@ Texas: Lost 9-1, Lost 8-5, Lost 12-8
Toronto: Lost 13-7, Lost 5-4, Won 8-4
@ Kansas CIty: Lost 4-2, Lost 9-3, Won 5-4
@ New York: Won 10-2, Lost 6-5, Won 22-4, Lost 7-3
"The Breakdown" is a summary of the club's performance and major developments over a two-week period, and it will appear on Monday or Tuesday, every other week. At any given moment, we tend to be viewing the season mostly in two timeframes — the first being the last 48 hours, today's game and maybe yesterday's, and the whole season cumulatively from the beginning. The most accessible stats we look at reinforce this point of view — all the main stat pages are showing season-to-date, and we check out the box score to see what happened yesterday. In doing so, we miss a lot of the ebb and flow of the season for the team, and especially for individual players. We patch together vague narratives later on, much of it from inaccurate memories — "Peralta was blocked by Cora," "Francisco was amazing last year" — only occasionally making note of anything in a context larger than a day or two, and missing many in-season developments entirely. It's my hope that the two-week context will produce less emphasis on fluke performances and give more of a sense of in-season trends developing for each player.
THE BIG STORY: The club pitched very badly and lost a bunch of games as a result. The club was outscored 42-21 in the first four games and lost a squeaker in the fifth. Over the next eight games, the club went 4-4 and outscored opponents 58-40, but of course that 18-run margin is only due to one game. With several blowouts in both directions, what record should this team have? In attempt to figure that out, I lined up all 13 games in order of our runs scored, and then lined them up again according to our runs allowed. Here's what those two lined look like when placed one atop the other, like a scoreboard:
Note that while the average score of these games was 6.7 to 6.4, the median score was 6–5 (favoring the opposition in both cases). This is actually fine for the offense, who are on their way to being one of the league's best offenses either way. It isn't so fine for the pitching. If you look at it this way, the Indians arguably deserve only a 1–10–2 record, or 2–11 if we split the ties. The Pythagorean record is 6–7, based on the 83–87 run differential. Or we could just toss out the highest and lowest totals from each line — the extreme outliers — which would give us a run differential of 60–72. Bottom line, I think this is one case where the actual record of 4–9 more or less reflects the team's quality of play.
First, the starters.
Games 1-3: 22 ER in 11 IP — 18.00 ERA, 3.7 innings per start
Games 4-9: 22 ER in 31.2 IP — 6.25 ERA, 5.3 innings per start
Games 10-13: 9 ER in 23 IP — 3.52 ERA, 5.8 innings per start
What we're seeing here is mainly that Lee, Carmona and Pavano have all shown some degree of progression from their trio of tranwrecks in Arlington, to merely poor showings against Toronto and K.C., to a very fine showing in New York. Note that the starters allowed as many runs in the first three games as in the next six, in about one-third the number of innings. Even when the club was 0–5, track records suggested that the rotation was going to iron itself out — even Pavano, who has always been a reasonably effective starter when healthy. I don't know what the deal was in that first start, but if he wasn't injured — and it appears he wasn't — then it appears that that was, you know, just one of those flukey, terrible days. Pavano might not make many starts, but for those who have read the back of his baseball card and not just the back page of the Post, he really has little in common with Jason Johnson. Pavano is much more a part of our injury risk than our performance risk, and Carmona may well emerge as the more intractable problem in the rotation. While we have the rotation depth to absorb a few injuries and burnouts here and there, asking our Parade of Filler to cover the #2 spot in the rotation as well seems like too much of a stretch.
Still, the starters have generally and unsurprisingly begun to make their journey back to reasonable run prevention and lasting a reasonable number of innings, and outside of Arlington, the rotation has really not been terrible — but the bullpen has. Did a bunch of extra innings really stress our best middle relievers into being terrible, or is this just another, horrifying example of the unpredictability of relievers? One would think that in a series of blowouts, the extra work burden would fall upon the fifth, sixth and seventh guys in the bullpen, yet Kobayashi, Jackson and Smith are not the ones who have struggled — not by a longshot. Perez, Betancourt and Lewis have pitched a grand total of 21 innings. If we expected them to go 210 IP on the season — 70 IP each — then by now, they should have thrown about 17 IP. Did those extra 4 IP really push them over the brink from being good to being terrible?
I'm not buying it, and I'm sorry to say, the truth is probably worse. These guys are simply struggling, as all but the most elite relievers sometimes do, and they may or may not be able to straighten themselves out. I'm not saying that the rotation's disastrous performance against the Rangers didn't start the season on an off-kilter note, but whatever is wrong with our nominal "setup men" may not be fixed by a stabilized rotation. The Indians rotation and lineup generally have performed like a 90-win team over nearly all of the last four seasons of play, with the bullpen's high-leverage performances representing bulk of the difference between 78 and 97 wins more often than not. It's only a handful of innings, and only half our bullpen looks broken for the moment, but it's a troubling way to start regardless.
We have given 3.5 games of ground in a season where our projectable talent gave us a margin of five or ten wins over our rivals. We have, in essence, turned a solidly favorable season into a projected dogfight in the space of just two weeks.
IN OTHER NEWS: Travis Hafner shocked and delighted Indians fans with a full-on 2006-esque assault on opposing pitchers, at one point smacking three doubles and three home runs over just five games. While this proves nothing (and settles no argument about his contract), his early outburst is very unlikely (less than 10% probability) if Hafner's true skill level is merely at his 2007 level, and profoundly unlikely if he's really no better now than he was a year ago. We probably can never stop worrying about his shoulder problems, which obviously can reduce him to a useless player if he's ever re-injured. But at least there is now significant evidence that apart from health issues, he's still something of a Scary Monster — and considering how little evidence of that we'd seen over the past 32 months, that's definitely big news.
Scott Lewis looked good for a few innings but went down with an arm injury, and he evidently was not disclosing arm pain to the club after winning a rotation spot in spring training. Aaron Laffey returned to claim his rightul spot in the rotation and looked pretty good in his first start.
Finally, the Indians had the pleasure of spoiling the grand opening of New Jackass Stadium, handing the Yankees an embarrasssing 10–2 drubbing in their home debut, which was also the home debut for C.C. Sabathia, who is something of a New Jackass Stadium himself. The Indians hammered the Yankees 22–4 just two days later, including a record-setting 14-run second inning. Yankees fans seethed as Sizemore and Cabrera smacked the first two grand slams in their new ballpark, while Carl Pavano had the temerity to show up his old club with a quality start, and Justin Chamberlain provided more evidence that the Indians simply have his number. The Indians outscored the Yankees by 21 runs, adding to concerns that the stadium's best seats are unsaleable, while some kind of jet-stream effect seemed to turn soft flyballs to right-center into home runs with alarming regularity. It was, all in all, not the debut the Yankees were looking for, and despite emerging with merely a split in the four-game series, it certainly felt like a series win.
WHO FED IT: Victor Martinez exploded out of the box, thriving in his new split-role at 1B and C. Not only was his overall .358/.435/.642 line uniformly stellar, he hardly has had a single bad day so far, producing an OPS of 983 or better in each of the four series played. Asdrubal, on the other hand, started off with a pair of O-fers but has an insane 1130 OPS over the last ten games. (He's still young and could still have some setbacks, but if you told me he was going to make the next five All-Star Games, I wouldn't call you crazy.) Sizemore (959) and Choo (953) both picked up right where they left off in 2008 (aside from a couple of troubling defensive miscues by Choo), and Shoppach (870) and even Garko (914) are making the best of a time-sharing arrangement. Hafner led the club with a .667 slugging average.
Joe Smith more or less wowed us with sidearming goodness, striking out four and allowing just one run over his first 17 batters. He also induced six groundballs and stranded four out of five inherited runners. Masa Kobayashi, a ticking DFA bomb by nearly all accounts, came up big in 6.2 IP and now leads the club with both his 1.35 ERA and his 1.05 WHIP, as 27 opposing batters managed just two singles and a double. Chulk and Laffey also made nice debuts. Kerry Wood lived up to his billing by striking out 7 of the 13 batters he faced. He allowed three of the first five batters he faced to reach base in his first game as an Indian, but he hasn't allowed a baserunner since. Absolute best: Victor. Relative best: Hafner. Lots of folks subscribe to the under-600-over-900 theory on Hafner, and among those, lots of those would have predicted under-600 if forced to make a choice. Relative to reasonable expectations, Hafner's performance over his first 10 games is a shocker.
WHO ATE IT: The entire rotation, led by Carmona and Pavano. Perez was twice as awful as completely terrible -- by which I mean, Jensen Lewis was completely terrible with a 8.10 ERA, and Perez was twice as awful at 16.71. Ben Francisco has been one of the game's worst position players this side of Cody Ransom, combining a .368 slugging average, a 4.7% walk rate, and too often looked like he was playing left field for the first time in his life. Absolute worst: Carmona, but Perez is close. Relative worst: Perez.