Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Reflections on an Indian Summer

The Cleveland Indians may have fallen short of a division title, and a .500 record after losing their last four games of the season, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a season to remember for the Tribe.

As disappointing as the second half of the season may have been, that’s how exciting it was as the Indians raced out to a 30-15 record and a seven-game lead in the Central Division.

From late-game heroics, sometimes from unlikely sources, one of the best bullpens in the league, some decent (and sometimes great) starting pitching, a baffling offensive slump, to the slow influx of younger players, the Indians kept the attention of NE Ohio well into September for the first time since 2007.

And we haven’t even gotten to the trade for Ubaldo Jimenez.

We learned that Justin Masterson has the makings of a solid starting pitcher. He led the team (with Josh Tomlin) in wins with 12, was tops in ERA at 3.21, in strikeouts with 158, and was second among the starters with a 1.28 WHIP.

Masterson’s win total would have been better with some support. In May and June he made a combined 11 starts but went 0-6 despite posting an ERA of 3.34.

A starting rotation next season that is fronted by Masterson, Jimenez and Josh Tomlin as the first three starters doesn’t look all that bad right now.

Rookie Vinnie Pestano was the surprise in a mostly dependable bullpen that also included Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Rafael Perez and closer Chris Perez.

Pestano posted a 12.02 K/9 ratio, fourth best among AL relievers, walked only 24 batters in 62 innings of work and posted a 1.05 WHIP.

And despite some rough outings, Chris Perez took hold of the closer’s role this season. It’s never bothered us how a closer finishes the game, as long as they get through the final inning with the Indians still in the lead, it’s all good.

On offense, Asdrubal Cabrera had a breakout season. After hitting above .300 through mid-June, Cabrera cooled off a bit in the second half, but still led the team in batting average (.273), RBI (92, first among AL shortstops) and hits (165, which also topped AL shortstops). He also hit 25 home runs (after totaling 18 in his previous four seasons).

It seemed like Carlos Santana struggled all season, he only batted .239, but at the end of the day he led the team in home runs (27) and on-base percentage (.351). He topped AL catchers in runs (84) and walks (97).

On the negative side, injuries cut short the seasons of Grady Sizemore (again), Travis Hafner (again) and Shin-Soo Choo. The offense clearly missed their bats in the lineup. Oh, and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco will miss all of next year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Also, Matt LaPorta pretty much removed all doubt that he is the Tribe’s everyday first baseman of the future. There is also some concern about just how good Michael Brantley can be. No pressure though, LaPorta and Brantley were only the players the Tribe received for C.C. Sabathia.

Fausto Carmona continued to prove that 2007 was a fluke, as he was up and down all year, one good game to tease us followed by two or three bad starts. On the year, he went 7-15 with an ERA of 5.25. He did pitch 188.2 innings, which is something. If (when?) the Indians pick up his option for next year, they better hope they can find another starter so they can put Carmona in the No. 5 slot.

Which brings us to Jimenez, who the Tribe picked up at the trading deadline in one of the more controversial trades in recent memory.

Jimenez was sold to the fans as an ace, but that seems more like a paper title than something he actually earned. With the Tribe, Jimenez made 11 starts, posting an ERA of 5.10 and a WHIP of 1.45.

Not exactly the numbers you’d expect from a player you traded your two top pitching prospects for.

But that was this year, which is now in the books. While we all dreamed of October baseball back in May, the Tribe still finished in second place, which is something no one really dreamed of coming into the season.

The team made strides this year and have some nice pieces in place. The trick now is to build on this year’s success and foundation so that next year we will see a true Indian summer come October.

***

Bill Simmons had some interesting numbers in his running diary about the Red Sox losing the final game of the season to complete the biggest collapse in baseball history.

According to Simmons, From August 30 through September 24, the Red Sox were 2-18 in games in which they scored fewer than nine runs. Their team ERA for September was 5.90. Their starters finished 4-13 for the month with a 7.03 ERA.

Wow, no wonder they choked away the lead.

And of course the Braves were almost as historically bad, blowing an 8.5 game lead.

Lost in all that, somehow, was the Yankees finding a way to blow a 7-0 lead in the 8th inning to Tampa.

Using 11 different pitchers probably played a role, as the Yankees made a mockery of the regular-season final by pulling their starters are trotting out a cast of unknowns to the mound.

It’s ironic that a team that takes itself so overly important like the Yankees do, getting caught up in all the unimportant nonsense that can make baseball insufferable at times, would show such disrespect to the game and not get called out on it.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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