@ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Won 4-0, Lost 2-0, Lost 4-3
Baltimore: Won 8-3, Won 8-2, Won 4-2
@ Kansas City: Won 7-3, Lost 5-4, Won 7-5, Lost 3-2
@ Minnesota: Lost 10-3, Lost 4-3
THE BIG STORY: There's a lot to examine regarding this team over this particular period, but the big lettering over there says "The Big Story" and there's only one big story here: Grady Sizemore is back. Since returning from microfracture surgery on April 17, Sizemore has been nothing short of a revelation, looking more or less exactly like the best Sizemore I've ever seen. In seven games, Sizemore has four doubles, two homeruns, and an OPS 1114. Yes, Sizemore strikes out more than anyone would like (~20% of all PAs this year) but, after two years of trying to convince myself that LaPorta had thunder in his bat, it's magnificent to again watch an athlete who can just pound the ball when he gets a hold of it. Grady Sizemore is a very, very special baseball player who appears to have returned to the game intact. Raise your glasses, folks.
Otherwise, Cleveland continued to play over .500 despite spending a ton of time on the road, while the rest of the division continued to scuffle. Now 13% of the way through the season, the Indians have shown enough to convince many they can win 81 games or more in a division where that might be enough. However, the losses to the Twins hurt and are indicative of a larger trend—of the Indians thirteen wins, eight have come against teams that many predicted to be among the worst in the league (the Mariners, Royals, and Orioles). This is as much an artifact of Cleveland's schedule as anything—still, a better performance in Minnesota would've calmed my fears. More quantitatively, the loss
yesterday Saturday dropped the Indians Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds percentage to 15.3%, a 5.5% fall in just one day.
The Indians' relative success, again, the result of good play on both sides of the ball—the Indians remarkable run differential is testament to this. The bullpen was a critical cog—a back five of Rafael Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp and Chris Perez is emerging and their performance over this period was solid. Those five pitched 22 innings and allowed just two of fifteen inherited runners to score. Sipp and Perez had their first (and only) poor performances of the season on back to back nights in Kansas City but, aside from that hiccup, the bullpen was basically shut down, at least until yesterday when Orlando Cabrera's error ruined Rafael Perez's outing.
The starting pitching was spotty, with Gomez, Carmona, Talbot and Carrasco all struggling at times. However, Tomlin and Masterson continued their remarkable runs, combining for 2.45 RA over five starts and 33 innings. Tomlin was the better of the two, with a 3:1 K:BB over his three starts; Masterson struggled with control against the Royals, but still gutted out six solid innings. Both benefited from incredibly low opponent BAbip's: .190 for Tomlin and .238 for Masterson.
Sizemore fueled the offense—Hafner's 917, nearly the entire team slumped over the last two weeks. Brantley and LaPorta held serve with decent offensive performances while Hannahan and the Cabrera's crashed back to earth. Simultaneously, Choo, Kearns and Santana have remained deep in the tank. Besides Sizemore and Hafner, the hottest bat at Manny Acta's disposal right now might be Adam Everett, who has looked shocking competent this season, with a 3:3 BB:K and a propensity for poking singles into the outfield.
THE BEST THING GOING: Unquestionably, Sizemore's return and performance is the best thing going for the Indians, not just in this stretch but also for the season as a whole. However, three other players deserve special mention. The first is Josh Tomlin, covered above. While Tomlin surely won't post a sub-3.00 for the season, each successful start he makes is another indication that he's going to be a good, mid-rotation starter for a long time. Tomlin's run for the Indians between last year and this one is nothing short of remarkable—he has transitioned from a virtual non-prospect to an innings eating major league pitcher, one of the most valuable commodities in baseball. Adam liked Tomlin before the 2010 season, pointing out that he did a lot of things well and could be successful if he kept the ball out of the seats and, so far as a major leaguer, his HR/9 is 1.2—a decent mark.
Our second hero is Travis Hafner. Although TribeJay, who I generally think is spot on with this sort of thing, sees some warning signs with Pronk, his performance has yet to fall off. Although he's certainly gotten some good luck (see yesterday's bloop single), Hafner has now hit safely in the last eight games he's started and he's currently one of the best hitters in the AL, ranking sixth in OPS+.
Finally, Vinnie Pestano is on his way to becoming a favorite for a lot of people. During this two-week run, Pestano went six innings, allowed only one run, had an 8:3 BB:K, and allowed just one of seven inherited runners to scorer. Vinnie was the best pitcher in the bullpen over the past two weeks and he provides an incredible complement to Chris Perez and Tony Sipp. Pestano, like Tomlin, is notable for the fact that he's basically value where little was expected, barely making Adam's radar before the season. I suppose this is what a good farm system does in some ways—throws enough of these sorts of players at the wall that some stick.
NOT AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS: This has been making the rounds for a bit but Chris Perez's season has been unremarkable outside of his 2.25 ERA and six saves. Perez hasn't struck many batters out (only 4 in 8 innings), has walked too many (3), and his velocity is down in the early going. My guess is that Perez is just rounding into form and struggling to get his velocity way up in the cold weather. However, there's definitely some reason for concern here—he needs to get more strikeouts to dominate.
Rafael Perez is in that same boat, somehow maintaining a 0.00 ERA over nine appearances despite a 4:4 K:BB. His velocity is also way down but Perez is such a weird pitcher at this point I don't know how much that matters. I've watched Raffy Left for years now and I honestly don't have any idea what his best pitch is at this point—FanGraphs thinks both his slider and change are slightly above average. Perez has transitioned in my mind from a total relief stud to a lefty who throws junk and hopes. I guess he's sort of a late career Jesse Orosco or something.
Obviously, Masterson and Tomlin are not going to be co-Cy Youngs, so there's some bumps in those roads in our future. Other than that, it's hard to find much that's not as good as it looks because the team's batting has been so mediocre over the last two weeks.
NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS: I'm just going to repost what I wrote two weeks ago, because it's still true:
Choo and Santana are both elite talents who have a combined OPS of
12461213 right now. That number's going to end up in the 1700 range—those two will hit, period.
DON'T LOOK AT THIS: Over the last two weeks, veteran swami guru Orlando Cabrear OPS'd 478 and committed an error that lost the Indians a game against the Twins (who I can't stand). Similarly, Austin Kearns has just two hits in his last fourteen plate appearances. Which leads us to...
THE RISKY PLAY: The Indians don't have just one middle infield depth option that could be described as "ancient"—they have two. The other one is Adam Everett who, as referenced above, has done a decent job with the bat this season. Everett was already considered the superior defender to Cabrera and there doesn't seem to be any evidence that Cabrera will consistently out hit Everett. The last time Everett played regularly, he had a .238/.288/.325 line, which is pretty comparable to OC's .269/.293/.372 line this year. Is Everett's defense worth making a move that might upset clubhouse chemistry? Or, more aggressively, could Cord Phelps come up and play second right now? Orlando has clearly become a leader of sorts and his friendship with Asdrubal is well documented. I suspect Acta will stay with Orlando unless he becomes totally unplayable—however, he might get his second day off soon.
On the other side of the ledger, Kearns is neither playing well nor playing often. Travis Buck's 611 OPS in Cleveland didn't set the world on fire, but he doesn't look very challenged at AAA, with a .625/.700/1.250 line in two games. Small samples abound throughout this debate and the question isn't really what these statistics tell us about these individual players. Instead, it seems to me that the Indians have a dilemma: two players who've performed decently in the past, one with some upside, one without, neither of whom are going to get regular ABs in Cleveland. What's a viable long term plan for these two? Just wait for an injury to open a door, and then give it to Kearns first? Or will an injury see Buck and his hot bat returning, with Kearns staying the fourth OF?
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW:
- Both Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco have sustained elbow injuries. Talbot is gone till mid-May at least, and Carrasco's status is unknown. The team hasn't announced the starter for this Friday—Jeanmar Gomez pitched in relief yesterday and will likely get that start. David Huff is the obvious depth option, but his peripherals are terrible. Alex White has been absolutely lights out this season, as Adam discussed yesterday, and he's another option. Zach McAllister is the only other guy I can imagine getting consideration. All three of these guys could go Saturday with their current schedules—rain delays have moved their schedules around a bit and there's a doubleheader today to make up one of the games missed. Two of these three ought to be starting today—who doesn't take the mound might be the guy we see on Saturday, if Carrasco can't go.
- Top prospects Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall are not hitting, although Cord Phelps still is. Jason Donald just got back in the Columbus lineup after struggling with a groin strain. His "rehab" continues, although I'm not sure it's really rehab if there's not a job for you in Cleveland.
- It's becoming increasingly clear there's a couple of new contenders for worse contract in the AL Central: Joe Mauer's monster deal and Victor Martinez, playing primarily DH, hitting .250/.292/.417 and owed $50 million over the next four.
- The Indians will face Kansas City's Luke Hochevar tomorrow. the Indians saw Hochevar in Kansas City and clobbered him the second/third time through the lineup. Hopefully, they actually figured something out against him and can continue to exploit it tomorrow.
- The Indians twitter campaign continues and Manny Acta keeps picking songs of the day.