Monday, April 9, 2012

The Week That Was: Opening Day to April 8th

Well, it wasn't a full week of action, with only three games, but we're counting these things in the standings now, so let's get down to brass tacks with last week's action.

I already covered the Opening Day debacle, when a three-run Indians 9th inning lead was vaporized before the game went 16 innings (an Opening Day record) and the Tribe was finally put out of its misery. That game ended with me calling for the head of Chris Perez, who I'm not sure is fit for important innings right now. The always fantastic Jonah Keri wrote a really strong piece on Friday for Grantland, discussing how the save --"baseball's most dangerous stat"-- is causing teams to mismanage their assets. It is well worth reading and I wish Cleveland would be the organization that says "to hell with the save."

Saturday's game began as a great pitcher's duel, Ubaldo Jimenez took a perfect game into the 6th inning and a no-hitter into the 7th. A Jason Kipnis home run gave the Indians a 2-0 lead in the 5th, and the way Jimenez was tossing, it seemed to stand a chance of holding up. Sadly, Jimenez sort of fell apart in the 7th, walking two batters ans throwing a wild pitch before giving up a game-tying single to Toronto's Brett Lawrie. A Kelly Johnson home run in the top of the 9th put the Blue Jays ahead, but the Tribe fought back in the bottom half and tied it back up on an Asdrubal Cabrera solo shot. Tony Sipp gave up four hits in five batters during the 12th, and that was pretty much that. With extra frames both Thursday and Saturday, the Indians had played 28 innings by the game's end, and had nothing in the standings to show for it.

Sunday brought the final game of the series, and while 0-3 is all well and good for the Yankees and Red Sox, I didn't want the Indians starting out so poorly. The newly acquired Derek Lowe took the hill for the first time as an Indian and continued the good work Justin Masterson and Jimenez had done in their starts. Birthday boy Carlos Santana led of the 2nd with a solo home run and added a two-run blast in the 5th, for the second 2-HR game of his career. The Indians were up 4-2 at that point; the Blue Jays would cut it to 4-3 before the 8th. That set the stage for Perez to try for a second time in the young season to close out a win.

Perez gave up a lead-off single, and with my confidence already low, I wasn't feeling good about things. But what do you know, Perez worked a fly ball for out #1, then got an easy double-play grounder to Asdrubal Cabrera for the second and third outs. Well, it would have meant the second and third outs, if Cabrera hadn't muffed it. Instead, the misplay put runners on first and second. Out #2 came in short order, but a walk then loaded the bases, for the other-worldly Jose Bautista, of all people. Sigh...

Sometimes things work out though; Bautista managed only a weak pop-up behind the mound, Cabrera made the play without incident this time, and the Indians had their first win of 2012!

The Good News:

- The starting pitchers have been great so far. Masterson, Jimenez, and Lowe combined for 22 innings, with just three earned runs. Very little should be read into one good start, but it's encouraging to see all of them on top of their game as the season begins. Masterson, in particular, looked really good. The offense ought to get things going at some point, and if the rotation can keep the Indians in a lot of games, the wins are going to happen.

The Bad News:

- As I've said, I don't think Perez has shown much in the last year+ to justify being handed important innings at the end of games. Thursday was a train wreck, and while every pitcher will have those (the peerless Mariano Rivera, among others, has blown a game already too), it was not encouraging. Perez did get three outs without incident on Saturday, and the Cabrera error on Sunday put him in a position that wasn't entirely his fault, but it was still a shaky outing.

- Sipp on Saturday and Smith on Sunday both pitched less effectively than you would like, though not in a way that has me particularly concerned.

- The offense combined for just twelve runs in three games, a figure that is somewhat inflated by playing more than an entire game's worth of extra innings between Thursday and Sunday. The team combined to bat just .153, which is horrid. Only Carlos Santana could be said to have had a good series.

Results: 2-1 for the week, 2-1 for the season, two games behind Detroit.

Indian of the Week: Carlos Santana. The two home runs on Sunday went with four walks that he drew between the first two games, giving him an OPS 1.188, which is awfully pretty. He ought to be the man in this spot for many a week.

Indian of the Weak: Casey Kotchman. Ooph. Kotchman went 0-7 in the 16 inning marathon on Opening Day. He followed it up with an 0-5 on Saturday, before finally managing a single on Sunday. His line for the series: 1-17, a .063 batting average and a .125 OPS. That is weak, weak sauce.

The Week Ahead:

Monday the Tribe starts a three game series with the White Sox at Progressive Field, then they have an off day for traveling to Kansas City for their first road series of the season, again the Royals. These are the other teams with a non-zero chance of unseating Detroit in the A.L. Central and while you don't want to get carried away with the meaning of early season games, they do count in the standings, same as games in September, and if anyone is going to beat out the Tigers, they're going to need to start strong.

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