Tuesday, June 21

Downtown Report

My work odyssey in West Virginia has mostly wrapped up after four months, so I can once again slap the seal of the great City of Cleveland on one of my Downtown Reports. Having already enjoyed the lovely Lake Erie June weather and gone for a run today (two runs, in fact), I'm comfortably ensconced in my Downtown stronghold with a big glass of water (soon to be a PBR), a double fake chicken sandwich, and the Wahoos battling the Rox on my standard-definition television. Things are good.

It is somewhat difficult for me to describe how completely uninteresting I find any and all news regarding the ongoing, tedious NFL "labor" negotations. (I use the sarcastic quotes because it's not like this is a fucking pipefitters union - it's a bunch of millionaires vs a bunch of billionaires). It's like my disinterest in the Draft multiplied by...my disinterest in the Draft. Then squared. Hearing names like "Jeff Pash" and "DeMaurice Smith" just shut off my brain. I think by now it's fairly well-established that the entire dispute is manufactured by the owners and is pretty much a straight-up money grab by a group of guys who have more money than you or I will ever see. Exciting stuff.

But the news and reports, man do I need some way to filter that out of the sports consciousness, because man does it not ever matter. I don't care if they've made "progress" or are negotiating with the league instead of the owners, or if they've decertified, or if Roger Goodell had dinner with Tom Brady, or whatever the fuck is happening. I just don't care. Tell me if and when it's over so I can calibrate my interest in the 2011 season - nothing else in this saga is of concern. I still run around Browns Stadium frequently, and haven't even bothered to look at their schedule. I like the game, but I'll be fine without an NFL season, and I refuse to waste any time worrying about these nonsense "negotiations."

I've explained in the past that I find the NBA Draft more compelling than the NFL Draft because of the immediate impact a top pick can have on a franchise. This certainly doesn't mean I think drafting well is more of a success factor in the NBA than the NFL, just that I think it's a better spectator event. Even at that, I don't typically make it a point to tune in the NBA Draft, but with the Cavs holding the #1 and #4 overall slots, I think I'll check out the first hour.

I've enjoyed the rumors that the Cavs are waffling on the first pick, that just maybe they're not certain about taking Kyrie Irving #1. Yeah, sure they're not. Teams love to send these mixed messages to increase their leverage in potential trades - why would the Cavs bother to come out and say that they're going to take Irving? Make Minnesota sweat a little bit, maybe panic and overvalue their #2 pick. Can't hurt, though if I'm running Minnesota, I'm not buying it.

As for my Thursday, well, I kind of want to go play trivia that night, but the sign in Pacer's downstairs says they're having a Draft Party there. Are there any special guests, you ask? Oh, there's one - a certain Austin "Mr Cavalier" Carr. Throwin' the hammer down right here in my joint.

I had Nick and Figgs up for the Saturday game of the recent three-game sweep of the Pirates, which was a really solid night at the ballpark. The Pirate fans weren't nearly as obnoxious as they might have been expected to be - not many steeler jerseys, and generally not annoying me a whole lot. Granted, this may have had something to do with them losing, but still. I did have a brief exchange with a Pirate fan in the Your Dad's Beer line - one of the Yinzers excitedly spotted Iron City Beer ("Arn") and tried to point it out to a friend who struggled to locate it. I picked up the display can to help out and the first guy said, "hey look, we got Vanna White here." Hilarious. I pointed out that Pirates fans aren't typically very good at reading and was just trying to help out, and then the conversation ended.

For all the consternation over the recent struggles by the Tribe, we're still sitting in first place in the AL Central, 39-31 as I type this and one game up on the Detroit Tigers. The Indians aren't as bad as their recent slide made them look, nor were they as good as their blazing start, but the question now is what is their actual midpoint. Baseball Prospectus takes a dim view - our Postseason Odds there are just 17%, considerably lower than even the third-place Black Socks. The parts are still there for the Indians to continue to contend, I don't doubt that, but they will really need enhanced contributions from a number of their players to do so. Let's look at the club's numbers a bit.

Despite some reports to the contrary, the Indians aren't really appreciably stronger offensively or defensively than on the other side of the bal. The Tribe is currently 7th in the AL in runs scored/game at 4.38 (league average 4.29) and 8th in the AL in runs allowed at 4.25 (league average 4.25 - shouldn't the two averages be the same?). We have a team OPS+ of 102 and ERA+ of 97. Balanced mediocrity.

The Indians' run total may be a bit skewed by a few outbursts (like 19 vs KC in one game), but so is the pitching. I'd suggest that the Indians' success is pretty much equal parts batting and pitching (and defense, back when we used to be good at that).

The losing period was equal measures poor pitching and batting, as our starters were boasting a staff ERA over six for a few weeks and the offense was putting up less than three a game, including a span of ten games in which the lineup absorbed five shutouts. Even the bullpen gave up a run once! Probably. Maybe they didn't. But still.

Fausto Carmona is straight-up bad. He had the worst ERA among all AL starters coming into tonight's game at 5.79 (ERA+ 65), and just allowed seven tallies to the Rockies in 4 2/3 innings in an extremely frustrating performance. This guy is simply killing us once every five days. Look at his recent earned runs allowed per start: 4, 6, 4, 7, 4, 8, 4, averaging all of 5 2/3 a start. Let's move on.

Mitch Talbot hasn't been much better, at 5.02 (76). Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco have settled to near league-average at 3.93 (96) and 3.87 (98) respectively, though Carrasco has been a buzzsaw in his last three outings, giving up just one earned run TOTAL in the three starts. Justin Masterson (3.18, 119) remains the staff ace, his unimpressive 5-5 W-L record simply a product of the Tribe hitters plating six runs (total, not average) in his nine starts prior to Sunday. The bottom line is that the Indians cannot win this division with 40% of their rotation pitching as ineffectively as Carmona and Talbot are. We'll see if Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister are called upon to improve matters.

The Tribe's Bullpen Mafia is ill:

Chris Perez 2.39 (160), 17/18 saves
Rafael Perez 1.27 (300)
Tony Sipp 2.03 (188)
Vinnie "Vinnie" Pestano 1.38 (276)
Joe Smith 1.13 (240)

And because I care about all of you readers, not just as readers but as people, I have not included Chad Durbin's work.

Batting-wise, it's still the same story: Asdrubal Cabrera (OPS+ 136) is playing at an All-Star level offensively and defensively, and Michael Brantley has played a smooth outfield and on-based at a .345 clip. Having Travis Hafner back in the lineup is clearly a key to the Tribe's success as well, as Pronk's power (OPS+ 169) and selectivity (OBP .412) set the tone for the Indian attack.

Carlos Santana has been coming around with the bat as well (115) - he's been walking at a prodigious rate all year, on-basing .354 despite a lowly .228 batting average. He has over seven times as many walks as Orlando Cabrera, in case you were wondering. His power appears to be coming back around as well, with tape-measure home runs in each of the past two contests.

Shin-Soo Choo, well, it's been written too many times already that this fellow simply needs to play better for the Tribe offense to reach its potential. But it's still true. He's not Fausto, but an OPS+ of 96 simply isn't good enough for a dude that's posted 151, 136, and 146 over the past three campaigns. Also, you're not going to believe this, but Choo is stepping to the plate with the bases loaded as I finish this paragraph. Let's pause...two-run single, nice!

Elsewhere along the Indians' nine, Hannahan can't hit (OPS+ 90) but plays great defense, Orlando Cabrera simply needs to be removed from the lineup permanently (OBP .270, porous defensively), Grady Sizemore looks lost at the plate, Matt LaPorta is on the DL, Cord Phelps has too few PA's to truly evaluate (though I enjoyed him wielding the broom that swept Pittsburgh out of town), and you pretty much know what Lou Marson and Travis Buck can do at this point.

We can contend in the AL Central. We probably don't have the talent of the Tigers or maybe the White Sox, but we have some guys who I think can step up and get us to 85 wins or so, which just might do it, especially if we can hold our own against our intradivision rivals. All that's left to say is:

Go Tribe!

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