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Tribe Happenings: The Indians are the ultimate "team"

Tribe Happenings: The Indians are the ultimate "team"
September 29, 2013
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

The Ultimate Team

In our Tuesday morning Second Thoughts piece the IBI’s Kevin Dean asked who the Indians’ MVP is this season. As expected, the responses were all over the place.

This is of no surprise because this team truly does not have an MVP. There has been no guy that carried the team on their back all season. That has far from been the case as it has been a complete effort 1 through 25 all season as every single player on the roster has had a hand in winning games all season, including guys beyond the regular 25-man roster (Matt Carson anyone?).

The Indians don’t have an MVP. If they had to step up to a podium and except a team MVP award, everyone would have to step up to it. All 25 players, Terry Francona and the coaching staff, and even the front office.

It has just been a collective team effort this season.

The much maligned front office had a very good offseason finding a few gems in free agency like Scott Kazmir,Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn, and making some deals to acquire help in the way of Mike AvilesYan Gomes,Bryan ShawMatt Albers. Sure, they whiffed on Brett Myers and maybe even Mark Reynolds (although his April and May made his signing worth it), and even though Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher have underwhelmed this season, these acquisitions in total have helped signal a culture change in the organization.

The coaching staff has been exceptional this season. Francona has been a leader, something that they have missed in recent seasons. Everyone knows how the team crumbled under Eric Wedge late in 2005 and in the ALCS in 2007, and how Manny Acta’s teams faded quickly after good starts the last two seasons. This season the Indians had a similar rough patch midway through the year, but through Francona’s leadership and unwavering public confidence in his players, they persevered.

And how about pitching coach Mickey Callaway? If anyone is the MVP, it might be him. What he has done to turn around Ubaldo Jimenez’s career, resurrect Scott Kazmir’s career, and have the likes of Justin MastersonZach McAllister and Corey Kluber all take a step forward is astounding.

The starting rotation has been a rock solid group all season. Justin Masterson has been consistent all season, Ubaldo Jimenez was so-so in the first half but was lights out in the second half, Scott Kazmir has been a steady middle of the rotation arm, and Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar have all had varying impacts.

Finally, the lineup. They have 10 players with 10 or more homers, but no one with more than 21. They have seven players with 50 or more RBI, but no one with more than 84. They have eight regulars in the lineup hitting .242 to .286 and do not have a .300 hitter. There is no true standout on offense. Carlos Santana has been the most consistent player, Michael Brantley the most clutch player, Jason Kipnis the most impactful when he is on, and the Goon Squad of Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles and Jason Giambi have been key contributors.

Bottom line, it has been a different guy every night having an impact in an Indians win.  It is a collective effort that on its own is rather unimpressive, but together is a piece of art with the way it has all come together.

Managers and front offices dream of such teams where the parts are more or less interchangeable, there are no egos and the chemistry is so good.  Sure, they want the big boppers and dominant starters and shutdown closers, but there is just so much more you can do when you have a team that is pretty even across the board.

The new team vibe started from day one in spring training. The team came together quickly and developed an uncanny chemistry not often found so quickly. The TERRi and Harlem Shake videos resulted and were a harbinger of things to come with this team all season.

There is no MVP on this team. It is a Team MVP. And that’s fine because teams that are well rounded, that are strong in the clubhouse, and with that much trust in their coaching staff and the coaches in them can be dangerous in the postseason because they never quit. Just like they have all season.

No matter what happens this next week, whether the Indians get ousted in the wildcard game or in a play-in game or they move onto the ALDS, it has been a successful season. It has been a much needed stepping stone to hopeful long term success at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

So just sit back and enjoy the rest of the ride Tribe fans.

Closing costs

Right-hander closer Chris Perez had a week to forget.

First, Perez went out to protect a 3-2 Indians lead in the ninth against the White Sox at home on Tuesday only to allow two solo homers and blow the save. Thanks to the heroics of Jason Giambi, the Indians won in exciting walk-off fashion and prevailed even in Perez’s struggles.

Then, on Thursday night, Perez came into the game in the ninth inning in Minnesota with the Indians nursing a healthy 6-1 lead. A few batters later it was 6-5 and Joe Smith had to be summoned to save the day. Again, the Indians escaped with a win in spite of another awful outing from Perez.

Including those last two outings by Perez, over his last 20 appearances dating back to August 3rd he is 1-2 with a 7.52 ERA. In 20.1 innings he has allowed 30 hits, 8 walks, 7 home runs and has 24 strikeouts. The strikeouts are nice, but he’s getting hit and hit hard as he has allowed close to two baserunners an inning and a home run every third outing.

That kind of showing over an extended period of time leads to a manager and team losing faith in their closer, and even the closer himself losing confidence in his stuff and doubting his ability. That is exactly what happened on Thursday night when after the game Perez and Francona talked and it was decided to remove him from the closer’s role.

Perez has saved a lot of games as an Indian. He ranks third all-time with 124 saves as an Indian and has made two All Star teams. He has mostly gotten the job done as he has saved 85% of his saves in his career. But save percentage is not the end-all-be-all, just like ERA and wins are not for starting pitchers. Sometimes there are other things happening which give a clear sign that danger looms on the horizon.

And that is why Francona made the move to take Perez out of the closer’s role. The warning signs are there, and rather than risk a devastating loss because of a blown save from Perez this weekend or in the playoffs, he was proactive and got on top of it and made the right call.

A lot of managers just get stuck with the notion that you throw your closer in there come hell or high water. Mike Hargrove was such a manager, and he and the rest of Indians nation paid dearly for it in 1997 when he let Jose Mesa close out Game 7 of the World Series. Francona is not going to make that same mistake. Now, he is not tied to Perez as his closer and can go strictly on his gut and the matchups in his pen versus the hitters coming up in every inning up through the ninth inning.

It is not a perfect situation as you obviously would like to have a guy you can give the ball to without question in the ninth inning. But Francona has been a master this month with the way he has managed the bullpen and done his matchups. Now that the ninth inning is open for that matchmaking the Indians are probably better off.

The question going forward, if the Indians make it to the wildcard game on Wednesday, is if Chris Perez is even on the postseason roster. I have to think his spot on the roster is in extreme jeopardy as you just can’t trust him right now.

In a nutshell, what situation can you ever bring Perez in without fear of him letting the opposing team back in the game? At this point he’d strictly pitch in mop up duty, and you don’t carry such a pitcher on the postseason roster for such a role. All 12 to 13 of the pitchers on the roster have to be viable starters or reliable pen guys.

If Perez does not make the postseason roster then he has likely thrown his last pitch as a Cleveland Indian. The Indians still control him for another season, but he is entering his final year of arbitration and is due to make $9-10 million next season. That’s way too much money to spend on a closer, especially one that is average and is struggling to the extent that Perez has been this season.

The way things look, Perez will be non-tendered this December. He has no trade value as no team will want to take on the same situation where they have to pay him close to $10 million. Besides, just about every team knows he will be a free agent.

As to what the Indians do the rest of this season at closer, I am on board with a closer by committee approach. Francona should manage the game through the ninth inning based on matchups, so if that means Bryan Shaw,Cody Allen, Joe Smith, or Marc Rzepczynski start the ninth inning, so be it.

Ideally, I am for not disrupting Smith’s eighth inning setup role, so I would go with any of the other three in the ninth and keep Smith locked into his invaluable eighth inning role. If you absolutely have to pick one guy, then you go with Allen as the closer as Shaw can slide into Allen’s seventh inning spot.

If Justin Masterson can’t start, then he should be in the mix as well, although I think that would just be temporary through the wildcard game because if the Indians were to advance to the American League Divisional Series, I believe Masterson will be back in the rotation by then. But what a weapon to possibly have him in the ninth of a must win wildcard win-or-go-home game.

As for the future, I think that the Indians will look on the trade market to fill the closer role. They could potentially go big and try and get Steve Chisek of the Marlins, or take a more cautiously approach and sign a lower end free agent to a one year deal a la Joe Borowski in 2007. Even if they do that, I think Carlos Carrasco is a guy internally that will get strong consideration next spring as a possibility at closer.

Carrasco is out of options and has to make the team next year. He can’t be relied upon as a starter at the outset so would have to make the team as a reliever, and with his stuff he could dominate in the late innings. The question though is his fragile mental makeup, but he’s been electric since moving to the bullpen late this season. Perhaps he could end up as another failed starter turned closer a la Jose Mesa in 1995.

But that is next year, and for now the Indians don’t have a closer, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Francona is freed from the ball and chain that having a “named” closer brings, and the team may be better off this October because of it.

The Scenarios

As we go into the final day of the 2013 regular season, the Indians sit all alone at the top of the wildcard race thanks to a nine-game winning streak.

The Indians (91-70) own a full game lead over both the Rays (90-71) and Rangers (90-71). With a win on Sunday OR a loss by the Rangers or Rays, the Indians will clinch a wildcard berth. With a win OR loss by the Rays the Indians clinch home field for the wildcard game.

Here are all of the scenarios for today’s outcomes and how the play-in games or wildcard game will shake out. No matter what, the wildcard game is on Wednesday with first pitch at 8:07pm ET.

Scenario 1: Indians win, Rangers win, Rays win
Rays at Rangers on Monday and winner plays Indians in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Scenario 2: Indians win, Rangers win, Rays lose
Rangers versus Indians in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Scenario 3: Indians win, Rangers lose, Rays win
Rays versus Indians in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Scenario 4: Indians win, Rangers lose, Rays lose
Rays at Rangers on Monday and winner plays Indians in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Scenario 5: Indians lose, Rangers win, Rays win
Rays at Indians on Monday, winner is wildcard #1. Loser plays Rangers in Arlington on Tuesday, winner is wildcard #2. If Rays and Indians are the wildcard teams, then Indians play Rays in Tampa on Wednesday. If Rays and Rangers are wildcard teams, then Rays play Rangers in Arlington on Wednesday. If Rangers and Indians are wildcard teams, then Rangers play Indians in Cleveland.

Scenario 6: Indians lose, Rangers win, Rays lose
Rangers versus Indians in Cleveland on Wednesday (Indians win tiebreaker for home field since they went 5-1 against Texas this season).

Scenario 7: Indians lose, Rangers lose, Rays win
Indians versus Rays in Tampa on Wednesday (Rays win tiebreaker for home field since they went 4-2 against the Indians this season).

Scenario 8: Indians lose, Rangers lose, Rays lose
Rays at Rangers on Monday and winner plays Indians in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Postseason roster thoughts

It is important to note that play-in tiebreaker games are still considered part of the regular season and thus teams participating in such contests would have the current expanded rosters; however, prior to the start of the wildcard game on Wednesday the teams would have to submit a condensed 25-man roster.

With that in mind, here is my quick prediction of the postseason 25-man roster for the ALDS series if they get that far. Note, the roster for the wildcard game is set for just that game and can be reset in advance of the ALDS, so that means the Indians can carry less pitchers and more position players since only one starter would be needed. My guess is the Indians would carry 11 pitchers (1 starters, 2 long relievers, 8 relievers) and 14 position players.

In any case, assuming Justin Masterson is cleared to start for the ALDS, here is my 25-man roster for that series if the Indians get that far:

Rotation (4): Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar
Bullpen (8): Joe Smith, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Rich Hill, Marc Rzepczynski, Matt Albers, Corey Kluber (long relief), Carlos Carrasco
Starting lineup (9): Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Asdrubal CabreraLonnie Chisenhall, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes
Bench (4): Drew Stubbs, Jason Giambi, Mike Aviles, Jose Ramirez

To me, the four man rotation is a lock. As long as Masterson is good to go, then Kluber and Zach McAllister should not make the postseason rotation due to their inconsistency down the stretch. That said, I see Kluber on the roster as a long reliever.

The only question mark with the bullpen to me is who the final reliever ends up being. The options are Chris Perez, Carlos Carrasco and maybe Zach McAllister if they want more length, but I chose Carrasco because of his dominating stuff, McAllister’s inconsistency of late, and Perez simply being impossible to trust right now.

The lineup and bench is pretty obvious, but the only question is who is the extra position player since the Indians probably go with a 12 pitcher and 13 position player setup for the postseason rather than the 13 pitcher and 12 position player setup that they had for most of the season. That final bench spot to me comes down to Matt Carson and Jose Ramirez, and I see that player only being a late game pinch running option and Ramirez fills that role best to me.

Parting shots

The Indians drew 1,572,926 fans to Progressive Field this year. They drew 1,603,596 last season. To take it a step further, in the first half of 2012 they averaged 19,256 fans per game and then in the second half averaged 20,474 fans per game. This season they averaged 18,792 fans per game in the first half and averaged 20,378 fans per game in the second half. … When Drew Stubbs hit a home run on Friday night, the Indians became the 12th team to have 10 or more players with double digit home runs in a season. Jason Giambi and Mike Aviles each have nine homers, and if they are able to hit a home run in the season finale on Sunday they would have 12 players with double digit home run totals and it would be a major league record (11 – Tigers in 2004). … Jason Giambi left Saturday’s game with a left forearm cramp. He is considered day to day. … The Indians are 20-6 in September, the first time they have won 20 games in a month since August of 1995. … Tickets for a potential tiebreaker game in Cleveland on Monday are available for sale online at Indians.com.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Tony
September 30, 2013 - 9:50 AM EDT
The eligibility issues should not be an issue.....so many ways to circumvent them.
BritDawg
September 30, 2013 - 8:37 AM EDT
There may be eligibility issues with Carrasco, as he wasn't on the roster on Sep 1.

Also, Ramirez hasn't played since Sep 22, during which time Carson has played 6(!) times. I would imagine that Carson would be the one to make the 25-man roster, especially given Bourn's injury issues.
Lisa
September 29, 2013 - 9:45 PM EDT
Perez is going to have a hard time attracting anything close to a lucrative deal from anyone, he'll have to prove to whoever he goes to that he can get back to at least acceptable.

When Hargrove brought Mesa in for the 9th inning of game 7 1997 I turned off my TV, I had zero faith he'd close it out. I soon got that confirmed. I'm amazed Grover had any trust in him at that point. Kudos to Tito for seeing the obvious.
Ed
September 29, 2013 - 6:34 PM EDT
Totally agree with analysis and it is illustrative of what a team is supposed to be. Everyone doing his job and everyone pitching in. In recent years there were to many squads with holes in the lineup filled with guys who were invisible for long stretches.

The Johnny Damons, Shelley Duncans, Casey Kotchmans, Jason Donalds, Travis Hafners, and Lou Marsons, etc. (no knock on their character) have been replaced by Michael Bourn, Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes, Drew Stubbs, Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn. They all had their bad streaks and no one had a career year but they were all productive and the sum total was greater than the parts - even with off years by ACab & a disappointing year by Chisenhall - admittedly, less than a year removed from serious injury.

And, to top it off, the starting pitching was far better than anyone hoped for offsetting a ragged relief corps. Al-in-all they squeezed every bit of juice they could from the apple and what a regular season they had.
DJ Sebastian
September 29, 2013 - 1:13 PM EDT
Great analysis Tony! Tribe fans will not get this level of insight anywhere else. Keep up the great work. I am bookmarking this piece and will refer to it often during this very exciting week.
Rick
September 29, 2013 - 12:35 PM EDT
What a year!

Often Tito has been asked about prior team 2nd half implosions and has always answered confidently - Won't happen - This Team is different.

How about this for answers;

Best record in either league for Sept.

Tied the 1954 Tribe (who had 3 20 game winners with upteen Hall of Famers who won 111 games in a shorter season) ...for 4 game series sweeps.

Right now the Sept 20-9 mark ties for the best - with our last 2 World Series Champ teams - '54 & '48.

Can break both of the above records with a final 4 game sweep of the Twins - AND SECURE 1ST WILD CARD SPOT...by running the table with a 10 game???...incredible.

This year has been so fantastic - just a surreal number of events and moments - that it wouldn't shock me if SLIDER pitched long relief!
Tommy
September 29, 2013 - 12:32 PM EDT
Thanks for all of your Tribe Happenings articles this year, Tony. It's always the highlight of the week in IBI
Seth
September 29, 2013 - 11:52 AM EDT
Pretty sure they've already said the only way Masterson could make it back to the rotation would be if they were to make it to the ALCS. So I would imagine that Kluber would be in the rotation if they make it to the division series. Kluber might come through in the playoffs though. Seems like he does better when the going gets tough. When they had the big lead the other day, seemed like he relaxed. But he's definitely been off his game since coming back from the injury. Not as bad as McAllister, who just completely loses it after about 60 pitches, but shaky.
Cody Drummonds
September 29, 2013 - 10:23 AM EDT
I'd rather have ZMac over Carrassco in long relief....or any other pitching situation!

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