When the Indians lose a game like they did last night, I try to stay away from the keyboard for a bit, just to prevent myself from typing something stupid. And also, it’s a lot better to think objectively about a game after you’ve had a while to cool off.
The Indians’ hitters did as good a job against a pitcher as I’ve seen this. Team looking for an advantage on David Wells should just watch what Tribe hitters did in last night’s game. Almost no at-bats were given way, the hitters did not bite often on Wells when he nibbled just off the plate, and when they did, they just fouled off the pitch. They didn’t try to do too much with their opportunities, settling for singles instead of trying to gamble for a homer. They did not let Wells have an easy inning. The result was that Wells was done after the fifth inning, which exposed the juicy underbelly of Boston’s bullpen to Indian hitters in the mid-to-late innings of the game.
If only CC Sabathia had put forth a mildly competent pitching performance.
Boston’s lineup is difficult in that not only do most of the hitters make you work for each out, they make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and make you pay for throwing the same pitch in a similar situation. Unfortunately, Sabathia did not simply change his method, but tried to throw his fastball with more velocity instead. I guess that’s an easy temptation for a pitcher with great stuff, but it often leads to disaster when you face smart hitters. Now some hits given up by him were not entirely his fault; Manny Ramirez hit his homerun off an ankle-high offering, which maybe three or four players in baseball could have hit. Ramirez’s broken-bat double in the fifth was not Sabathia’s fault at all, but the the fastball down the runway to Jason Varitek was. It’s not the runs I get concerned about, because sometimes a pitcher just gets plain unlucky; it’s the approach that Sabathia showed that concerned me. Having great stuff is one thing, but the great pitchers know how to use it to their advantage. Sabathia has “pitched” many times this season, but last night, he just “threw”.
It’s easy to say that replacing Eddie Murray with Derek Shelton has been the reason why the Indians are hitting again. The only thing that we know is that they are hitting better; I’ll leave the guessing to someone else. Just like with pitching, approach matters with hitters, and the Indians are approaching their at-bats like they did a year ago. Travis Hafner, who was perhaps the one hitter in the lineup that has been consistent with his approach, put together a simply amazing at-bat against Alan Embree last night, culminating with a home run to deep center field. Victor Martinez followed with a home run to left field off of closer Keith Foulke, which is also a good sign. While Martinez hasn’t gotten his average up yet, he’s walking a lot more than he did early in the season. His OBP is now above .300, and he’s starting to hit for power from the left side of the plate. He’s hitting .271/.375/.475 during the month of June. While you can write that off as a small sample size, look at his body of work in the minors and majors and you can reasonably say that he should be able to keep that line up through the rest of this season.
About this time last year, Ben Broussard went through a slump much like he’s doing now. I think it’s safe to say that Broussard looks like a really streaky hitter, and the peaks aren’t really worth the valley. I wouldn’t be surprise to see Ben end up with decent numbers, but I think if the Indians can find an upgrade at first base after the season, they should do it. Although the AL first baseman have been REALLY bad this year, that shouldn’t be an excuse to give Broussard a long-term deal or a large arbitration payday.
I think the Indians have figured out that Casey Blake isn’t a player you want as your everyday right fielder, and to their credit they’re making him a sort of utility player. Heck, for Casey’s long-term future in major-league baseball, this shift might be best for him. He’s shown he can play the outfield well, and of course he can play both third and first base. Unfortunately for the Indians, they signed that type of player last offseason; Jose Hernandez. With Jake Gautreau worthy of a look and Aaron Boone sticking around another year thanks to the vested option, Blake might be trade bait in the offseason if they can find someone who really wants him. Speaking of Gautreau, he’s now hitting .296/.343/.556 with 14 HR and 19 2B in Buffalo. He can probably play at second base as well as third, so I think he’s worth a roster spot next year, and he should certainly be placed on the 40-man roster next November.
Also hitting well is Ryan Garko (.271/.344/.504), who seems to have recovered from a slow start in frigid Buffalo. He’s another player that’s a good fit in at least as a right-handed platoon for Ben Broussard (if he’s still here). He might be a cheap upgrade as an everyday first baseman, or could even fill in at catcher for a couple weeks at a time.
While the overall hitting prospects have left a lot to be desired this year, the Indians system has quite a bit of depth as far as pitchers are concerned. You have a couple of older pitching prospects at Buffalo (Tallet, Traber, Davis) who could come up and enter the major-league rotation if needed, a good young rotation (Dittler, Denham, Martin, Carmona) in Akron, and guys in Kinston (Sowers, Bay) who would be in Akron already if not for a logjam in AA. Then of course you have Adam Miller and Scott Lewis, both highly-regarded pitching prospects working their way back from injuries, some interesting reliever prospects (Fernando Cabrera, Edward Mujica, and even Jose Diaz), and even breakout prospects like Tony Sipp. I can’t remember when last the Indians had a pitching stable this deep. This is something to remember if the Indians are in a position to add some players in late July; they have the pitching depth and the pitching prospects to match just about any other organization.