Monday, September 24, 2012

Acta's future

With 10 days left in the season, the biggest question surrounding the Indians is the future of Manny Acta. Will he or won't he be fired?

I could see it going either way, but with a stronger possibility that he is fired than he is not. It's not unusual for teams to fire managers after seasons like this. For one thing, it's a way to deflect the blame away from the front office. I don't think Acta deserves to be fired, because the roster he was given this year was a flawed roster from day one of the season, and has remained so all year.

It's actually amazing that Acta had the Indians in first place for over a month in the first half of the season. That was due mostly to a favorable schedule. As the schedule got tougher in the second half of the season, the Indians collapse began.

Acta won't have to wait long to learn of his fate. He'll likely meet with General Manager Chris Antonetti within a day or two of the last game of the season Oct. 3. I would not be surprised if Acta is fired. I WOULD be surprised if he's fired and the Indians didn't hire his bench coach, Sandy Alomar Jr., to replace him. Alomar is viewed as a manager-in-waiting either in Cleveland or for another big leaague team. He's already interviewed for a couple of big league jobs in the last couple of years, and could get interviewed again this winter.

I'm sure Indians officials are worried they could lose Alomar to another team as a manager. So there's that, and there's also the fact that Tribe officials know they are going to absorb a lot of bad PR in the off-season. Naming the popular Alomar as Acta's successor would be one obvious way to get some much-needed good PR.

However, the problem for Alomar, who has never managed at any level of professional baseball _ which doesn't necessarily mean he can't be successful at it in the major leagues _ is that he'll be facing the same problems that got Acta fired: The minor league system has no major league-ready impact players to promote to the big league club, and ownership won't spend any money to sign free agents to fill holes on the roster.

So in all likelihood, even if the Indians change managers after this year. The roster next year is going to look a lot like the roster this year. And that's not a roster that is going to win many games or sell many tickets.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Podcast: Looking back on the first half of the 2012 season

Sports Editor Mark Podolski and Indians beat writer Jim Ingraham look back at the first half of the season, the disappointments and surprises, discuss the second half and the likelihood of the team making a trade.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beware of lurking Tigers

What are the Indians' chances of staying in the race in the AL Central? Pay attention to the Tigers, because how the Tigers play may have a bigger bearing on the Indians' chances than how the Indians play. Although the White Sox lead the division, and the Indians have been in second place for most of the last few weeks, I still have a suspicion that both teams are more worried about the Tigers than each other.

And they should be.

Let's not forget that the Tigers won the division by 15 games last year, and that on their roster they have the best pitcher (Justin Verlander) and the two best hitters (Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder) in the American League, if not in baseball.

Over the long haul of a major league season that's got to count for something, and my guess is that it's going to count for a lot. The Indians don't have a pitcher remotely close to Verlander, and they don't have a hitter that is remotely close to Cabrera or Fielder.

The Tigers still haven't put it all together this season. When they do, assuming they do, then the race in the AL Central will be better judged. For the Indians to remain in the race their pitching is going to have to dramatically improve. They have the second worst ERA in the league, and no American League team has ever made it to the postseason after finishing last or second last in team ERA.

The Indians also don't have a hitter such as Cabrera or Fielder, or like Paul Konerko of the White Sox. Those kind of hitters can carry their teams for weeks. All three of them are likely headed to the All-Star game. Indians officials continue to say they are encouraged by the fact that they are still hanging close in the AL Central race because, Tribe officials say, "We haven't yet played our best baseball."

That may be true, but the longer into the season Indians officials keep saying that, the more likely it is that they HAVE played their best baseball _ and it's actually the Tigers who haven't.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Perez vs. the fans

     I have to admit I was a little surprised by the greeting Chris Perez received when he entered Tuesday's game in the ninth inning. I figured the best Perez could hope for would be a 50-50 mix between boos and cheers. After ripping Indians fans over the weekend, this was Perez's first appearance in a game since then.

     Surprisingly, the greeting Perez got was almost all cheers. If there was any booing it was so minimal it was impossible to hear. I guess one explanation for the lack of booing is that the fans at the game are not the fans Perez was criticizing. He was criticizing the fans who DON'T come to games. Maybe those people were home booing their TV sets when Perez came into the game.

     Ripping your home fans in any sport is almost never a good idea. The fans will always have the last say because the athlete must continue to play after the fact, and as such, is always a ready target for booing. Plus if the athlete's performance slips, or he goes into a slump after the fact, he's likely not going to get as much patience or sympathy from the fans as would a slumping player who hasn't taken pot shots at the fans.

     Anyway, the storm clouds seemed to pass for Perez on Tuesday. He said what he felt needed to be said over the weekend, he made his first appearance since then, and he was not greeted rudely or derisively by the fans. Both sides seemed to take the high road.

     That's good for the fans, good for Perez, and certainly good for the Indians' front office, which had to engage in a couple of days of damage control over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Manny Acta's great day

     Monday was one of Manny Acta's best days as the Indians' manager. The Indians were playing the Chicago White Sox, a division rival, in a doubleheader, and Acta decided before the games began that he wasn't going to use his two best relievers, no matter what. Acta decided that Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano had both been used heavily over the weekend and needed a day off.

     It's easy to say you're going to give your two top relievers a day off, but when it gets to crunch time _ and the Indians were faced with crunch times in both games of the doubleheader _ it's another thing entirely to stick to that decision.

     The Indians won both games, by the scores of 8-6 and 3-2. Both games required the use of the bullpen, and both required a reliever to get the final outs and record the save. Acta resisted what had to be a powerful urge to use Perez and Pestano. When you get to within three outs of winning the game it's hard not to put your best relievers in the game, but that's what Acta resisted that temptation.

     The gamble paid off because the Indians' short-handed bullpen was able to close out both games as victories for the Tribe. It was the kind of managing that is easy to overlook, especially since the Indians won both games. If the Indians lost both games, Acta probably would have taken a lot of heat for not using his two best relievers.

     Managers get paid to win games, but they also get paid to consider the big picture. And Acta felt there was still too much season left to play for him to risk over-working two key relievers, even if it was a doubleheader against a division rival.

     Sticking to your principles while in the heat of battle is not easy. Acta was ready to concede those two battles in order to win the war. But in showing admirable leadership and forsight Acta wound up winning the battles, and keeping the Indians in good shape in their attempt to win the war.

     Not all managers would have done that.

     Acta did, and for that he deserves credit.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It's Go Time

If the Indians are going to extend their remarkable season of being a contender while missing half their starting lineup, they are going to have to find a way to win two out of three, or even - and this is really talking crazy, considering the opponent's starting pitcher in the third game - sweep the Tigers in the three-game series that begins Monday at Progressive Field.

Could the Indians still win the division without winning two or three of the games in the Detroit series? Yes. But it would then take an almost historic collapse by the Tigers. Winning the first two games of the series is almost a must for the Indians, because Justin Verlander will start the third game of the series for the Tigers.

If the Indians lose this series, or if they get swept they would fall 7 1/2 or even 9 1/2 games behind Detroit (assuming the Tigers beat the White Sox Sunday night). That would be virtually an insurmountable lead.

That the Indians are even in the converstation for a division title with less than a month left in the season is in itself astonishing. The lineups the injury-riddled Indians have been running out there the last two weeks have been glorified Class AAA lineups. For most of those games the Indians had five players on the disabled list who would have been in the starting lineup if healthy.

Not only that, but those five players are were arguably (with the exception of Asdrubal Cabrera, who was not one of them) the Indians' five best players. Take five players, period, out of the starting lineup of the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, or Rangers - much less take out their five best players, and those teams would have to be in full scramble mode to remain in contention, as have the Indians.

It's for that reason that I think the only question in the voting for the American League Manager of the Year Award is not whether or not Manny Acta will win it, but whether it will be unanimous.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nice trip. . . Not!

Observations from the Indians' dreary 2-4 trip to Chicago and Detroit:

Ubaldo Jimenez is becoming a problem. A big problem. This is no time for a slump, but a slump is what the Indians have to hope he's in. Because the alternative, if it's not a slump, is that he's injured. Nobody wants to think about that.

He's not throwing like he's injured. The velocity is there. He's throwing like a guy who can't consistently throw strikes - for whatever reason. He's also throwing like a guy who doesn't have a lot of confidence, almost like he's being intimidated by American League lineups.

Certainly Jimenez wouldn't be the first National League pitcher to come to the American League and struggle. Unlike NL lineups, AL lineups don't have automatic outs in the 8th and 9th spots in the order. Prior to being traded to Cleveland, Jimenez had spent his entire career in the National League. He's obviously having difficulty making an adjustment - and the Indians don't have time to wait.

There's a division title up for grabs, and Sunday was the kind of game the Indians traded a boatload of talent to the Rockies so that Jimenez could win such games. Instead, he failed miserably.

Jimenez has won one of the four starts he's made for the Indians. In the other three he has an 11.77 ERA, having allowed 17 runs and 25 hits in 13 innings. That isn't going to cut it. The Indians need No.1 starter numbers from Jimenez. So far he's giving them No.5 starter numbers.

Travis Hafner looks like he could be headed to the disabled list with a strained foot, suffered in Sunday's game. Hafner has been horrible of late. His single Sunday snapped an 0-for-16 slide. At one point on the road trip he struck out 11 times in 21 at bats. He's swinging at balls and taking strikes. He's a mess right now. Maybe two weeks on the DL wouldn't be such a bad thing. It would given him some time to mentally re-group.

I can't remember a major league season in which the umpiring has been so routinely bad. The Indians were victimized by blown calls by umpires at least a half dozen times on the trip. The umps are bad for both teams, so this isn't an Indians problem. It's a baseball problem, and I'm not sure how you fix it.

The loss of Jason Kipnis is devastating. He brought considerable energy, production, and confidence to a lineup that needed all three. THIS may be the injury that hurts the Indians the most coming down the stretch.

It's interesting now that Manny Acta seems to be going back to Jack Hannahan over Lonnie Chisenhall at third base. Chisenhall looks a little lost at the plate right now, and if he isn't going to be a major offensive upgrade over Hannahan, then Hannahan is going to play, because of his Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base. I'm in complete agreement with Acta on this one.

Kosuke Fukudome has been very impressive defensively in center field, but the next time the Indians play in Comerica Park, with its spacious outfield, somebody needs to tell Fukudome that he doesn't have to position himself in Grand Rapids. He was playing so deep in the Detroit series, almost anything hit to medium or shallow center field was falling in for a hit.

Jimenez's latest meltdown, and the wild finish in Sunday's loss in Detroit overshadowed another brilliant performance by the Indians' bullpen. This is the best Tribe bullpen since the '95 group (Mesa, Plunk, Assenmacher, Tavarez, Poole), and it deserves tons of credit for carrying the team through much of this season.