The series: Visited the Royals (win, win, win) and hosted the Yankees (win, win, loss, loss).
The big story: There were several, and perhaps the biggest was simply that we had a strong week, winning five of seven to move into second place. But the most significant development for the 2008 season going forward was C.C. Sabathia's total U-turn from trainwreck to dominant starter. Sabathia gave up just one run over 14 innings, striking out 11 hapless Royals in the first game and tossing an 8-inning gem in which only five Yankees reached base in the second. This pair of consecutive starts was one of the best of Sabathia's career, surpassed in 2007 only by his back-to-back shutouts in June. At the same time, his first four starts were so horrendous (13.50 ERA) that even after the extreme two-start bounce-back, his ERA is still the worst in the majors at 7.88 – even worse than Barry Zito's. Sabathia's excellence ended up being of no real immediate consequence, as the Indians turned the first one into a 15-1 rout, then handed Sabathia a tough 1-0 loss in the second.
In other news: Jake Westbrook unexpectedly went on the Disabled List with a lower-back muscle strain. Initially expected to miss only a few starts, he's now expected to be out for a full month after his symptoms persisted for a full week. His injury, combined with a rain-delay-induced double-header, resulted in a flurry of call-ups and send-downs as the Indians played with an extra outfielder for a few days (Ben Francisco), swapped out for a spot starter (Jeremy Sowers) on Saturday, swapped out for another extra outfielder (Brad Snyder) on Sunday, and finally on Monday swapped out for Aaron Laffey, who will join the rotation at least for the following week. Both starters made fine 2008 debuts against the Yankees, with Laffey looking significantly stronger than Sowers even though the box scores will claim the opposite.
Lee deepened his improbable run as the game's most effective pitcher with a complete game shutout, as the national media joined Indians fans in collectively dropping their jaws. The lineup blew up for 24 runs in the first two games but then fizzled with just 14 runs in the next five, a trend led by Casey Blake, who posted a 2125 OPS in two games against the Royals but just a 350 OPS starting all four games against the Yankees. The post-Borowski bullpen started to come together as Kobayashi asserted himself with a few strong setup performances while Betancourt breezed through his first two Save opportunities, making the closer's job look suspiciously un-different from his old setup-man gig.
Adam Miller finally made his official 2008 debut in Buffalo, following a few weeks rehabbing a blister and a few weeks in extended spring training. Miller pitched nine scoreless innings in two starts while continuing to build up his pitch count, and his velocity was intact even if his peripherals weren't. Miller's return, coupled with Brian Slocum's solid start, suggests that the Indians remain an absurd eight-deep in big-league-ready starting pitchers, even after putting Westbrook on the DL and shipping Sean Smith off to Colorado. At the same time, David Huff, 39th overall draft pick in 2006, overcame a rocky first two starts to pitch his third straight gem for the Akron Aeros, allowing just one run (on a solo shot) and 13 baserunners against 19 strikeouts over the three games, and he picked off a couple guys, too. If Huff continues to emerge, that may further tempt the Indians to move Miller into the big-league bullpen.
Post of the week: Now taking nominations.
Who fed it: Sabathia dominated in two starts while Lee was near-spotless in his one. Julio excelled in two low-leverage outings, while Kobayashi and Betancourt settled into their new roles; the three relievers faced 32 batters and got 29 outs, including two erased on double-plays, and allowed no one past first base. Blake had the best all-around numbers of any hitter on the week but was abysmal against the Yankees. Victor batted .375, achieving a 902 OPS on the week with (once again) no home runs. Dellucci and Peralta each combined a solid average with a pair of home runs. Seemingly competing for at bats, Michaels and Gutierrez both accounted for a major chunk of our otherwise anemic offense against the Yankees, the former batting .400 while the latter slugged .600, and they looked damned good in the field, too. Special mention must be given to Aaron Laffey, who no-hit the Yankees for five innings and, through sheer horrendous luck alone, gave up four runs in the 6th when he deserved to give up, at most, one. Absolute Best: Sabathia. Relative Best: Lee.
Who ate it: It's hard to say what the worst part of Ryan Garko's week was, the .042 average, the .115 OBP or the .083 slugging. I'm going with the .042 average, because he was just one walk short of decent walk rate, and hey, his isolated power is almost 2.0! Unfortunately, even those minimal contributions were mostly confined to last Tuesday's game, and Garko's line for the last five games was .000/.048/.000. Aside from Garko, the rest of the Indians put up a more-than-respectable .302/.360/.451 line for the week. Hafner continued his harrowing march to the bottom, with week-by-week OPS totals of 824, 761, 592 and (this week) 512 — or, if you prefer, he has a 559 OPS over his last 17 games. Absolute Worst: Garko. Relative Worst: Garko. Twenty Other Kinds Of Worst: Garko. And Yet The Guy Who Really Makes Me Suicidal Is Still: Hafner.
The other guys: We made Wang look like Bob Gibson. The rest of it, pretty fuzzy, maybe I'll fill it in later, does anybody really care about this section?
- Cliff Lee, greatest pitcher in the universe.
- Chien-Ming Wang, second greatest.
- C.C. Sabathia, third greatest (he's actually about tenth).
- Ben Francisco in a Cleveland uniform.
- Ryan Garko, worst hitter ever.
- Jhonny Peralta on web gems last night.
- J-Mike, serviceable big-league hitter.
- How long will Jake be out, and once he returns, will he be totally awesome, or merely awesome?
- How long can Chicago stay at the top of the standings?
- Since any blogger writing in his/her parents' basement in his/her underwear can notice when a reliever's velocity is down 3-5 mph, and might actually write about it without the team's permission, what exactly do we need newspaper columnists for?
- Too soon to start panicking about losing Cliff Lee after 2010?
- When the hell is Slider's birthday, anyway?
- Can Kobayashi confuse hitters with his deathballs all season like Okajima did?
- Can Julio be useful?
- How long will we keep marching Stomp Lewis out there with reduced velocity?
- Just how bad will the game have to be going before we see Mastny or Breslow again, and how bad will they be after a 15-day layoff?
- Has anyone noticed that Eddie Mujica is in his last option year? Does anyone care?
- How much better can Laffey be than he was last year? Is his ceiling is higher than we think?
- Can Steel Rafi get settled and find some semblance of his 2007 consistency?
- How many relievers would have to be failing completely for Adam Miller to get the call to the big-league bullpen? Do we even want to see him there?
- Could Sowers be on the block soon?
- Is it really possible for Marte to spend 120 more days on the roster than Ben Francisco this season, and yet still get fewer at bats?
- Is Wedge basically just testing Marte to see how long it takes him to get an obviously bad attitude, at which point they ship him out?
- Will Shapiro fall for this kind of nonsense again?