Monday, October 21, 2013

Tribe 2013: From 94 Losses to 92 Wins

92-70. tied for the largest franchise improvement in one single year. and we clinched the top wild card spot. who was confident enough in March to say they honestly saw that coming? certainly not me. wow. see what can happen when you increase your payroll a little bit?

there were so many question marks going into this season. would certain players perform at a high level all year? could we count on the new signings? did we do enough in the offseason to put together the strongest team possible?

speaking of, how did our free agent signings and players we traded for do this season? Bourn and Swisher underperformed. Stubbs was below average, nothing special. Reynolds had one hot month then cooled off. Aviles was a nice option off the bench to fill in at short and 3rd when needed. Giambi didn't totally suck. Gomes was outstanding behind the plate. Myers was a 7 million dollar flop. Kazmir was a rewarding reclamation project. Bauer decided to change his mechanics this season and spent most of it in Columbus as a result. Shaw was very reliable out of the bullpen. Albers was decent as well. Rzepczynski was a lefty we wish we'd had out of our pen all season. so it was hit and miss with all these acquisitions. i will go into greater detail about everyone's seasons in a bit.

when i made my preseason predictions, i didn't expect us to make the playoffs. i really would have been content just seeing an improvement from 2012 and finishing with like 78 wins. well, by September 13, the Indians passed that number. and we rattled off a big 10-game winning streak to end the season. if that hadn't happened, we may not have made it to the postseason.

the Indians started the year out 5-10, and it began to look as though we could be in for another long tough season. the team slowly battled back to .500 in May. then we had an 8-game losing streak in June, bringing us back down under .500. but after June 19, we were never under .500 again. we continued to face some challenging teams and had some little losing streaks, but unlike last year, those streaks didn't last very long. this team knew how to rebound, and rebound they did. sometimes it looked like the Indians were about to fall out of it, but they always managed to hang around and come back strong. this group of guys never gave up, as is illustrated by our 11 electrifying walk-off wins. this season was a roller coaster, but it was one hell of a ride.

now i'm going to include some excerpts from my preseason blog to see how things panned out. any parts seen here in italics represent my preseason thoughts and concerns.

my PD boys, whom i respect a great deal, have made predictions that i will keep on record here. some i just don't agree with and also can't quite understand.

Hoynsie: 84-78, fourth in the central

Livy: 80-82, third

D-Man: 76-86, fourth

Terry: 82-80, second

Bud: 87-75, second

i thought Bud was absolutely out of his fucking mind but congrats, you were closest with your 87 wins prediction. he and Terry both knew enough that we'd finish 2nd in the division. hats off. i also didn't think Hoynsie's prediction made much sense, but at least he too knew we'd finish over .500.

despite some nice offseason acquisitions, it's gonna be very hard to go from 68-94 back to .500 in just one season, even with Tito leading the pack. making the playoffs is not a concern of mine for 2013. this is not our one and only year with a window for contending; we've got time and i believe it will take time to get there. right now with so many questions, particularly surrounding our starting rotation, i don't see us being able to reclaim the Central Division, and i don't see us getting a wild card spot either.

this team pulled itself together enough to have the biggest turnaround in franchise history. that is so hard to do and with our usual Cleveland luck, it seemed improbable. we definitely could not reclaim the Central Division, particularly because we went 4-15 against Detroit. but in those last couple days of the season, we managed to get up into that #1 wild card spot and stay there. and honestly, i think it was shocking that 92 wins were needed to clinch a wild card spot this year. the competition in the AL was no joke. and we are included in that ;D

some things that might a difference this year that we didn't have last year:

--a full season with Chisenhall in the lineup

--if Bourn, Swisher, Reynolds, and Stubbs get on base and hit home runs the way they are supposed to

--Santana batting lower in the order (hopefully taking some of the pressure off him)

--if Myers can make the transition to starter and be an innings eater for us

--if Kazmir can pitch at least a couple decent months for us

--a very speedy outfield that should be able to run down a lot of fly balls, limiting opposing runners from scoring

--an even stronger bullpen mafia

so how did i do? well that Chisenhall thing certainly didn't work out. Bourn, Swish, Reynolds, and Stubbs getting on base and getting big hits was unpredictable. none of these guys had a great full season. i feared they would have a high strikeout rate, and they were, in fact, 4 of the 7 players with at least 100. with their help, we totaled 1,283 strikeouts, setting a new franchise record. yikes. Santana started the season batting lower, but eventually went back to the clean up spot in the lineup. the pressure came off him once he was no longer performing his catching duties every day. Myers sucked but thankfully Kazmir was a savior in our rotation. the outfield wasn't terrible this year, but errors were still made in some crucial innings in games. when Stubbs' bat started getting cold, he was replaced with Swish and Raburn (both slower runners) in right field. and the mafia as a whole was ever-revolving and shaky at times. it is amazing that we did as well as we did with all the things that went wrong and all the guys who didn't play to their max capabilities.

now let's really get into specifics; let's talk about the players' individual performances.

i'll start with the "golden child." a lot of people were fanatical about the possibility of signing Nick Swisher. well i always thought Swish was an average player made better by the good talent surrounding him on the Yankees. and that seemed to be the case for about half the year here. he was battling a left shoulder issue for most of the season, and the irony there is not lost considering that in his previous 7 years in the majors he's never had a serious injury. things started coming together for him in the second half of the season and he did finish with 22 homers, most on the team. but for what he got paid, he was a disappointment.

Kipnis started the year out slow, then had a monster June which led to his All Star Game nod. but like last year, his numbers dipped in the second half. he also had some defensive miscues (team high 12 errors) at inconvenient times and finished the year with 143 strikeouts. however, he did lead the team with 84 RBI, 86 runs scored, and 30 steals.

Cabrera struggled offensively and defensively. he had a quad strain injury early in the season and missed about 3 weeks of baseball. when he came back, he never quite found his rhythm. it was a very unsatisfactory season for a guy one year removed from All Star status and one year away from free agency.

Chisenhall once again did not meet expectations. he performed horribly offensively and defensively and was sent down to Columbus early on in the season. while with the Clippers, he had scorching numbers. when he was finally called back up, he did a little better than his first go-round in the majors this season, but his place at 3rd base is not set for next year by any means.

Santana improved at the plate when he wasn't catching. he started the year batting lower in the order and later ended up back in the cleanup spot, something i bitched about so many times in the past. but towards the second half of the season, it was okay for him because his catching duties decreased due to Gomes' defensive abilities. this helped Santana to be much more relaxed. he saw the ball better and it worked out well for the team. he led the Tribe with 39 doubles and 93 walks, as well as an OPS of .832.

Brantley had a few weeks where he couldn't hit anything, but other than that, he was the reliable, consistent hitter that we're used to seeing him be by now. he was very clutch, leading the team with RISP (.375 BA), and played perfect defense all year. he was also the team leader with his .284 batting average.

Stubbs struggled this year with 141 strikeouts, just 2 behind team leader Kip, and some bad defense. (damnit Scrubbs!) it got to the point where his role was reduced as much as possible at the end of the season. he's somewhat turned into the 4th outfielder now, especially against right-handed starters. luckily, Tito was able to call upon Raburn more.

Raburn did well in his limited bench role at the start of the season. he had a strained left Achilles in August and didn't play for about 3 and a half weeks, but he was still a great weapon off the bench when he was healthy.

now let's get to the remainder of the Goon Squad. i didn't like when Tito named Giambi to the roster, but he managed his play extremely well. it was probably why, aside from his mysterious "back strain" at the end of spring training, his body held up good. Giambi didn't start too often and was subbed into games against pitchers he had a good history against. his BA was the worst on the team, but he still got a lot of big hits when we needed him to do so. his season was highlighted by him sliding into 1st base in late April against the Phillies while the Indians held a 12-run lead, and his big walk-off home run in September against the White Sox. his veteran leadership was apparently very important and helpful to his teammates as well.

Gomes didn't get much play time when the season began, but that really changed by the second half of the year. he became the main catcher and was great defensively. some runners didn't even want to attempt to steal off him because they knew he had a cannon. he did very well at the plate too. by season's end, it was all but guaranteed that he would take over the every day catcher's role next year and no longer be a part of the Goonies.

Aviles filled in as needed. while he didn't have great offense numbers, his versatility to be able to play for injured or struggling players during the year was vital.

i have a lot to say about Bourn, so i saved him for last. Bourn way underperformed this season. he didn't live up to his hype or his contract. not to mention he experienced injuries both at the beginning and end of the season. he missed almost a month when he suffered a finger laceration in mid-April, and he missed a little time in September with a wrist injury. plus he just underwent hamstring surgery on October 15, due to him pulling it during the last game of the regular season when he tried stealing 2nd. but can you attribute his poor second half of the season to this issue also? that we may never know. if he had any problems with his hamstring before that last game, he never told anyone.

i expected this guy to have around 40 steals this season. instead, he stole 23 (not even the highest SB total on the team) and was caught 12 times. it seems as though 12 is about his average. people will argue that his steals were down because he's in a different league and needs to get to know all the AL pitchers. well, what was wrong with him doing some homework on his own time during the season and reading up on the guys? there will be no excuses for this next year.

and his defense in center... he made some of his catches seem more difficult than they really were. i'm not the only one to say this either. and because he's so short, his leaping catches got played up like they were so freakin amazing. when really, if someone a little taller was in center field, those catches would just be routine because the player could simply reach up and grab the ball without any dramatics or suspense.

additionally, his .263 BA pissed me off. in the past when Brantley was batting in the .270s and leading off, SO many fans complained that he wasn't a good leadoff hitter. Bourn's BA once dipped down into the .250s, but that was okay because he's a gold glover with a speedy reputation. well you can't use your speed if you're not getting on base, and Bourn struck out twice as much as Brantley this season. cue the fucking eye roll.

i'm really not being a hater. it's fact that Bourn's OBP was unacceptable for a leadoff man. he didn't create the havoc he was supposed to. he did not live up to his rep. and you have to wonder and worry about this because his contract is going way up next year. if his below average play continues next season, and we're dedicated to keeping him through his whole contract, then he can't lead off anymore. if he can't hack it in the AL, Tito will need to stray from his player loyalty shtick. i know we desperately needed another OF and the only way to get one was to overpay, but Bourn needs to have a better season all around in 2014 or changes will have to be made for the betterment of the team.

no i didn't forget about Reynolds. he had a sizzling hot April, then faded away and was dropped in early August. we really needed a hitter who could emulate his April performance all season, or even half that, and we never got that consistently from anyone.

in more bad news, Marson got hurt 5 games into the season, with a neck injury during a bang-bang play at the plate. he was on the DL for 2 weeks. then 4 days later, he went back on the DL with right shoulder soreness and never got off it. it was revealed that he'd been battling this shoulder soreness since spring training. he tried to rehab and get back to the majors, but it just never worked out.

when Ramirez and Carson were added to the roster towards the end of the year, they both did some positive things. Ramirez was a speed demon on the basepaths and Crash Carson even got a walk-off hit during our 10-game winning streak to close out the season.

McDonald, Kubel, and Shoppach didn't play enough to make an impact. nor did Carrera, Phelps, and Santos, who were called up here for insurance when guys got hurt.

man, going back and remembering all this, seeing how a lot of guys had problems, you almost wonder how we won 92 games. there were many times when guys in the lineup were struggling, and struggling all at once, yet we managed to pull out wins. and that's a testament to the pitching. all our pitchers struck out a combined 1,379 players, 2nd best in the American League. so when you look at that, then you feel as though 92 wins was just about right.

if the starting rotation pitches decent, we might be pleasantly surprised. it would be amazing if Masterson could rack up 15 wins this year, and if Ubaldo could win about a dozen.

Masterson was masterful this season. we needed him to bounce back this year and pitch like an ace and he certainly did that. he no longer had a good game one start and a bad game the next like last year. he was pitching well into the 7th and 8th innings most games and finished with a team high 195 strikeouts. he was a 14-game winner and even had 3 complete game shutouts. it's no wonder he was selected to this year's All Star game. yes, he had an oblique injury at the end of the season, but every other starter in the rotation pitched so good that we really didn't even miss him. how crazy is that?

even though Ubaldo had a nice spring, you never know what will happen with him when the regular season starts. can he stay confident all season and will that really help him throw more strikes and get more guys out? wanna put all your eggs in that basket?

Ubaldo turned into the guy we traded for. finally. the dude was on a whole nother level in the second half of the season, and that helped him acquire 13 wins and a 3.30 ERA for the year. he had a 1.09 ERA in September in 6 starts, struck out 51 players, and won AL pitcher of the month. he used his fastball a lot, something i think we were all begging for. without him pitching the way he did, we don't land that wild card spot. and a huge thank you has to go to Mickey Callaway for all the work he did with Ubaldo this year. talk about a goddamn miracle worker.

well look at that, i wanted 27 wins from these 2 top guys, and i got exactly that lol

McAllister could have his bad starts and sometimes be erratic.

McAllister had some great games. he had a right middle finger sprain in early June. the team was very careful with him, so he missed about 6 weeks. when he came back, he was back to his old self and recorded 9 wins for the year.

Kluber wasn't originally in our starting rotation, but he turned out to be very good, finishing the season with 11 wins. he also suffered an injury, in August. he too had a right middle finger sprain, but it wasn't as serious as McAllister's, and he missed just under a month of play. he came back right when Masterson went down, so he couldn't exactly be eased back into the rotation or used in piggyback situations. he came right in as a starter and was solid once again.

Scott Kazmir could be the feelgood story of the year, or he could struggle and be inconsistent.

Kazmir had one hell of a comeback season, although he started the year on the DL because of a right rib cage strain. it wasn't serious and he only missed 2 weeks. he was up and down in the beginning, as he was working his way back to getting used to pitching in the big leagues again. there were also times in the beginning where he always seemed to have a health issue by the 6th inning and needed to come out of the game. but the Indians did all they could to help him. they gave him all the extra days rest possible, and by the second half of the season, KKKKKKKKKKazmir was outstanding. he earned himself 10 wins and possibly a large multi-year contract.

Brett Myers could be really bad. and with Tito's attitude, they will probably give him a good 2 months as a starter before considering moving him.

Myers was a total bust. i don't think he pitched more than one decent game for us while he was here. he ended up having a few different injuries in April, right elbow tendinitis and a strained ligament. once he landed on the DL, he never got off it. he tried to rehab, but aside from pitching horribly in those outings (shocker), he kept having setbacks. finally we just let him go at the end of August. Boom! Outta here! 7 million dollar waste.

Salazar came up from Columbus in early August to take Kluber's spot and pitched well. he was on a pitch limit for most of his time up here but man that kid could throw strikes. the majority of losses he suffered were due to the offense not doing its job, and not his own poor pitching. he never gave up more than 4 runs. he more than proved he could hang with the big boys in the major league.

Carrasco started the year in Cleveland to serve his suspension from 2011. then in his first game back, he hit a batter and got another suspension. facepalm. this happened so long ago i almost forgot that it was this season lol he went down to Columbus for a while, then served his second suspension here in June. after that was over, he had a few more starts and did not do well. by the middle of August, he was moved to the bullpen and pitched MUCH better there.

we also needed to use Bauer for a couple of starts. he apparently was in the middle of reworking his mechanics this year, and once when he came up here, he surprised everyone by pitching out of the stretch. that had some people in the organization up in arms. you could deduce that he wasted his opportunity here and his entire season trying to redo everything he knows. i think it's safe to say he won't be regularly pitching for us for a while still. he could stand to work with Callaway during the offseason.

i admit i was skeptical about Callaway being named as the new pitching coach, mainly because i knew nothing about him. but Tito did and he was right on with this hire. i gotta give it up, he really helped Ubaldo and Kazmir become the weapons we needed them to be. so yeah, hopefully he can help Bauer with the reconstruction of his windup next.

think the bullpen's not going to give up any runs this year? if these guys become overworked because our starters can't consistently go 5 or 6 innings, we're gonna be in trouble.

our Bullpen Mafia saw many changes this season, but they were solely responsible for only 15 of our 70 losses this year. i don't count blown saves, i just count the number of games we actually ended up losing all because someone in the bullpen gave up the lead and we couldn't recover from it. there were actually a few times when Perez blew a save in the top of the 9th but we rallied back with a walk-off win, taking him off the hook.

think Rage won't blow a couple saves? expect it, because it's gonna happen. but as long as it doesn't happen all the time, no one should really have much problem with it. i'd still rather have him closing over anyone else in our bullpen right now.

Perez started out strong, but by the end of May, he had tendinitis in his right rotator cuff, causing him to miss a month. while he was on the DL, the marijuana drug bust nonsense happened. when he was activated, he pitched well enough to get saves when needed but some people suspected he was not 100% healthy. then by September, getting a save out of him was nearly impossible. it got so bad that Tito finally came out and announced Perez would no longer be our closer, and we would have a closer by committee, at least until the playoffs. Perez was unselfish enough to say he didn't want to be the reason we lost games. he still finished the year with 25 saves.

what happened to Vinnie Pestano? that's what everyone would like to know. some think playing in the World Baseball Classic was the source of his problems. he had elbow tendinitis in May and never got better on the mound. he was sent down to Columbus when we needed a roster spot for Rzep, and didn't come back until rosters expanded in September. even then, he didn't look totally right and couldn't be trusted in tight situations.

Smith was a lifesaver. he wasn't perfect, no bullpen guy ever is, but he was usually very successful getting guys out in critical spots. he quickly became the set up man once Vinnie got hurt and did very well there.

Allen was another dependable guy, pitching wherever he was needed. but he was used a lot and despite him saying he wasn't tired, i feel like he was losing some of his "oomph" towards the end of the season. if the Indians were a more popular and nationally respected team, he would be a major rookie of the year candidate for sure.

Hill was a walking disaster. literally. how many times did he come in and walk people? i can't even count. there was a time period where it looked like he was getting better and turning the corner, but for the most part, he hurt us more than he helped, prompting the team to look for outside left-handed help. i did not like this guy from the start, and he didn't do much to get me to change my mind.

Shaw was a shawshanking (aka strikeout) machine. he was one of the most reliable guys we had in the pen. and after Perez lost his role as the closer, he was the leading candidate to replace him had we gone deep into the postseason.

Albers had his moments, good and bad. i remember times where he provided great long relief and also times where he struggled badly.

Rzepczynski didn't have a great reputation when we got him at the deadline, but he was remarkable out of the bullpen. the best lefty we had in there, hands down. sometimes a change in scenery is all a guy needs. definitely an A+ pickup.

if you know Tito, then you know he absolutely loves a big bullpen. there was a time when our pen was so large that guys were sitting on top of the dugout at the ballpark. guys like Barnes, Hagadone, Guilmet, Langwell, Huff, Martinez, House, Lee, Rapada, Wood, and even Tomlin were once in the mafia this year. out of this group, Lee and Hagadone were the most promising and could be named to the bullpen out of spring training next season.

Herrmann unfortunately got hurt in spring training and had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, making his Harvard Heater unavailable for the whole season.

that about wraps it up for all the players on the roster, so now it's time to talk about the main man in charge. Francona was the first big acquisition this team obtained, and he's definitely the reason we were able to recruit some of the other big name players that we did. his reputation and friendships with Antonetti and Shapiro convinced ownership to finally open up the purse strings for these players. all of this played a huge role in taking this team from 94 losses to 92 wins and a wild card spot.

but there were things Tito did that i wasn't a fan of. his lineup changed a lot, although he was very reluctant to move players out of certain spots. he likes to be loyal to players and believes in all his guys, but sometimes he should have cut the cord sooner. we started the year with Kipnis batting 2nd, Cabby 3rd, and Swisher 4th. all 3 struggled in these spots, but Tito stuck with them for as long as he could. eventually, he realized Swish couldn't bat cleanup, so he was moved to the 2 spot and Kip was pushed back to 3rd. this seemed to work a lot better. Cabby's move took the longest for Tito to make, but eventually Cabby was struggling so much that he went down into the 6th spot.

Tito had his reasoning for his lineups, but that seemed to change from day to day. i remember also in the beginning that Brantley was batting 5th, Santana 6th, and Reynolds 7th. evidently, Reynolds was 7th so that his strikeouts wouldn't hurt us. but once Santana got hot in May, he took Brantley's spot and was moved up to 5th. then a few days later, Reynolds took Brantley's "new" spot and he moved up to 6th. the reasoning was Santana could get on base with walks and Reynolds could hit home runs and drive him in. and Brantley was batting 7th now to protect Reynolds. there were also times when Reynolds' and Santana's spots were reversed in the order. i just could never keep up, and as someone who documented Brantley's daily BOP, it was very frustrating.

besides that, i had a few other problems with some of his decisions. Tito made it clear that he's not a big fan of playing small ball. but when our guys were struggling to get hits with men on base and in scoring position, we needed to do things like bunting or putting the squeeze on, and that rarely happened. i also took issue with his pitching management sometimes, such as him bringing in certain guys from the bullpen in certain spots, or just anytime he put Hill on the mound. not to mention leaving a starter in for too long, which in turn put us in danger of blowing a lead.

other than things like that, i think Francona did a tremendous job, especially with managing the bench guys and pinch hitting specific players at certain times. yes, spending money on free agents definitely helped, but simply Tito's presence and the way the players truly loved and respected him played a huge part in turning our team around. if not for John Farrell and the Boston Red Sox, i personally believe Tito would be the winner of the AL manager of the year award. he put together a recipe good enough to place us 11 games over .500 and earn us a winner-take-all playoff game battle.

it was very exciting for this team to see postseason play for the first time since 2007. but it didn't last long, and because of this, i don't need to do an extended recap of everyone's postseason performances. we got blanked in our one game wild card showdown with the Rays. some of the guys couldn't hit anything. Bourn was 0-for-4. fans could argue he was playing injured and that's the excuse for his poor play. Swisher has a reputation for disappearing in October, and this time was no different, as he went 0-for-4 too. i tell ya, if it gets to the point where having him in the postseason lineup is a liability, then the golden Ohio boy and all his fans better prepare for him to take a seat on the bench. the good of the team >>> Ohio State alum. sorry. Kipnis couldn't get a hit and was 0-for-4 as well. he was so upset about it after the game that he cried. our 1 through 3 put on a horrible performance. that a playoff team does not make. Cabrera was his typical bad self, grounding into a rally killing double play with 1 out and the bases loaded. surprisingly, Chisenhall recorded 3 hits. Santana had 2, Gomes had 2, and Brantley and Raburn each had 1 hit, but it wasn't enough since nobody could drive anyone home. some of the boys weren't at the tops of their defensive games either. Chiz had an error and there was some other sloppy infield play. it was very sad losing this game considering how happy all the boys were just a few days prior celebrating the clincher game with their champagne showers. seems silly after the fact. but, that we even made it to the postseason is very promising and something to be extremely proud of, especially when you consider how the season ended one year ago.

we did not have any guys with a real standout or career year this season. everything that this team accomplished was a group effort. the Indians displayed real teamwork, and everyone at different times pitched in to put us in the winning column 22 more times than the losing column. no guy hit 30 homers, or had 90 RBI, or won 15 games, or saved 30 games. and we still had the greatest turnaround in franchise history by winning 24 more games than in 2012. that's the epitome of teamwork. and it begs the question...

who then is the MVP of the season? it can't just be one player. there are many co-MVPs in my opinion. obviously, i think you have to include Brantley on the list because he was so clutch and finished with the highest batting average on the team. Kipnis did well enough in the middle of the season to be named one too. Santana started really coming around once his catching duties were reduced, so we can mention him. maybe even Gomes could be considered, although he didn't play a "full" season. pitching-wise, you have to give Ubaldo his props for finally resembling an ace, as well as Masterson before he got hurt. in the bullpen, i would go with Cody Allen who, again, should strongly be in the running for AL ROY.

so as you can see, it was a team effort by far. and honestly, that's a pretty exhilarating way to tally up 92 wins. every day someone else was the hero. you never knew who would come through in the clutch. it kept things interesting and made every guy feel like an important piece to the puzzle. it was a very fun season and i anticipate much more of the same in the upcoming years.

i don't care that my 78-84 record prediction was way off. i'm happy it was. this was a very different roster from a year ago. the vibe was totally different, and watching all these guys come together and gel so well was exciting. it really doesn't even matter that we lost our one playoff game. just getting there and making such a large jump up from last season was ultimately enough to declare this season a success. 92 wins. i still can't believe it. this team is definitely headed in the right direction, and i cannot wait to see what's gonna happen next year!

Go Tribe 2014!

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