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What’s Wrong (?) at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

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August is always a scary time here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

I can’t help myself. The Indians went 5-24 last season during the dog days of summer, demoralizing an already precarious season in which an overachieving team dropped off the face of the earth.

It was arguably the worst month of baseball in Cleveland Indians’ history, and what’s the most scary about that statement is that it’s not hyperbole.

So what did the Indians do heading into August in 2013?

They started off 3-1, and lulled me into a false sense of security, before dropping seven out of eight thanks to a series sweep by the first place Detroit Tigers.

No, 5-8 certainly isn’t 5-24, but the struggles to win may be even more significant than 2012.

Let’s be real here. The 2012 Cleveland Indians weren’t good. While they flirted with first place for much of the first-half of the season, they were destined to lose a bunch of games. I could spend days talking about the deficiencies of the 2012 team, and I have.

So let’s move on.

The 2013 Cleveland Indians aren’t the same team.

The Indians needed an outfielder, and they went out and got four in Nick SwisherMichael BournDrew Stubbsand Ryan Raburn.

The Indians needed started pitching, and saw the emergence of Corey KluberZach McAllisterScott Kazmir,Danny Salazar and even Ubaldo Jimenez.

The Tribe’s bench was terrible last night, but solidified it by picking up Raburn, Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, who may be playing his way into a starting role for 2014, if not earlier.

There are more reasons for the Tribe-turnaround, but that’s really not why I’m pacing here at the Corner on this fine Wednesday morning.

No, 5-8 isn’t 5-24, but it may just be less acceptable than their much worse counterparts.

On August 4th, the Cleveland Indians were 62-49, and three games in back of the Detroit Tigers. Regardless of what you feel about the 2013 Cleveland Indians, that means they’ve had a pretty good season up to that point.

Perhaps there was luck involved.

Perhaps the planets were aligned.

Perhaps there was voodoo involved.

Perhaps the fix is in.

Perhaps their schedule helped.

Perhaps the team is just good.

I personally don’t care how they got there, and am more interested in the fact that they were actually there. The Indians were 13 games over .500, with the first place Tigers coming into town. You know the rest.

The Indians have gone 2-7 since then, and are now six games in back of the Tigers. While our Erie Warriors are in second place, they found themselves in third place on Tuesday morning thanks to a streaking Kansas City Royals team that may finally be turning a corner that many have been predicting for years.

The Indians went from grabbing ahold of a wildcard spot, to now, 3 ½ games back.

It’s funny how a week, or a month can make a season look different.

Freakin’ August….

The truth of the matter is that the Indians aren’t getting what they need from guys that should be standing front and center.

Let’s start with Nick Swisher.

I need to preface this with the fact that I’m a huge Nick Swisher fan. I also firmly believe that by the end of his four-year contract, people will be talking more about the good, than the bad.

Right now though, the deal looks like a stretch, but far from a bust.

He’s not been as horrible as some folks have made him out to be. Remember, Swisher is a career .255 hitter, who generally hits 20-30 homers, and has 80-90 RBI. Look up the numbers.

In April, Swish hit .265, and while he only hit two homers, and only drove in nine runs, perhaps it was a slow start. He followed that up with a .269 month, and had five homers, eight doubles and 11 RBI.

He flat out struggled in June, hitting .160 with one homer, but rebounded in July with a .284 average and three more homers. Of course, Tito had to move him to the two-hole.

Enter August.

This is when we need the guy that was signed to be the team leader to step up. What has Swisher done in August?

He’s hitting .182. I could get more into the numbers, but why. You get the idea. He’s hitting .182.

That’s not what the Cleveland Indians paid for. He needs to step up, and it has to be more than just being a pretty cool bro. He actually has to be a pretty good baseball player.

Now.

Let’s move on to Asdrubal Cabrera.

I’ve always liked Cabrera, and have always felt that he has the talent and the potential demeanor to be a captain-like presence on this baseball team.

No, he’s not as good as Derek Jeter, and he never will be, but he could be that same kind of quiet leader on this team.

Cabrera used to be a pretty good player in the second half of the season. In 2007, Cabrera didn’t play until the second half of the season, and was a major reason why that team pushed towards the playoffs. He hit .283 down the stretch, with three homers and 22 RBI in his rookie season.

No, that doesn’t seem that far away, does it?

In 2008, Cabrera struggled in the first-half with a .184 average, and only one homer. He started the season in Cleveland, but was sent to Buffalo in June. He earned his way back to the big league club in mid-July, and from that point on, he raked. He hit .320 the rest of the way, with five homers, 33 RBI and 32 runs.

In .2009, Cabrera hit .300 in the first half, and he hit .315 in the second half.

Seriously…do you remember this guy? It’s truly hard to remember.

In 2010, there was a bit of a drop-off. He hit .287 in the first half, and “dropped-off” to .269 in the second half, but his OPS was fairly stable, so there really wasn’t a concern there either.

Then came 2011.

I bet that you can remember. Cabrera came out hitting .293 that year, and enter the power. His 14 homers in the first half of the year were a career high, and the silent back-bone of this team was suddenly not so silent.

His second half numbers took a major tumble, but his power numbers didn’t. His average dropped 50 points, but he hit 11 homers in the second half. There was a noticeable difference in his play though, and stamina seemed to be an issue. Many questioned his offseason workouts, as he seemed to come into the season out of shape.

It happened again in 2012.

Cabrera entered the season and was noticeably out of shape. I saw it firsthand here in Carolina after he blasted a home run at Five County Stadium in a preseason warm-up against the Mudcats. As he was rounding the bases, my daughter looked at me and said, “Daddy, the cute little fat man hit a home run.”

Out of the mouth of babes, right?

Cabrera hit .284, pounded 11 more homers, and drove in 42. Then came the second half. Without getting into it all, his OPS dropped from .832 to .676.

Yeah, it was bad.

But, I had hope in 2013.

He played a ton of baseball in the winter leagues, and came into camp in shape.

He only hit .255 in the first half of the season, but he was progressively getting better from April through June. Unfortunately for Cabrera, he got hurt at the start of June, and while he came off the DL at the end of June belting the ball, he dropped off a cliff in July.

He’s hitting .187 in the second half of the season, and has been terrible.

Tito Francona moved him to the clean-up spot.

Yeah, I don’t get it.

Perhaps Cabrera is fired up that he’s been the central focus of trade talks since the winter meetings, when he was believed to be the central figure in a move to bring Trevor Bauer to the Indians. Since then, he’s been connected to the St. Louis Cardinals in a deal for perhaps any one of their top ten prospects at one time or another.

Yeah, I still don’t get it.

Cabrera is a hole in the line-up, and while I truly believed he was setting up to have a big second half, I was wrong. He was in shape, and he was facing an offseason in which teams will likely be looking for a shortstop. He would be entering his contract year next season, but could be showcasing his wares to a potential contender this offseason.

If he is, he’s clearly playing for a back-up role.

But let’s get right down to it.

The Indians are in a stretch run, and they have a legitimate chance to get to the playoffs. Whatever is rolling through the mind of Asdrubal Cabrera right now, he needs to focus on that. He’s killing this team offensively, and he has to be better.

I also want to chat a bit about the bullpen.

Chris Perez is probably better than most people give him credit for, but he isn’t really all that good.

I don’t care what folks say about Bryan Shaw, he just isn’t a late-inning guy right now. He’s a nice #4 or #5 in a pen, but when he’s off, he’s really off.

I love Joe Smith, and he’s going to get a nice contract somewhere next season, but he has moments in which he’s not very good. If he leaves pitches in the zone, he can get pummeled. The more teams see him, the more it happens.

Rich Hill shouldn’t be on this club, and if he were right-handed, would be out of baseball.

Matt Albers is fine, but is really just like Bryan Shaw in that you don’t want him pitching significant time in moments that are big.

Vinnie Pestano is in the minors, and that’s all I really want to say about that. I’m truly sick and tired of listening to the talk of “control” for a bullpen arm. I don’t care how good Pestano is or was. He’s a bullpen arm. So if the focus on Pestano is “team control” because he got sent to the minors, that’s code for, “He’s pitching like garbage.”

If he pitches well in 2013, he’s our closer right now. He’s not, so he’s in the minors. If you think the Indians’ front office is sitting around a table talking about “team control” for Vinnie Pestano, you are kidding yourself, and I don’t care what “insiders” say with regards to that.

If there IS that conversation, it goes something like this.

Front office guy #1: What’s wrong with Pestano?

Front office guy #2: Don’t know, but he’s terrible right now. My grandma throws harder than he does.

Front office guy #1: We need to send him down to the minors.

Front office guy #2: Great, Pestano can’t stick around with THIS bullpen?

Front office guy #1: Well, at least we can squeeze out another year if he gets it right.

Front office guy #2: Or, we get another year of him if he doesn’t?

You get my point. I suppose that was a bit flippant, but let’s be a bit honest with Pestano. He’s not right, and they are trying to get him there. At the end of the day though, he’s a bullpen arm.

We all know how that goes.

The bullpen has to figure out how to get better. I don’t know how that happens. Is it Salazar? Is it Carrasco? I don’t know.

But they have to get better.

Let’s talk about the rotation.

Our rotation has been very good. The overall numbers for the Indians’ rotation may not scream of a top rotation in baseball, but there have been times this season when the central group of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and Zach McAllister have been outstanding. You throw in a shake of Danny Salazar, and Tribe fans around the globe (is there such a thing) get downright giddy.

But, we have to be real about this rotation as well.

You can talk to old school fans who find Sabermetrics evil, and they’ll tell you they feel optimistic about the Tribe starters. But, they’d be lying if they didn’t say that there is a spark of worry with regards to all the names above, and we have seen why on and off throughout the year.

Sabermetrics guys feel optimistic because there are stats that show that all these guys can sustain this throughout the year and beyond. But, if they dig deep into their stat-bags, there are outliers for each starter that are worthy of concern as well for the longevity of their solid pitching.

It’s nothing new though.

Masterson fails to be a consistent ace, because he continues to have outings that make you shake your head. He still fights like an ace does though, but he just can’t quite get over that hump. Of course, he’s always going to be valuable because he can be that horse in the middle of a rotation or higher.

Ubaldo Jimenez has his apologists, and they’ll cite this season as reason to proclaim that he’s back. I get that. I don’t hate the guy. I do hate the pitcher that he had been heading into this season. I do hate the games in which is claws and scrapes through five innings throwing over 100 pitches. People will say, “He’s still getting through it.” I agree that he did, but still think it’s folly to count on the guy. The weight he puts on a bullpen is heavy, and while he can have dominant outings at times, they are few and far between. I take this Ubaldo over THAT Ubaldo any day of the week. But he’s still Ubaldo. He’s not a guy you count on.

Scott Kazmir has been outstanding, and quite the steal. Of course, he came out and said, “I have dead arm” last week and missed a start. He’s back on Sunday, but any sane human has to  be saying, “here it comes.”

Zach McAllister looked to be another horse in the middle of the rotation, but hurt that damn finger. Ugh. Fingers. He looked great last night, but will it continue, or is there more than meets the eye to his returning struggles.

Corey Kluber is out. He hurt his damn finger. He’s been awesome, and at the end of the day, may have been the best starter in Cleveland this year. His arm is unquestioned, but he’s NEVER shown this before with any consistency at any level in the pro ranks. Will it continue when he’s back? Is it simply a mechanics issue and a change in how he holds the baseball? Will the finger turn him back into a pumpkin? You can say NO with all the bravado you want, but it’s a legit question.

Danny Salazar will be an ace…won’t he? He has the stuff, and as Steve Orbanek says wistfully whenever his name is mentioned, “he’s one of only six Indians to EVER throw 100 MPH.” Will he hold up? Will he have to move the the bullpen this year?

Then there is Carlos Carrasco, but I don’t have the time or energy for that.

I love our starting rotation, but they have to be on the positive side of the equation in August, and not answer incorrectly to all of the questions above.

My point here is it’s August at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and I’m scared.

Why?

I’m an Indians’ fan.

Why?

I fear the worst.

Why?

We’re in a pennant race.

Now read that statement three more times out loud.

Maybe it’s not so bad after all.

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