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The Breakdown: April 21–May 5

Record:  6–8
Overall:  10–17
Scoring:  63–76
Old Mood:  2.6
New Mood: 1.1

  W L % GB
Kansas City 16 11 .593 -
Detroit 14 12 .538 1.5
Minnesota 13 14 .481 3.0
Chicago 12 14 .462 3.5
Cleveland 10
.308 6.0

Kansas City:  Won 8-7, Lost 2-0, Won 5-2
Toronto:  Lost 5-1, Lost 7-1, Won 4-2
Boston:  Lost 3-1, Won 9-8, Lost 6-5
@ Detroit:  Won 6-5, Lost 9-7, Lost 3-1
@ Toronto:  Won 9-7, Lost 10-6

THE BIG STORY:  The bullpen pitched so badly, the entire season is about as close to being over as it can be after only one month.  It has seemed at times that the whole team was struggling, but in truth, the lineup was going through only minor doldrums, scoring exactly 4.5 runs per game — below expectations, but certainly not bad — while the rotation stabilized nicely.  Lee has returned fully to Cy Young form, while Pavano, Reyes and Laffey have each produced exactly two quality starts in their last three outings, leaving only Carmona, who has pitched decently though not exactly well.  The bullpen, however, has a 7.13 ERA over the past 14 games, repeatedly pushing the Indians into the loss column in close contests.

Statistically, the typical Indians game since April 20 has featured:

  • The starter going six innings, maybe a little more, while allowing about 3 runs.
  • The lineup scoring about 4.5 runs.
  • The bullpen allowing about 2.3 runs over three innings of work.
  • The team losing by a score of about 5.3 to 4.5.

For those who buy into the wear-and-tear argument, consider that just eight days ago, five Indians relievers combined to hold the Red Sox to just one run over seven innings, giving the team an improbable 9-8 victory after Reyes started the game with a seven-run, two-inning trainwreck.  Since that night, the bullpen has failed in nearly every game.  Over the last eight games, the bullpen has directly and decisively handed the club four losses, while blowing leads in two other games that our hitters eventually came back to win.  (That last bit is worth remembering, as we consider throwing the whole club under a bus.)  

Over a 14-game stretch, it doesn't look quite so terrible — we've been outscored by 13 runs and unsurprisingly went 6–8 as a result.  Fact is, with so much disastrous pitching in high-leverage situations, it's a small miracle we won six.  (We managed it with a handful of gritty performances early on, plus those two extra-inning wins.)  The real problem is that it follows an 0–5 start to the season.  For a couple of weeks, we stayed in the periphery of the divisional race by virtue of mediocre competition, along with our own improvement to .500 ball.  We were in fact only 2.5 games behind with a 6–10 record.  It was inevitable, however, that one or two of our rivals eventually would start winning games, especially in a part of the schedule when two intradivisional games are being played every night.  We are now 4.5+ games behind two rivals and 2.5+ games behind all four of them.  Essentially, our first-week rotation blowup cost us three games, and our fourth-week bullpen blowup cost us another three — and the lineup has not done anything superlative enough to counterbalance those big faults.

It goes without saying that the season is lost if the bullpen cannot be stabilized.  Beyond that, if the club's management cannot manage to produce fewer than four historically bad bullpens in six seasons, then they need to seriously consider the way they're doing things in this area — or, possibly, step aside.

After the jump:  IN OTHER NEWS, WHO FED IT and WHO ATE IT.

IN OTHER NEWS:  Fully one-fifth of the roster turned over, led by the crushing news that Travis Hafner would return to the DL and the big-league debut of über prospect and slugger Matt LaPorta.  The extent of Hafner's setback was downplayed as being more of a "just needs a little rest" thing, but it was a sobering development and a reminder that even if his hitting skills are intact, his shoulder probably never will be.  The five moves essentially boil down to:

  • Hafner out, Dellucci in — In one of the season's more surprising developments, Dellucci came off the DL swinging a hot bat, and looking like a man on a mission (or possibly just a run of good BIP luck).
  • Graffanino out, Valbuena in — Most roster moves are about more than just one player, and this is a textbook example.  Both players demonstrated by their performances that Valbuena was the clear, best choice for this job going forward.  "This job," by the way, is the one Jamey Carroll will reclaim later this month, sending Valbuena back to demolishing bathrooms in the International League.
  • Crowe out, Barfield in —  This move made apparently in the recognition that your Designated Runner doesn't actually have to start any games, at any position.
  • Jackson out, Sipp in — Jackson was not really a lefty specialist, and with the rotation stabilizing, the Indians need a guy who can neutralize lefties a whole lot more than a long man.  This move reminiscent of when The Tonight Show switched from Doc Severinson to Branford Marsalis, or when the Batman movie franchise switched from Joel Schumaker to Christopher Nolan.
  • Smith out, LaPorta in — The bullpen shrinks back to its regular complement of seven, while the bench gets someone who can actually hit, or at least might plausibly hit.  Smith more than likely will return after a rehab assignment shakes out whatever is ailing him, recalling that he had a compressed spring training due to an early bout with the flu.

WHO FED IT:  Victor Martinez continued his torrid run, producing almost exactly the same OPS over his last 14 games (1081) as in his first 13 (1077).  He has produced an OPS of 929 or better in all nine series played so far, averaging 4.7 hits, 7.4 total bases and 1.8 walks per series.  I have often commented that there is nothing truly "consistent" in baseball as we perceive it, but Victor's opening month is the most consistently excellent I can ever remember seeing, and he's started every single game, playing catcher 56% of the time.  He's among the league leaders in most batting categories, and his 67 total bases leads all AL catchers by more than 20. 

Cliff Lee has averaged more than seven innings and 1.5 runs allowed over his last four starts — outside of the second inning of the season, when he was struck on his pitching arm by a comebacker and gave up four runs, Lee has a 3.08 ERA, and over his last four starts, it's 1.86.  Tony Sipp dominated in his first five big league appearances, striking out 8 of the first 17 batters he faced while allowing just one lonely single, two walks and no runs.  Even after allowing back-to-back home runs last night, Sipp still has the staff's lowest ERA (3.60), although he may come with a limited-use warranty.  Pavano doesn't really deserve a mention here, but after his first-start disaster, he has averaged 6+ innings per start with a 4.44 ERA, delivering two quality starts and one near-miss in four tries — if he keeps this up, we're definitely getting our money's worth.

Chulk has too few strikeouts and too many walks, but geez, the guy really has been vaguely unhittable, allowing just four hits, all of them singles, over his last 32 batters faced.  Beyond Victor, there were no real offensive standouts over the whole stretch, although Dellucci came in with a vengeance, batting .538 in his first four games back.  Barfield accidentally got two at-bats and just as accidentally got two singles.  Absolute Best:  Lee, who has an 0-2 record (per the idiot stats) to show for it.  Relative Best:  Victor. 

WHO ATE IT:  A long list of hitters and relievers.  Grady's hot start crashed with a 640 OPS, owing to a diminished walk rate and a horrible .230 BABIP (which didn't seem entirely due to bad luck).  Hafner had a 601 OPS over eight games prior to going on the DL, and Trevor Crowe was 1-for-11 with no walks and no extra-base hits before being sent down.  Our Little Giraffe reached new depths by making nine outs in only seven trips to the plate (and one pinch-running appearance) — but we don't have to worry about those guys anymore.  Shoppach had a .345 OBP over these 14 games, but it was propped up by three HBP in his last two games.  He had only one walk and one extra-base hit over 29 PA, and he batted .174.  Garko did his usual mediocre schtick, batting .294 with a decent .359 OBP — but his total lack of power production means that he's still a first baseman with a 683 OPS.  LaPorta looked borderline-overmatched over a handful of games, though his two-run bomb certainly was memorable.

Several Tribe hitters seemed to collapse utterly after the Tribe's 22-4 drubbing of the Yankees, but none moreso than Peralta, who hit just .082 (4-for-49) in his next 12 games (prior to last night's 3-for-5 performance).  He's struck out an astounding 19 times in his last 10 games, including a trio of three-strikeout performances.  It's really bad, and none of his three hits last night — essentially two bloops and a well-placed hard grounder — really demonstrated that he's done with his dry spell.

Let's just admit it:  Kerry Wood has been terrible.  He had a 9.45 ERA over the past two weeks, and getting down to results-oriented boobery, he's outright lost two games and nearly a third.  The K/9 looks phenomenal, but the walks and home runs do not — and when you're blowing games and allowing more than two baserunners per inning, nobody really cares about the K rate.  He'll get a long rope to hang himself, but it hasn't been the 9th inning we signed up for, that's or sure.

Perez's last two weeks actually have been no worse than his previous two weeks, raising the question of why he's still in the majors at all.  Somebody with the Indians mumbled something about "respecting what he's done here" — as if anybody should give a crap about respecting the achievements of a third-year reliever with an ERA north of 15.  Let's not mince words here, this isn't about the lack of a viable reliever in Columbus — there is nobody pitching in Columbus who isn't likely to do better than a 15.19 ERA.  Just what are we saving this guy's third option year for?  Are we waiting for him to have a really serious problem getting guys out while the season hangs in the balance?  Hello?  Absolute Worst:  Peralta.  Relative Worst:  Perez.