The series: Visited the White Sox (loss, loss, loss) and hosted the Rangers (loss, win, loss).
The big story: We sucked. After climbing to the top of the division in the middle of last week, the Indians went 1-8. The pitching snapped back to reality, while the hitters produced the same 19 runs this week that they had over the previous six games, only more poorly distributed. In response, Wedge fumed, while Francisco and Aubrey added to the idea of slump by contagion, hitting far better in Cleveland than they ever have in Buffalo, seemingly immune to the rest of the team's two-month struggle.
The Indians are the worst-hitting team in the league this season, and they have also been, by far, the worst-hitting team in the majors in the month of May, more than a full run below the major-league average, and nearly a half-run per game worse than the worst team in the National League — again, that's the league where the pitchers are batting maybe three times a game. The offense has occasionally broken out for a big game, but that has only obscured how bad the offense really has been — the average is 3.4 runs per game, but the median is a solid 3.0. Week-long power outages have been the most notable feature of the 2008 season:
- April 3-9, 20 runs in seven games, 2.9 average, 2-5 record
- April 24-29, 16 runs in six games, 2.7 average, 3-3 record
- May 1-8, 16 runs in six games, 2.7 average, 3-3 record
- May 12-25, 41 runs in 14 games, 2.9 average, 5-9 record
We actually have a better than expected record in those games, of course, because our starting pitching has been so outstanding over most of those weeks. Incredibly, our Pythagorean record is actually 27-23 despite the awful hitting, but a half-dozen ninth-inning blowups have us at 23-27 instead.
The biggest tragedy here is the missed opportunities within the division, which directly impact our ability to make the playoffs and cannot be recouped. The Indians have been 32 runs better than the Tigers but have only a two-game edge to show for it rather than six or seven — should both teams have any kind of bounce back after this point, those games will make a difference.
Worse yet, the Indians surrendered three straight games to the White Sox, who may well turn out to be the only other team who can over 85 wins in a deeply disappointing division. Head-to-head records and BIP luck were the entire difference between these two clubs in 2005, when they ended the season with 99 and 93 wins respectively, and so far, history is repeating.
In other news: Fausto Carmona went to the Disabled List with a hip injury and is expected to miss a full month — yet nobody panicked, as Jake Westbrook was completing a successful run of rehab starts in Akron even as Carmona's season was getting ruptured. Westbrook was already scheduled to return on the exact day of Carmona's next would-be start, and even if he weren't, the Indians have other fine options waiting in Buffalo.
The Indians shuffled up the bullpen part of the roster pretty good, returning Joe Borowski to his old closer job late in the week and demoting Jensen Lewis, in the hopes that he can regain his old velocity in Buffalo. The team put rarely used lefty Craig Breslow on waivers while claiming Oneli Perez, a talented but struggling young reliever, from the White Sox and sending him to Buffalo. Scott Elarton and Ed Mujica were promoted from Buffalo to fill out the staff.
Post of the week: AngG gets her Rick James on (or is it her Wayne Brady?) as part of a hilarious sequence of rants. Other nominess: jhon (summing up Wedge disgust nicely), mjschaefer (replying to zempf), gte619n (replying to supermarioelia), drerikbrady (tremendous attention to detail), jakesinger777 (expanding on Cisco's Buckner moment).
Who fed it: C.C. Sabathia and Ben Francisco led a very slim list of candidates for this week, both of them continuing strong runs. Sabathia gave up three runs, all on solo-shots, over 14 innings, striking out 13 with three walks. He has a 1.63 ERA (and RA) over his past seven starts, averaging 8 strikeouts and 1.6 walks in 7.2 innings. Francisco pounded out five doubles and a home run while batting .320, and in playing every inning of the team's last 11 games, he's put up a stunning line of .395/.422/.721 — contributing more than 25% of the total bases and less than 8% of the outs. Rafael Betancourt bounced back from three horrendous weeks (16.20 ERA) with three scoreless innings, all in the 8th, although he did allow an inherited run. Absolute Best: Francisco. Relative Best: Francisco.
Who fed it breakdown: Relief pitchers are hard to evaluate based on box scores, considering the incredibly blunt instruments used to assign earned runs. Masa Kobayashi gave up an earned run, an unearned run and an inherited run this week but actually pitched pretty well. In the first game, he relieved Laffey with no outs and a man on first, facing the top of the Chicago lineup. He got a strikeout and a deep flyout, with a very speedy pinch-runner advancing to second base. He then allowed a single on the ground through the gaping Blake/Peralta hole, scoring the inherited runner, and finally his only earned run of the week on the only legit line-drive hit. In the second game, he faced the Rangers' 2-thru-5 hitters, getting a strikeout and two groundouts, allowing just a single on the ground to Josh Hamilton — a damned fine inning. In the third game, he faced the Rangers' 3-thru-1 hitters, and he got three groundouts including a double-play, plus a strikeout and a flyout. He allowed only a walk, a single on the ground and one line-drive single. Had that one line-drive not followed the walk, or had there not been two outs, or had the ball not rolled under the right fielder's legs, we're looking at another fine shutout inning. So while it may seem like Masa had a bad week, I'm not so sure.
Who ate it: Where to even begin? Blake, back to playing every inning, responded by slugging .143 — over the last two weeks, he's had one great game (2-4, 6 TB), four decent games (4-14, 0 TB) and eight awful ones (0-25, 0 TB). Dellucci continued his atrocious month, using his 14 PA to generate just 3 total bases, against three double-plays, three strikeouts, and at least three awful throws from left field — his May OPS is just 444, and even worse, it's just 482 against lefties alone. The Platoon Of Despair®, meanwhile, crushed any hopes we might have had for them last week, combining for .156/.282/.188, and yes, that's a 470 OPS, and yes, they are slugging a combined .361 for the season — thanks for asking! Not to be outdone, catchers Martinez and Shoppach combined for an empty 3-for-23 with a 297 OPS. Jensen Lewis gave up three runs on three walks, three singles, two doubles and one HBP, en route to Buffalo. Jorge Julio stepped into two budding trainwrecks (from Byrd and Carmona) and made both of them much worse (more below). Absolute Worst: Julio. Relative Worst: Considering positional OPS differences, it's just too close to call among Martinez (267), Blake (360), Dellucci (445) and Hafner (459).
Who ate it breakdown: Unlike Masa, Jorge Julio's bad week was even worse than it appeared — and with an 18.00 ERA, it appeared pretty bad. In the first game, Julio relieved Byrd with men on first and second and one out. The run expectancy here is 0.97, but Julio was facing the bottom third of Chicago's lineup and had the platoon edge on two of the three. He gave up a deep flyball double to the righty Crede, scoring one inherited runner and advancing the other to third base with only one out. He walked the lefty Swisher intentionally, then gave up a long sac-fly to righty Alexei Ramirez, who just-by-the-way is terrible, scoring that other inherited run, then got the leadoff hitter Cabrera to ground out to end the inning. He started the next inning with strikeouts to Chicago's 2-3 hitters, then the home run to Jermaine Dye — Julio's first earned run allowed in five weeks — at which point he was pulled. So against five right-handers in that game, he got a strikeout and a groundout but also three very hard-hit deep flies, each of which drove in one run.
Of course, that game was just a warmup for the major gas-can emptying he would do two nights later. Relieving a struggling and injured Carmona in the 3rd, with men on first and third and no outs — but again, he's facing the bottom of the lineup, so he really should get out of this with minimal damage. The sequence: walk, walk, grand slam, line-drive double, line-drive double — so already, that's six runs, two inherited and four earned, and there's still no outs. Julio finally gets a groundball, but it goes for an infield single, then a strikeout. The inning ends with two more deep flies that get caught — but the adventure wasn't over! Julio starts the next inning by allowing two more scorching line drives, but it's just his good fortune that the second one is hit straight at Peralta, who catches it and then doubles off the first guy — so that's two outs, bases empty, despite not one batter really beaten by Julio. Next it's a walk, and then a double on a groundball to right, and at that point, he gets pulled with men on second and third, two outs.
So even though his ERA for the week was 18.00, it doesn't begin to describe how bad he really was. Outside of those earned runs, he allowed all four inherited runners to score, while the two runners he left behind did not score. And while he did get some legit outs, he also pitched into some very good luck, and he totally failed to keep the ball in the infield, even with the platoon edge against the other team's worst hitters. He was, all things considered, about as bad as a pitcher can possibly be while getting nine outs — charged with just 6 ER, he pitched badly enough to allow 12.