If we've learned anything about Octobers the last few years, it's that the month tests, stretches and hones every aspect of loyalty fandom.
Therefore, to adequately preview the madness that is the baseball playoffs, we've invited some of our favorite writers for each of the eight playoff teams to write about their teams. These will be running all day today and tomorrow, and we very much hope you enjoy them.
Up right now: The Cleveland Indians. Your writer is Jim Pete.
Jim Pete runs Tribe Report. His words are after the jump.
It's the word of the new millennia. You say your Mom looked at you funny because you called the neighbor kid a moron? Your Dad loves your Mom ... and your best friend's mom too? You're too lazy to feed your kids, so you set them at the table and pop open a box of cracker jacks and a ripped open bag of chocolate chip cookies? Your favorite baseball team didn't finish above third place in 35 years, and when the finally did, they get TWO OUTS away from their first title in 50 years, only to lose in extra innings?
Welcome to the life of a Cleveland Indians' fan, and 2007 seemed to be a microcosm of all that dysfunction. The season started with a near-no-hitter that turned into a snow-out. Not only did the game get snowed out, but the WHOLE SERIES did as well.
This is the team that was both a league leader in walks, showing their patience as a team, and strikeouts, showing their impatience as a team.
This is the team that had a leadoff batter who nearly led the team in Home Runs, Strikeouts (2nd most in the AL), Walks (5th in the AL), and OB% (12th in the league).
This is a team that had their newly signed closer retire before the season starter (Keith Foulke), and their newly signed closer only sign because Philly wouldn't sign him because of an alleged bum arm (Joe Borowski). Borowski then led the AL in saves, with an ERA hovering around 40.00 (actually 5.50, but who's counting). Both times he got his ERA under 5.00, he promptly gave up enough runs in his next outing to go back over 5.00.
The Indians opening day rotation included Fausto Carmona, only because Cliff Lee was injured. When Cliff Lee returned, Carmona was sent back down to Buffalo after winning two games in a row, and nearly pitching a complete game shutout in his last start. Carmona came BACK from Buffalo for last year's surprise, Jeremy Sowers, who couldn't get an out. Since then, Fausto Carmona has won 19 games, and should finish in the top five in the Cy Young voting. He's arguably Cleveland's best starter.
The Indians ace, C.C. Sabathia pitched some of his best ball from July 24 through August 24. In those starts, Sabathia gave up more than two runs only once in seven starts, and had seven innings or more in all but one start. During those seven starts, Sabathia went 1-3, with three no decisions. His only win? The game in which he gave up three runs. His only non-quality start? Same game.
***disclaimer—I am a Trot Nixon fan. He is one of those players that you respect because he is scrappy, and gives it his all. Of course, when his all at this point is standing with his feet in concrete in right field, and hitting seeing-eye singles two times out of ten at bats, well...you get the point. And if you don't, read on***
Cleveland signed Trot Nixon and David Dellucci at the beginning of the season to provide some veteran leadership and pop to the lineup. They were the big "offensive" signings for the Tribe. Combined, they are hitting .245, with seven home runs, and 51 RBI. Both proved to be lame, literally, as Dellucci missed half the season with injury, and Nixon missed the whole season, without injury. Nixon did prove to be an outstanding clubhouse presence, teaching the Tribe how to piss off unsuspecting players with the shaving cream pies during interviews. He also mentored Josh Barfield.
Cleveland had outfielder Franklin Gutierrez in Buffalo, behind Trot Nixon, David Dellucci, Jason Michaels, Grady Sizemore, Alex Cole, Rocky Colavito, Ben Francisco, David Justice, Trevor Crowe, Russell Crowe, Charlie Spikes and Willie Mays Hayes. Gutierrez is now a fixture in the everyday lineup. He can hit for power, has good speed, and can field, unlike Trot Nixon, who moves like a constipated sloth in the outfield (I get it, his injuries have sapped his strength and speed and ability to play (SO WHY FREAKIN' PLAY!).
Josh Barfield was heralded as one of the big pickups in the offseason, when Mark Shapiro had dealt for him for Tribe future star, Kevin Kouzmanoff. Barfield, the son of former Toronto and Yankee slugger, Jesse Barfield, was considered a defensive stalwart, who would develop Robby Alomar type offense. Unfortunately for the Indians, and Barfield, he was more Jose Vizcaino than Robby Alomar. Now, he's taking over the Trot Nixon job of plastering interviewees with shaving-cream pies. That's ironic, because Barfield and Nixon have essentially become one player. Trot hits a seeing-eye single, and Josh Barfield runs for him (it's also rumored that they go to parties together, with Josh Barfield hiding under a trench coat with Nixon on his shoulders).
Asdrubal Cabrera was on the Indians 40-man roster, but let's face facts; at the beginning of this year, he wasn't on ANYONE'S list for making the cut at any point during the season for the Big League club. He started the season with AA Akron, to work on his offense. So, he hit .310 with 8 dingers and 54 RBI, as well as 23 SB. Up to AAA he went. After batting .316 in nine games, Cleveland called him up to supplement. Well, Barfield has been on the bench ever since. Here's the kicker: He's the best shortstop on the team. He plays second base, because Jhonny Peralta, who leads the team in errors, plays short.
Cleveland won their first home game against Los Angeles of Anaheim, in Milwaukee, and won their last home game, against Seattle, in Seattle.
At the end of the day, just how good are the Cleveland Indians? This is an extremely talented ballclub. When you look at the offense from top to bottom, you have the best leadoff man in baseball in Grady Sizemore, who can beat you with power and speed. Defensively, there aren't many better, and when he gets on base, it's a nightmare for the opposing pitchers. He can strike out too much, but at the end of the day, his OBP makes up for any transgressions with his hitting. He can beat you by himself.
Asdrubal Cabrera, the rook, bats second, and you've already heard about this kid. Cabrera is about as clutch as they come, is the sparkplug of the offense and is a defensive wunderkind up the middle.
Travis Hafner DH's and bats third. Listen, the guy is in a slump, I get it. Thing is, he's batting nearly .500 over the past five games and is regaining form. He can carry a club with his bat, and we just don't have to worry about his glove at any point. Travis Hafner just plain strikes fear in pitchers.
Victor Martinez is the best catcher in baseball. HEAR THAT MINNESOTA FANS. Yeah, I said it. V-Mart is the BEST CATCHER IN BASEBALL. There isn't a more clutch hitter on this club, and he's now throwing out runners at a 30 percent clip. V-Mart is the undoubted leader of this club.
Ryan Garko bats fifth and is the most underrated player on the club. I can't tell you how many times V-Mart has been intentionally walked to face Garko. Garko can hit for average, and for power, and at times, can remind some folk of that Hafner fellow. He goes through bouts of struggle at times, but continues to improve.
Jhonny Peralta bats sixth, and at first thought, is a liability in the field. That's just life. Offensively, Peralta has good power and is a clutch hitter at the bottom of the order.
Batting seventh is the old Tribe-Hand, Kenny Lofton. Yeah, he's batting seventh, and doing a hell of a job. The simple fact that he's doing it, and smiling about it says it all. He's a sparkplug no matter where he bats, and where he fields, in this case, left field.
You've heard about Franklin Gutierrez already, so I'm not going there again.
Finally, Casey Blake at third isn't going to remind anyone of Mike Schmidt, but he's the best nine-hole hitter in the league. He has a good glove, and just gets the job done.
The starters begin and really end with 19-game winners, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. They'll match up with anyone, and right now, are pitching their best baseball. Jake Westbrook will probably be the No. 3 based on his recent starts. When he's on, he can be as good as Sabathia and Carmona. When he's bad, well, he's bad. Paul Byrd is at the four slot, and he's really struggling. Still, don't count out this guy. He often steps up to the plate when his back is against the Wall. Cliff Lee and Aaron Laffey could still be a factor here, we'll just have to wait and see how it pans out.
The relievers start with the aforementioned Joe Borowski as the closer. Dos Rafael are the set-up guys, and are as effective as any tandem in the game. Jenson Lewis and Aaron Fultz are the next layer, and have been intensely effective. Lee will play a part here as well.
Overall, the American League is separated by cheap, see-through toilet paper. There's not a whole lot of difference between the four teams. What Cleveland possesses may be unique. They have a lights-out staff led by Sabathia and Carmona. They have one of the best pens in the league. They have an offense that boasts five hitters with 20 or more taters, and one more with 18, so they have some pop. They can also beat you with small ball, the big inning, and the come from behind wins (closing on 50 this year).
It just goes to show you...dysfunction...when you are used to it...isn't such a bad thing...is it?