Instead, evening after painful, predictable evening, I am forced to endure the pathetic excuse for a team, currently masquerading as the Cleveland Indians.
In the past, this site has been accused of taking a somewhat cynical and critical view towards our Cleveland sports franchises. However, I refuse to be further subjected to and to blindly cheer for a Cleveland Indians team which is both boring to watch and mind-numbingly frustrating to follow. A wildly inconsistent offense, coupled with a gasoline and matchbox carrying bullpen, and a team devoid of leadership, has lead me down the fandom path of anger, despair and that oh to familiar Cleveland feeling of apathy (really a disguised mixture of anger and despair).
For the past few seasons, the Indians have been the media's sexy preseason sleeper pick, the team which all the pundits love to purchase a season upon the bandwagon. What these pundits fail to perceive, is that Tribe as currently constructed, is an inherently flawed baseball team. A bandwagon with three broken wheels and no horses isn't going anywhere.
1. The Bullpen
The hands-down, biggest culprit for the Indians' failures thus far this season is the bullpen. Look, no one expected the bullpen to be this bad. In fact, coming into the season, the bullpen appeared one of the strengths of the roster. Picking up Joe Smith and Kerry Wood only seemed to cement a relief corps which finished last season strongly. Instead, the team has the league's worse bullpen - a group who seemingly cannot retire a batter between them.
How many of you out there, when watching Indians' games feel that any lead is safe? Not me. I don't care if the Tribe is up 7 runs in the 9th inning with two outs, as this point in the season I have absolutely zero confidence in any of our relievers.
The Indians relievers with the lowest ERAs currently are Tony Sipp (3.60 - who gave up 2 runs in a .1 inning of work in his last appearance) and Aaron Laffey (3.60). The fact that the Indians had to move their most consistent starter to stabilize the bullpen indicates just how bad things have gotten. Not to mention that the supposed reliable members of our pen, Wood, Jensen Lewis and the Raffies have been giving up runs at an alarming clip (like every single game). Jensen Lewis especially has been serving up home runs like a pedophile handing out candy to tricker-treaters.
Perhaps the bullpen's struggles can be attributed to the off-season dismissal of Luis Issac. Perhaps moving Laffey to the pen, demoting Raffy Perez, calling up Matt Herges to replace Vinnie Chulk, and the potential pick up of Luis Vizcaino will turn things around. All I know is that's hard to win ballgames when you can't protect leads. And, as a starting pitcher, it has to be demoralizing to leave with a sizable lead, only to see the pen crap away the game. I'd rather the Indians get blown out of a game, rather than see the team continually give games away in the latter innings.
2. The Tribe has No Personality/ No Leadership
A second problem I have with this team is that has absolutely zero personality. Watching the Indians play this season, it's clear that they are one of the most vanilla teams in baseball - the team identity falling somewhere between Ben Stein's portrayal as Ferris Bueller's teacher and a pet rock. Gone are those carefree yesteryear days of pies in the face, ala Trot Nixon. In their stead, we find a team without an identifiable captain or even a viable mouthpiece.
The problem seemingly starts at the top with Eric Wedge. I've always been on the fence with Wedge as a manager of this team, which in of itself is a characterization of the overall identity problem with the team. Wedge has always been so bland in spouting off trite baseball sound bites after games, that it's nearly impossible to form an opinion of his either positively or negatively because he's so robotic. His players seem to respect him, if only because he protects from the media and his usual refusal to say anything negative about them.
On the other hand, Wedge spends most games staring off into the distance, with a look of utter disinterest and disdain plastered across his face. It's only been recently, with the Tribe's season circling the drain, along with Wedge's future employment, that we've begun to see any life and fight emerge from him. In fact, one of my favorite moments so far this season was when Wedge finally showed some emotion arguing that swinging strike and that foul ball in the Red Sox game, getting himself tossed. The Indians were so moved by their manager's unusual display of emotion that they rallied themselves into another losing effort.
While I'm not a huge Ozzie Guillen fan, I can't help but think that an underachieving team like the Indians might be better served by having a fiery manager like Ozzie at its helm. I'm thinking along the lines of perhaps a Tony Pena - he has managing experience and he's even smacked one of relief pitchers in the head with a glove before.
But despite Wedge's unwavering demeanor for the most part, no player has stepped up into the leadership role on the field - gaps left by the departures of Casey Blake and C.C. Sabathia. Usually, a team's most talented players will find themselves in the leadership role, if only because their abilities on the field seemingly earn them the respect of their peers. On the Indians, two players who would appear to be in leadership type positions are Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez. And honestly, neither of them strikes me as a vocal leader of this group.
Sizemore especially would seem to possess all the qualities necessary to be a dynamic clubhouse voice for the Tribe - -he plays the game hard, he seems to enjoy himself and his teammates seem to respect him. Unfortunately, he seems to have no interest in filling that role. It's typically unusual for a younger player to be the mouthpiece of a team. Having someone like Lebron James in our backyards (who is such an impressive team general) can blind us to the fact that it's typically the older veterans who set the tone for how a team approaches the game or responds from hardships. Grady just doesn't seem to have the type of personality who is going to rally teammates in the dugout or pat someone on the back after a hard game. Maybe as he matures, Grady will fall into to such a role, but presently it might not be fair to expect him to do so.
On the other hand, Martinez seems to have both the talent and the desire to be the leader of the Indians. As a catcher, Victor would seem to demand respect of the pitching staff and as the team's most polished hitter, it would be natural for him to set the tone in the lockerroom to the other hitters (hopefully preaching patience). I do think Martinez is probably the silent leader of this ballclub. I think Victor's personality appears that he's not so much an outspoken leader, as much as he leads by example.
The problem with Victor serving as the leader of this ball club is that he also currently the team's most tradable asset. As Biff discussed in one of his earlier posts, with the organizational glut of catching prospects coupled with Victor's inevitably move from behind the plate to first-base, if the Indians continue to tank, their apparent leader of the Tribe may be out of here by July.
Interestingly, Ryan Garko was recently asked on the radio who he thought was the emotional leader of the Tribe. His response - David Dellucci. Hmmm - the leader of the Tribe is someone who's been absent from the team for the majority of the season? Perhaps Wedge knew something about the makeup of the Indians when he essentially assured Dellucci a roster spot in Spring Training. If Dellucci truly is a team leader, maybe his value to the team is greater than most Indians' fans realize.
3. The Indians Offense Strikes Out Way Too Much
Finally, the Indians' offense, as constructed, essentially has to get lucky to succeed. As a team, the Tribe has marignal speed and and for the most part is forced to mainly play station-to-station baseball. We're not going to see the Indians manufacturing a load of runs. The problem with this philosphy, is that the Indians have to rely on clutch hitting to score runs. And the Indians strike out. A lot.
Take for example, Jhonny Peralta. In 101 ABs this season, he's struck out a whooping 32 times. Grady Sizemore has struck out 1 out of every 4 ABs. DeRosa and Choo - 1 out of every 5 times. Kelly Shoppach? 48 ABs and 20 Ks.
The point is - when a team, which doesn't have a lot of speed isn't even putting the ball into play 20% of the time, hits aren't getting strung together and runs aren't getting scored. Furthermore, it's hard to ever string together any kind of big inning or rally - it's inevitable someone's going to come along and strike out in a big moment. (And I know that the Indians' have had some huge innings this year, like against the Yankees).
With the Tribe's lack of plate discipline, the Tribe has a knack for letting opposing pitchers off the hook, prolonging their appearance in the game and avoiding getting to another team's bullpen. Our hitters make the other team's job easier. And my job as a fan much harder.
So - what we have is an organization with no leadership, a team with no plate discipline and a bullpen which can't get anyone out? How would I fix these problems? I think the roster moves (bringing up LaPorta and Valbuena) are a start - placing those underachievers on the roster on notice. I think it might be time to bring in a new coach - as I said above, perhaps someone with a little bit more fire in the likes of Tony Pena. I think it might be time to take the next relief pitcher who gives up a lead out back and shoot them. Same for the next player who strikes out with runners in scoring position. Other than that, I see but one solution. GO CAVS.