Friday, August 12


A few years ago, a friend of mine had the idea to spin "Cleveland" into "Believeland," a portmanteau expressing the support and confidence Northeast Ohio has for its teams. He had plans to market it and everything. Of course, that slogan had already been coined, and he was a steelers fan who turned out to be a weird dude, so...that's not a particularly good intro. Forget I even wrote it. Move along.

Nevertheless, I believe that the Cleveland Indians can win the American League Central in 2011, even if B-Pro has downgraded us to just an 8% probability of doing so. Regardless of the 1/12 shot B-Pro gives us ("never tell me the odds"), I'm not basing my analysis on "faith" or "hope" - as usual, occasionally to the annoyance of those around me, I'm basing it as much as possible on logic.

Consider first the Wahoos' remaining schedule. Pronounce it "shed-ule" if you like. We have 47 games remaining in which to make up two games on the Detroit Tigers and stave off the third-place Chicago White Socks, who sit just one back. Some facts about those remaining games:

- 25 are at home, 22 are on the road.
- Only 12 of the 47 are against teams with winning records
- The average win percentage of our remaining opponents, weighted by how many times we will face them, is just .476.
- We have nine more shots at Detroit and eleven against the White Socks. Our destiny is entirely in our own hands.

Schedule-wise, you couldn't set up a better seven-week closing stretch for the Tribe. Minnesota, for example, comes into town this week with three starters dragging 4.50+ ERA's into their starts, in the personages of Pavano, Duensing, and Slowey. Winnable much?

That's fine, but what about the Indians themselves, a team who is just 28-42 (.400) over their past 70 games? I've argued all season that the Indians have been a well-balanced team, despite the odd "conventional wisdom" that pitching has carried them, and we still currently sport a 100 OPS+ and a 97 ERA+, backing my view. We sit just below the "LgAvg" entry when you sort the AL in both categories, scoring 4.31 a game (LgAvg = 4.36) and posting an ERA of 3.97 (LgAvg = 3.95). Balance is the key to this team - as maligned as their lineup has been, more AL teams plate fewer runs a game than the Tribe (7), than plate more (6).

Some new arrivals, most notably Ubaldo Jimenez, may change that balance in favor of the pitching staff. The strength of the mound unit all year has been the Bullpen Mafia - recent road trip notwithstanding, Smith, the Perezes, Pestano, and Sipp have all been excellent this season. The starters have been less impressive - only Justin Masterson (ERA+ = 142) has been above-average, and dramatically so. But think about how the rotation can slot now, given some recent acquisitions and promotions:


You only need five from that group to perform for the rest of the season, and frankly I see Carrasco as the odd man out. Huff appears to have really figured things out, not just based on his two stellar outings with the Tribe but on the numbers and reports from Columbus as well. Tomlin seems extremely likely to be his same consistently good self ("a quality, classy pitcher") and Carmona has shown flashes (like his final four innings last night) that maybe having the pressure of being a #1 might help him relax and get people out.

We shouldn't expect a huge upswing in runs, though having Choo back should provide a lift. If he and Brantley can return at close to their normal levels, we can slot the lineup as:

Brantley LF
Kipnis 2B (how about this kid?)
Cabrera SS
Hafner DH
Choo RF
Santana 1B
Fukudome CF
Chiz 3B
Marson C

I'll take my chances with that lineup, not least because it puts Ezequiel Carrera in a role as 4th OF where he belongs so I don't have to see him every day.

Look, we're not going to breeze to a division title, and I know there were a few "ifs" both explicit and implicit in my forecast. But the schedule, heavy on home games, weak sisters, and the teams we need to oust, is right where it needs to be. The rotation got a big shot in the arm by the addition of Ubaldo (last start: 8 IP, 0 ER). The bullpen has been strong all year. And the lineup looks like it might all be coming together at the perfect time.



John said...

Wait is GET EM our thing now? Anyway I too see all the good things of this team with an improved starting rotation, no more Austin Kearns (no mo Kelly) etc. But can these Indians regain the momentum of the early season with a number of young guys and a manager who has yet to post a winning record (I think)? Can they do it?

Actually I think they can.

Go Tribe!

Andy said...

Ha, no mo Kelly.

Acta's lack of a winning record doesn't bug me, partially because managers have little impact on team success and partially because dude's been dealt some bad cards. Here are the OPS+/ERA+ of his teams so far:

'07 Natties: 89/93
'08 Natties: 83/93
'09 Natties: 96/85
'10 Tribe: 95/93

Those are some brutal teams.

Go Tribe! I mean, GET EM.