Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Here we go again

The Indians have started to win some games. Unfortunately for them it has come after they played their way out of the division race. This is another distressing trend with the team. The Indians seem to perform the best when the pressure is at its least.

In each of the last two years the Indians have been considered one of the favorites to win their division. They have gotten off to horrendous starts. Those starts have been so bad that it has forced the front offic to make white flag trades. Then, and only then, after the team has conceded it won't be a contender, the performance of the team and its players has improved.

I don't know how the Indians can change this trend, but something needs to be done. Maybe they have to look at how they are preparing the team in spring training. Clearly the team hasn't been ready to start the season the last two years. The fact that the team only starts to play better when all expectations for the season have disappeared is a harder riddle to solve.

It would seem that changing some of the core players might be the best way to approaach that problem. Maybe the chemistry on the team has to change. Maybe there needs to be more and better leadership among the players. How do you teach players to play their best when expectations are high, instead of waiting until the expectations disappear before playing up to their expected level?

Those are some of a issues facing the Indians in a season that seems to have raised more questions than it has answered.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's the point?

In Wednesday night's game with Toronto, the Indians' starting right fielder was Chris Gimenez, a 26-year-old non-prospect, whose best-case scenario for a career in the majors is as a bench player. Meanwhile, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, two legitimate prospects to be everyday players in the big leagues, who are excelling at the Class AAA level, remain at Columbus.

The Indians' lost season is a perfect chance to bring up prospects such as LaPorta and Brantley to begin their transition to the major leagues. Unfortunately for LaPorta and Brantley, Manager Eric Wedge is basically managing for his job in the second half of the season. Wedge needs to win as many games as possible to save his job.

So, with his job on the line, it's no surprise that Wedge has a reluctance to go with younger players. But it's also difficult to understand what's to be gained in the big picture by giving non-prospects playing time at the major league level when there are players at Class AAA who figure to have a greater impact on the big league club's future, but remain stuck at Class AAA in a lost season such as this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fasten your seatbelts

As the Indians begin the second half of another lost season, be prepared for another bumpy ride. There are a lot of potential other shoes that could drop in the second half, beginning with the approach of the July 31 trade deadline. Will Cliff Lee be traded? Victor Martinez? Both? Neither? How about Rafael Betancourt or Jamey Carroll or Carl Pavano?

Don't be surprised if the Indians play better in the second half than the first. The history of this group is that they play well when it means the least. And the stakes couldn't be much lower for the American League's worst team. It would seem to be an ideal time to callup outfielders Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley from Columbus, but with Manager Eric Wedge basically managing for his job in the second half, he may not be too keen on the notion of playing rookies when he needs to win as many games as possible.

The Indians will likely continue to keep the revolving door in the bullpen spinning, looking for someone, anyone, who can get some outs. Assuming they sign No.1 draft pick Alex White, the reliever from North Carolina, maybe they will even bring him to the big leagues for a trial, should he get off to a good start in his first few minor league appearances.

The rotation continues to be an open wound. Jake Westbrook is due back at some point in the second half, but what's the point of rushing him back? For this? Jeremy Sowers, the best five-inning starter in the minor league system, figures to be back sometime early in the second half. Maybe even Hector Rondon will get a look-see in the rotation.

Will Grady Sizemore's elbow blow out and necessitate season-ending surgery? What, by the way, is the point in having the face of the franchise playing everyday with a sore elbow during a lost season?

So many questions. So few victories.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sticking with Wedge

The decision by Indians general manager Mark Shapiro to announce that Manager Eric Wedge will remain on the job through the end of the season was not a popular one among many Indians fans, and understandably so.

You can only disappoint a fan base so many times before the fan base becomes convinced that changes, major changes, are necessary. In this case, firing Wedge would be a major change. However, Shapiro's reluctance to make an in-season change is understandable. Nothing smacks of organizational disarray more than firing your manager in the middle of the sesaon. And nothing reflects more poorly on a general manager than organizational disarray.

Firing a manager during the season gives the appearance of instability, creates even more uncertainty, and leads to endless speculation the rest of the year, assuming an interim manager is named, on who the next manager will be. In other words, firing a manager during the season can lead to even more distractions than not doing so.

The only good reason to fire a manager during a season is if it becomes clear that changing managers might actually lead to the team playing better and climbing back into contention in a division race. That certainly isn't the case with the Indians. Had Wedge been fired, whoever the interim manager would be would still be stuck with the same flawed roster with which Wedge is trying to win. The Indians don't necessarily have the wrong manager. They have the wrong roster. There simply isn't enough talent on the Indians' roster to win a division.

That said, I still believe there's probably a 50-50 chance the Indians change managers after the season. Wedge has been given a reprieve, not a mulligan, on this season. Unless there is a dramatic improvement in how the team plays in the second half of the year, Wedge's situation will heat up again immediately after the season, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see the Indians make a change then.