Monday, April 11, 2011

The B-List: 4/8 - 4/10

FINAL           1 2 3  4 5 6 7 8 9  R  H E
Indians  (5-2)  1 0 0 10 1 0 0 0 0 12 17 1
Mariners (2-5)  0 0 0  0 1 0 0 0 2  3  6 1
W: Carrasco (1-1) L: Vargas (0-1)

FINAL           1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Indians  (6-2)  0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 7 1
Mariners (2-6)  0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 6 1
W: Masterson (2-0) L: Fister (0-2) S: C. Perez (3)

FINAL           1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R  H E

Indians  (7-2)  2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 6 11 0
Mariners (2-7)  0 0 0 1 0 0 3 0 0 4  5 1
W: Tomlin (2-0) L: Bedard (0-2) S: C. Perez (4)

Consider this: the Indians had as many hits on Friday as the Mariners managed for the WHOLE SERIES.  And we scored 50% more runs … in that one game.  Then we had two more games worth of offense.  Seattle had two more games of Brendan Ryan and Ryan Langerhans.

1) Son of Rebound

Fausto Carmona’s debut was worse, but this says more about Carmona’s performance than Carlos Carrasco’s.  Carrasco’s first outing against the White Sox was nothing to write home about either, unless it was to write home to say, “Boy, that wasn’t very good, was it?”  Granted, the White Sox have a better offense than the Mariners, which is a bit like saying that jackals are more fearsome than banana slugs armed with salt shakers.  Still, Carrasco looked lousy, and his performance Friday was in no way guaranteed.

All Carrasco did was throttle the Seattle “offense” soundly, getting three swinging Ks in the first two innings and facing one over the minimum through three because he inexplicably walked Ryan Langerhans on four pitches.  After an interminable wait through a half-hour top of the 4th, Carrasco was able to retain enough concentration to toss another scoreless inning before giving up a run in the 5th, but was able to end that frame with another swinging K before collecting one last forwards-K in a scoreless 6th inning of work.

Although Carrasco did allow 3 walks plus a hit batsman in 6 innings and only threw 55 strikes in 99 pitches, his stuff was good enough such that he was still able to throw quality strikes when behind in the count.  This as much as the end result was the most encouraging development from the outing.  Certainly six innings of 1-run ball is going to win you a lot of ballgames, but I found myself as encouraged by things like falling behind 3-0 to Miguel Olivo, then striking him out, or behind 2-0 to Adam Kennedy before getting him to routinely ground out on a 2-2 pitch.  Carrasco was going to throw his pitch regardless of the count, and with runners in scoring position, he got the M’s to go 1-for-4 with a pair of (swinging) Ks.

One thing to watch for: in the miniscule sample size that two starts allows, Carrasco is faring a little more poorly against lefties than righties.  This is hardly surprising, but he posted such a large negative platoon split last year that it bears keeping an eye on.

2) I can’t even see the corner from here

Is it premature to declare that Justin Masterson has “turned the corner” or “flipped the page” or “become really, really good?”  Yeah, it probably is.  Still, this is not Ken Schrom coming out of Nowhere of Any Real Consequence to have a hot start to the season: astute observers would note that Masterson posted ERAs of 3.28 and 2.25 in August and September (respectively) last season, although September was in a hybrid starter/reliever role to hold down his innings.  6 of his last 8 starts featured no more than 2 earned runs, and 5 of those 6 included 1 or fewer ER.  The point was made at the time that he looked to be locating a lot better after a minor mechanical adjustment whose nature escapes me right now, but Tribe fans were encouraged to see if it would carry over to the next season.

So far, I would have to say it has carried over to this season.

Of course, in his first start against Chicago, nervous glances were wondering if it meant anything that he didn’t record a single strikeout, even though he did allow only 1 run due to a sparkling 16-groundout performance.  It’s probably going to be okay, since Masterson was able to punch out NINE Mariners in 6 innings of work.  This time, you might look at the odd (for Masterson) 5:5 GO:FO ratio, but looking at it another way, Masterson has recorded at least 14 outs with groundouts-plus-strikeouts in each of the two starts.  If you want to consider a GO+K:FO ratio for Masterson, it is a combined 30:8.  That seems like it will work okay.

What did Masterson do in this game?  Well, I suppose it would be disingenuous not to bring up that he faced the Mariners, who really are an atrocious offensive club.  I mean, really now.  When Chris Gimenez went 1-for-3 Sunday, he became the team leader with a .333 OBP.  5 players in Sunday’s lineup hit .200 or below, and they moved Adam Kennedy to the 3 slot for an offensive spark.  They moved ADAM KENNEDY to the THREE HOLE for an OFFENSIVE SPARK.

Still, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Masterson is currently generating terrific movement on his pitches.  Not just his trademark sinker, but on his fastball and slider as well.  In particular, here is a stat I copied off ESPN’s Stats Inc. writeup of the game:

The M's went 1-11 (.091) in at-bats that ended on pitches located in the "middle" sections, including 3 of his 9 strikeouts. - The M's were 1-7 (.143) in at-bats that ended on a slider. Last season, Masterson held foes to a .195 mark against the slider.

Now, they neglect to mention that of the 4 hits Masterson allowed, each was to a hitter batting left-handed (two are switch-hitters).  On the season, lefties still hit .300 off Masterson, while righties struggle mightily at .111.  On the other hand, left-handed hitters produced 8 of the 9 strikeouts as well.  It would appear that the slider, not particularly intuitively, is an effective weapon against left-handed hitters.  Would I like to see him add Mitch Talbot’s change?  I suppose.  On the other hand, the man has a WHIP of 1.05 and only gave up a run because Manny Acta went to the well in the 7th with Masterson up over 105 pitches already.  He’s a big lad and I’m not reflexively concerned, but I’m not sure that was really all that necessary, either.

3) Fitting data to preconceived notions

Josh Tomlin has set some sort of esoteric team record by lasting at least five innings in each of his starts since his debut last summer.  He’s been fine and successful and we talked a little last time about how I’m not entirely sure how he does it.

Tomlin allowed only three hits in six and two-third innings, keeping the Mariners off-balance and in check until the 7th when his fortune ran out on a two-run blast by Langerhans.  This is very fine stuff indeed, especially since it was only one run on two hits through six complete innings of work.  There are two problems with this:

a) He walked his third batter in the 7th, two batters before the homer
b) He posted a scary 5:11 GO:FO ratio

What is scary about a 5:11 GO:FO ratio?  Well, for one thing, balls hit into the air tend to travel further than those on the ground.  And eventually, even in Safeco, even against Chico’s Mariners Bonds, long fly balls tend to turn into runs on the board.  Walking guys (even Jack Cust) tends to compound this problem.

So yeah, Tomlin was excellent if perhaps sub-dominant through six innings of work.  But I couldn’t help but feel that the fly balls would catch up to him at some point, and that point turned out to be the bottom of the 7th.  Fortunately, Tomlin had a five-run cushion and the Indians were able to ride the back end of the bullpen to the win, but listen: look my in the eye and tell me you are confident having Tomlin pitch a hot summer game in New Yankee Stadium or The Jetstream in Arlington.  (You can be as sincere as you want, I’m not going to believe you.)

This having been said, Tomlin’s ERA now stands at 2.63, his WHIP is 0.88, and he’s 2-0.  Yeah, that’ll do.

4) Wonder Uncle Nephew Powers, Activate!

Yes, I understand that Orly Cabrera is not actually Asdrubal Cabrera’s uncle.  It was a joke by the Elder Cabrera, and I liked it.

Still, has there been a better off-season signing than the Indians nabbing Orly Cabrera?  Well, Cliff Lee.  That was better.  But was there a better signing that the Indians could plausibly have done?  Well, maybe Jack Hannahan.  But that’s a complete gork.  Signing Orlando Cabrera was a good move, okay?

And whether there’s a actual blood relation or not, some sort of mystical power has seeped into Asdrubal’s game as well.  Not only is his career high in homers currently SIX, he had never hit more than TWO in a month before this season, in which he’s already hit three in his first nine games.

Over the weekend, not only did each Cabrera get at least one hit in each of the three games, but they jump-started the offense in each game:

Friday: Asdrubal homered in the 1st, went 1-for-5; Orly went 3-for-3 with a walk
Saturday: Asdrubal went 2-for-4 with a run, Orly drove in the only Cleveland runs (1 earned, 1 not) and went 1-for-3
Sunday: Asdrubal homered in the 1st again, went 3-for-5 with 2 RBI, Orly went 2-for-4 with a double

In all, the pair collected 12 hits in 24 AB, including 3 extra-base hits and 5 RBI.

So, I’m having fun.  Also, I’m considering changing my name to Steve Cabrera.

5) Cabrerattack!

In fact, I was so inspired by the Uncle/Nephew team, it colored my perception of the 10-run 4th inning Friday night:

Shin-Soo Cabrera led off the inning with a single to right.  Carlos Cabrera reached on a broken-bat infield single, on which Shin-Soo Cabrera alerted got all the way to third.  Travis Cabrera then lined an RBI single to center before Orly Cabrera scored Carlos Cabrera on another single up the middle.  Austin Cabrera temporarily put his season-long slump on hold long enough to smash an RBI double off the left-field wall, and Matt LaBrera drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.  Jack Cabrerahan then went the other way with a pitch for an RBI single to left.

Mike Cabrera was able to ground a single up the middle.  Asdrubal Cabrera struck out swinging, but Shin-Soo Cabrera was able to coax a walk to load the bases.  Carlos Cabrera then scorched a two-run single to right before Travis Cabrera pounded a 400-plus-foot monster off a restaurant, conjuring memories of Jim Cabrera hitting the SkyDome windows back in the day.  Orly Cabrera had another single in him before Austin Kearns pinch-hit for Austin Cabrera and struck out to end the inning.

Manager Manny Cabrera was unavailable for comment as his facial muscles were frozen into a broad smile.

6) Lost in the shuffle

Mike Brantley-Cabrera continues to provide consistent table-setting performance from the leadoff slot, reaching base twice Friday, twice more on Saturday, and once on Sunday.  He has hit safely in each of the 8 games in which he’s played, which includes starting against three left-handed starters in Mark Buehrle, Jason Vargas, and Erik Bedard.

Open question: when Grady Sizemore finishes his rehab assignment, where does he bat?  Do you automatically slot him in at leadoff because he’s “comfortable” there?  Do you try to leverage his power in the 3 hole?  Do you try to “ease” him back into everyday playing by slotting him 7th (splitting up him and Hafner in the 5 hole)?  Does Brantley play at all?

I haven’t thought about this carefully because it’s too much fun simply enjoying the team’s performance, but my off-the-cuff impression is that Brantley should continue to play and the “power” we get from LF is not really very important right now.  I say put Grady and Brantley in CF and LF in some permutation, let Grady lead off, and hit Brantley 9th behind Jumpin’ Jack Hannahan.  You know, even as I type that I dislike it.  I suppose if Grady weren’t an Actual Human Being, I could tell him to sit in the bottom third of the order and like it, but he is.  I just think it’s important to try to put Sizemore into a position that maximizes his chance of success, and I think at this point in their respective careers, that means Sizemore 1 and Brantley in the bottom third.  Is this the Very Best Numbers Move?  I rather doubt it.  This is one of those situations where I’m willing to believe a Real Major-League Manager has insight I lack.

Bottom line: we keep winning, and Grady can catch for all I care.

7) Chemistry is what you have when you’re winning

Although tongue-in-cheek, I actually believe this statement has more than a germ of truth to it.  “Good chemistry” is most often the result of post hoc analysis.  But look: again acknowledging that we’re rooting for Real People here, it’s obviously more enjoyable to play for a team on a string like this, when everything seems to work out for the best.

With this in mind, I’d like to take a moment to point out how valuable it is to have a couple of lefty-mashers on the bench who have thus far made the most of their limited playing time: Shelley Duncan smacked his second double in as may starts to go 1-for-4 with an RBI (his 3rd), and Lou Marson continued his torrid start with a 1-for-3 day including a walk (the hit was his second double as well).

Duncan may very well be the victim of the roster squeeze when Sizemore returns (for this reason, it might actually be Brantley, but I think that would be a mistake), but he shows no outward signs of being concerned about his diminished role.  And Marson must wonder what happened to the plan to play Carlos Santana less frequently behind the plate, because he’s only appeared in 2 of 9 games.  He, too, does not appear to be doing anything except being excellent when called upon.

I think Marson will see some more time behind the plate as the season wears on, especially since Matt LaPorta has been so useless at first base.  The main advantage of Carlos Santana behind the plate is that it should allow for a more-productive hitter at first base, which is ostensibly easier to find.  This is negated if Tofu Lou out-hits whatever mook we happen to slot in at first.  Yes, it’s way early to make any pronouncements about LaPorta’s fading star or Marson’s “Obvious Breakout” (which is plainly neither).  I get frustrated, okay?

By the way, were Tampa not so horrifyingly bad, Shelley Duncan would make a world of sense there to replace Manny.  Yep, I’m serious.  But they are, so we get to keep him, which is fine with me.

8) Clearly everything is fine now!

Yeah, I’m trying to convince myself.  But look: in a series with two left-handed starters, Shin-Soo Choo reached base twice in each game with a 1-for-3 + BB, 2-for- 4, and 2-for-4.  No, none of the hits was for extra bases, and no, he didn’t drive in any runs.  Some of this was because Asdrubal Cabrera was busy homering.  More seriously, while extra bases and RBI are handy, valuable things, if you reach base twice per game, I’m not going to worry much about you.

9) Bullpen Roundup

Justin Germano pitched the least-efficient hitless two innings mopping up for Carrasco on Friday, walking two and whiffing two on 23 strikes in 41 pitches.  This is a marked improvement on his first outing, in which he simply removed his pants.

I like Frank Herrmann’s tenacity and strike-throwing, but these traits will become more valuable when he actually manages to get through an inning without giving up a run.

Chad Durbin’s crucial strikeout against the Red Sox is looking more and more like the outlier.

I forget: is it Raffy Perez = Paul Assenmacher, Tony Sipp = Eric Plunk, and Chris Perez = Jose Mesa, or Raffy Perez as Raffy Perez, Sipp as Raffy Betancourt, and Chris Perez as Bob Wickman?  I’d have to say the former, because as wonderful as Sipp has been, he cannot throw strikes like The Monitor Lizard.  However, I do not recommend Carlos Santana execute the Tony Pena Head Slap on Chris Perez, as I think his family would miss him.

10) Hey, we had one of those!

Aaron Laffey tossed two meaningless innings with a near 1-to-1 strike-to-ball ratio.

Chris Gimenez collected a single in three trips to the plate.

Jamey Wright threw a pair of scoreless innings.

Eric Wedge is managing a baseball team that executes poorly and is off to a slow start.  Every Cleveland fan just had a heart attack from Not Surprise.

11) Completely Accurate Statement for the Google Search Engine

To any Seattle bloggers:

If you begin attaching an absurd, wildly-inaccurate, completely-fabricated statement to the end of each game recap, Wedge will be fired within three seasons.  I know it seems like a long time, and really, it will seem like a REALLY long time, but trust me: just put forth the investment now, and in 2014, you’ll be thanking me profusely.

Also, you need to bring back (explanation here, among other places).

Finally, a word about your manager.

Ha.  Ha ha.  Ha ha hee hee ho ho ho ho ho!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Hee hee hee hee ho ho heebee heebee yuk yuk yuk yuk ho!  Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee!  I feel your pain, man.  Unfortunately for you, it only makes me laugh.  Ha ha ha snort hee!

Also, hee hee.  Ha!

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