When we last checked in with Lewie Pollis, editor of FanSided’s Cleveland Indians’ blog, he was flush with confidence that Cleveland could stake claim to the hallowed position of second place in the AL Central. Now Lewie and the Indians come knocking in the wake of a 7-10 start to the season that’s nearly matched the White Sox in terms of dreariness. With my questions in bold, I tried to challenge the audacity of Pollis’ hope, but he remains assured of the Indians’ starting rotation and even tried to get me to watch a Harlem Shake video.
Pitching and injuries. To the former point, I wasn’t particularly confident about either Ubaldo Jimenez or Brett Myers heading into this season, but no rational could honestly have expected them to be this bad. (Super small sample size, but still.) As for health, three weeks into the season we’ve already seen Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Michael Bourn, Carlos Santana, Lou Marson, Jason Giambi, Scott Kazmir, Jimenez, and Myers deal with health problems.This is an exceptionally deep team and the front office did well to stock up in case something like this happens, but no matter how good your second-stringers are there’s a reason they’re not your normall starting guys. A couple weeks of slumping can disappear as soon as a player hits a hot streak, but an injury can nag you all year long.
Jimenez, Myers, Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Huff—that’s eight guys who are either established MLB pitchers or younger arms who have nothing left to prove in Triple-A. There’s ample reason not to like the idea of sending each of them out to the mound every fifth day, but in this case quantity is important. If just three of these eight guys are capable of taking the ball and going six respectable innings each time out, you’ve got a full rotation; even if it’s only two, four solid starters is more than a lot of other teams have. I feel very confident that at least a couple of these guys are up to the task, it’s just that we don’t know which ones yes.
Jason Kipnis sat for a week with elbow soreness before jumping back into the lineup this weekend; last Friday he said it didn’t feel 100% yet but that it wasn’t really bothering him. What is bothering him is that he’s striking out a ton (27 percent strikeout rate, up from 16 percent last year) while not hitting for much power. He seems like he’s gotten into the vicious cycle of slumping, then pressing because of the slump, then slumping because he’s pressing…but then again he’s played only 11 games and his .233 BABIP suggests that he’s not as bad as he’s looked. Also, remember that for all the talk about his disappointing year last season, wRC+ actually had him as a (very, very slightly) above-average hitter.
As for Asdrubal Cabrera, he slipped in the dugout Saturday and suffered a left wrist contusion, which luckily doesn’t sound as bad as the ominous medical term might suggest; he said after that game that he might be back as soon as the series opener in Chicago. He’s also been striking out more than usual—both his 2012 and 2013 strikeout rates are almost identical to Kipnis’—which may be cause for concern if it persists. But a .175 BABIP from a guy whose hit rate has never slipped below .300 over a full season makes me think he’ll be just fine soon.
By the end of last season Acta had completely lost his clubhouse. It’s not fair to blame the 11-game losing streak and the subsequent nine-game losing streak entirely on team chemistry, but it sure exacerbated the situation. Maybe you don’t expect the fans to enjoy watching a losing team by the end of the summer, but it’s jarring to see that the players so obviously weren’t having fun either.Francona changed all of that. He brought confidence: you can tell in every quote and press conference that he believes in this team. He brought gravitas: Scott Kazmir has publicly said that Francona is the reason he signed with Cleveland, and he surely helped woo other free agents this winter. And he brought fun—have you seen the team’s Harlem Shake video?I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Byrd, who played under Francona in Boston, last week (the interview will be up on Wahoo’s on First in the next couple days) and he couldn’t say enough good things about his former manager. “He’s a player’s manager,” he said. “He never dogs his players out in the paper, and players appreciate that. He has one rule, and that’s that you hustle and play hard. If you do that, you just hustle and play hard, he will love you.” (That’s all I’m giving away about the interview for now.)
I’ve been a huge Masterson fan for a long time. He’s got a great sinker, decent control, and (sometimes) some real great strikeout stuff. Aside from being a pitch-to-contact guy who’s in front of a subpar defense for most of his career, his biggest problem has been a willingness to attack left-handed hitters. He knows too well that he has trouble with lefties so he sometimes gets too caught up in not throwing it where they can hit it well to focus on throwing it in the strike zone; small sample size, but so far he’s looked more like he did against lefties in 2011 (his best year to date) than he did last year. R.J. Anderson once analogized that if Strasburg strikes batters down with headshots, Masterson’s approach “resembles death via a thousand paper cuts.” I like that line.
As for McAllister, I may be his biggest fan. Last year, his strikeout rate was the highest any Indians starter has posted since CC Sabathia (though admittedly that’s not saying much). Anecdotally he has two major flaws that the numbers back up. The first is that he has trouble recovering from rough breaks—he led all of baseball with 22 unearned runs allowed last year and he’s given up six already this year. The other is that he has trouble getting hitters out twice. As my colleague Steve Kinsella pointed out, last year he had an insane .553 OPS-against the first time through the order but that ballooned to .814 the second time he faced hitters. So he’ll be untouchable for the first three innings but things can go downhill in a hurry from there.
I have a personal rule never to bet against Justin Masterson or Zach McAllister so my hands are tied for tonight and Tuesday, and while we’ve already proven it’s possible I know the odds are against us beating Chris Sale. So Indians take two of three.