Reynolds.
July 7, 2013 - 6:50 PM EDT
tony speculate on what perkins would cost us in talent. R rod and maybe one other good prospect get it done. there are untouchables lindor anderson salazar santander paulino maybe the wendle kid and ronny rod would get us perkins. or am i way overvalues r rog and wendle (i know you love wendle) but he is excess.
July 7, 2013 - 6:43 PM EDT
Knowing when to dump Pestano and Perez takes a prophet? How about a GM w merely a keen sense of the obvious. Pestano and Perez have both been crappy since mid second half last year, they have not been fooling anybody in a long time, what victories they do preserve are lucky breaks not great pitching. Pestano has lost his command, and 2 MPH off his fastball and he is still throwing harder than Perez who has turned from a big arm closer into sorry Chris, a fat slob. The problem is, crappy as they are, the Indians have no one to replace them right now. I remember Leyland a couple weeks ago after another blown Valverde save, getting impatient with the unending reporters questions about how he sucks, why do they stick w him. Leyland's answer was " Hey, I know he sucks, just like I know I'm bald- but unless one of you has an answer how to cure it, shut up" The time to trade Perez and Pestano was last year at the All Star Break but Antonetti missed it. They don't have much value now.
July 7, 2013 - 6:40 PM EDT
This isn't a team only a part or two away from being a WS championship contender. So this isn't their yr so to speak. But they are very close to contending for the AL Central crown. It will take some shrewd moves by this FO to make this club a team that can overtake the Tigers. Beyond that, this club has to consider the future with an eye on contending regularly, not cyclically.
July 7, 2013 - 6:26 PM EDT
This is the year; or it isn't.
If it is, dump talented youth for an aging, one-year, SP.
If it ain't, don't.
It's a tough call for Antonetti, and none of us has the answer.
This was a great bullpen on paper, but bullpens are always paper, and they burn up easily.
Smart to bring up Guilmet and give him a shot.
Knowing when to dump Pestano and Perez takes more than a genius; it takes a prophet.
July 7, 2013 - 2:14 PM EDT
Gallardo would probably waive the NTC and sign w the Indians if they are a contender and if Francona is managing- both of which were not the case when his contract was executed. But if you're going to net add and trade prospects the calibre of Salazar and Anderson, you have to be sure you can make the playoffs- and I would say that is a longshot. The Tigers have the best starting pitching in baseball- and now they have Alburquerque and Rondon healthy for late inning relief, although Rondon needs to get the 100MPH over the plate more. And of course they have the best hitter in the game and some veterans at the 2 and 3 and 5 that end up seeing lots of hittable pitches. The Indians on paper are also a cut below the Royals in terms of talent on the field, although the record so far would not indicate that, probably because the Indians manager and coaching staff are a little savvier. If the Indians do take second in the division, there are too many AL teams w better records. If they want to trade a Naquin or a Wendle or a Cabrera and a top draft pick or two to bring in a front line pitcher like Gallardo or Garza who is resignable next year, I would be ok with that. But everyone knows baseball has become a pitching centric game and this trend will continue the next few years, so you don't want to give up your best young pitchers in development, you have to keep the pitching pool stocked w nice baby fish or you're going nowhere. Baker, Brown, Salazar, Anderson, Lovegrove maybe, you have to keep 'em Injuns!
July 7, 2013 - 1:48 PM EDT
That's correct Gallardo has 10 teams no trade clause one is the Indians.

IMO, the Indians should be buyers and sellers at the deadline. IF it means trading ACab for a MOR arm with control they should pull the trigger. I think they need to do some serious revamping of the bullpen adding at least 2 pieces with the long term in mind. Having depth in: CCLee and Blake Wood at AAA certainly helps.

The Cubs have a lot pieces which could help and need International money in return. The Tribe could trade almost $1M in any deal with the Cubs.
July 7, 2013 - 1:41 PM EDT
I could be mistaken, but I could swear I heard somewhere Gallardo has a no-trade clause for ten teams, one of which is Cleveland.
July 7, 2013 - 1:19 PM EDT
good article.

masterson is probably a 4 on the tigers. that says it all. really need mcallister back.

bauer and carrasco look lost and the minors really has nothing esle. salazar? we desperately need starters and at least 2 of them.

the sad thing is, except for lindor and a couple others in the lower minors, our farm system looks devoid of talent. AAA is terrible. akron has no one setting the world on fire either. not good.

swisher needs to stop trying to hit every ball out of the park. might help his avg.

the team has a good nucleus but just a few too many holes.

just like the browns, horrible drafing over the last 10 yrs is really showing again.

July 7, 2013 - 12:40 PM EDT
Seems like the Tigers have been elevating their game when playing the Indians, hard to believe with that starting pitching, Cabrera and Fielder and the performance they're getting from Peralta that they're only a few games above .500.

If the Indians want to give up a Naquin and Rodriguez for Garza, that's cool, but I would hope that Salazar would be practically untouchable for a half-year rental.

Any word on when CC Lee could get a callup? Shaw has been pretty bad since the end of April, and Lee seems to be fully recovered. Wouldn't mind seeing that swap happen.
July 7, 2013 - 11:39 AM EDT
Haha. I'm not quite as pessimistic as elrod, but I do agree that the Indians need to think twice about being buyers at the deadline. This still looks to me like an 80 win team, maybe 85 if they get lucky. Adding someone like Garza might be a 2-win addition, but that still leaves us well short of a wildcard. Sadly, if we were to become sellers, all of our movable pieces (Cabrera, Perez, Reynolds) have just about hit rock bottom in trade value.
July 7, 2013 - 11:29 AM EDT
All the other GMs in baseball are speed-dialing Antonetti in anticipation of dumping some crap pitcher on the Tribe for two excellent prospects. Of course the Tribe will never catch the Tigers so it will be stupid moron management 101.

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