Friday, July 4, 2008

Off the Reservation

As someone who cares a hell of a lot more about the Cleveland Indians than you do, I've been disgusted with our gut-wrenching "play" lately. As I write this, the Tribe has now lost six games in a row, and this loyal Wahoo has seen enough. The time has come to air out my dirty teepee and take a definitive stance on all the significant issues facing both the organization and Tribe fans everywhere.

State of the Indians Address

C.C. Sabathia:

You claim you love it here. You claim you want to be an Indian as long as possible. Yet instead of accepting a four-year, $72 million extension before spring training, you decided to "rule out" talks until after the season. We're not stupid, Carston Charles. Don't tell us you're munching nutribars at the gym when you're slamming cookies in the kitchen. If what you say about the Indians is true, you would have agreed to an extension before the season and shed the pressure that sautéed your first few starts (and probably pushed your playing weight past 300 pounds).

You've been a great leader for our staff the past few seasons, and by all accounts, you're a nice guy. But since you clearly want the kind of long-term deal only three or four clubs can offer, we'll do our buddies in Milwaukee a solid and provide a 1-2 punch of Ben Sheets and C.C. Sabathia in exchange for third base demigod Taylor Green and a cache of top Huntsville prospects, including the corner outfielder/slugger we need in Matt LaPorta.

Besides, the last time we traded a hefty ace, we got a package that included Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee. Toodles!

Not available in MLB '07 playoff mode

Deplorable offense:

Our putrid .247 batting average is only eight points from the cellar of Major League Baseball. As of July 5, 2008, we are below the American League average in no less than eight major categories. You know how Tom Hanks is a big Indians fan? Well I'll bet the lineup of Forrest Gump, Andrew Beckett, Allen Bauer, Scott Turner, John H. Miller, Sam Baldwin, Jim Lovell, Paul Edgecomb and Woody could hit better than the Tribe right now.

This is an unsettling trend, seeing as how we won 102 games last year with an OK offense that defined the term "timely hitting." In 2005 and 2006, we were near the top of the league in runs scored and batting average, and while we can trade for better bats, our farm system is way too good for the offense to hibernate like this.

In 2005, our assault on Chicago's 15-game lead began with the firing of hitting coach Eddie Murray. There's no way this team can do the same, but firing Derek Shelton is a nice start.


Remember when I mentioned Woody from Toy Story? There's a great line in that movie where Mr. Potato Head asks, "Did you all take stupid pills this morning?" My question to Rafael Betancourt, Jensen Lewis,
Rafael Perez and Joe Borowski: Did you all take pitch-like-shit pills in the offseason?

There's no clear explanation why the four key figures of our dominant 2007 bullpen have been awful in 2008. Righty Raffy and Lefty Raffy are hanging fastballs out to dry, Lewis is pitching his way to Buffalo and JoeBo just became the first significant casualty of our haphazard underachieving. Before the season, people felt more confident in us than fellow division favorite Detroit because we had "more options" when it came to pitching. Well, soon-to-be closer Masa Kobayashi is the only reliever who's relieved diddly squat, and nobody else is stepping up.

My solution? Let the Raffys and Lewis pitch out the season, because what they gain from toughing it out will make them stronger, and all three figure into our future plans.

Cliff Lee:

Things weren't so hot for Clifton Phifer a year ago. He was sent down to the minors with a 5-8 record because he had no control and a surly attitude. Despite winning 18 games in 2005, the question remained if he'd ever pitch for us again.

Now, there's no doubt Lee should be starting for the American League in the All-Star Game. He's 11-1 with 93 strikeouts, 17 walks and an ERA just below Lindsay Lohan's BAC. Furthermore, he's started 16 games and could realistically be 15-1, because the bullpen flat-out wasted four of his starts (and because the Reds roughed him up in his one loss).

Cliff Lee has been a stud, and if he doesn't start the All-Star Game, it's a sham. After the season, we'll have to work on keeping him in Cleveland past 2009.

Too bad he never cries

Absent friends:

I'm talking about the baseball equivalent of role-players that aren't producing. Paul Byrd won 15 games as our fourth starter last year, and now that he can't use HGH, he won't win five. Asdrubal Cabrera came out of nowhere in 2007 to provide a great glove at second base and a reliable bat in the No. 2 spot. When he went down to Buffalo a month ago, his average was a plebeian .184, but he's been hitting .434 since then, and he can always brag to mommy about the unassisted triple play.

Ryan Garko, you need start eating BP for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Franklin Gutierrez, for a five-tool player, you sure can't hit for average or power. Ben Francisco, it's time to do more than smack meaningless home runs every once in awhile. Andy Marte, you can't hit major league pitching, so the experiment is over. Casey Blake...well, if we acquire Green, I hope we can re-sign you again and move you to first.


I didn't mention it earlier because frankly, it's no excuse. But when your No. 3 hitter, No. 4 hitter, No. 2 starter and No. 3 starter ALL go down in the span of a month, it's not easy to recover.

True, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner were struggling at the plate when they got hurt. Jake Westbrook has struggled with injuries since winning 44 games from 2004-2006, and Fausto Carmona was struggling to not break batters' wrists with those nasty sinkers.

Organizations have to reload, though, especially intelligent ones like Cleveland that have a reputation for developing talent and spending smartly. So far in 2008, we haven't been able to overcome injury, and while it's not excusable, it is somewhat understandable.

Rob Oller:

This columnist for The Columbus Dispatch believes the Indians have reverted back to the crappy days, circa 1960-1993. Listen, Robbie, I admit the first three years of the Mark Shapiro era were pretty lean, but this is a team with plenty of talent locked up for awhile and a solid farm system. And if you equate winning an average of 82 games a year with finishing second-to-last or dead last in 33 of 34 seasons, your counting abilities are on par with FLS.

No more time will be spent on this dingleberry.

2 + 2 = 657!

Eric Wedge:

Finally, the manager is not on the chopping block. I don't care how badly the Indians have failed to live up to expectations. They certainly seem to lack motivation at times, but Wedge can't fix all that's gone wrong. Besides, it's only been eight months since he was named AL Manager of the Year, so firing him would set a piss-poor precedent.

Wedge is tough as nails, has a brain for baseball, and isn't afraid to make decisions. Regardless of the superior skill in MLB these days, guts still go a long way, and Wedge has them in spades.

On that note, I'll bring this State of the Indians Address to a close. I'm glad we're once again good enough to be livid with years like this. Now it's time to start competing.

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