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4.13.2014

The Anatomy of Irregularity and Expectations

Nino Colla | Sunday, April 13, 2014 | | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

I spent time trying to convince myself that I can be the same old-same old when it came to posting updates to this blog, that I could do it as often as I and you had become accustomed to. Only, do it differently, in a new way.

Then I stopped trying to re-invent everything that this space is about and embrace it for what it is, just as I embraced it for what it was at each period of time. No doubt, if you've been here since 2008, you know just how different each year has looked, aside from a few years where it was pretty much the same. The last few had some external pressure to perform, but make no mistake, there was way more internal pressure from myself.

I'm going somewhere with this, I promise, and I may get there quicker than you think.

Am I little more disconnected from the Indians as I was a year ago? Yeah, a little. Not going to lie. The funny thing is, I'm watching more than I did last year, and probably will watch more than I did last year. The difference is, when it comes to reading every story out there on the internet, yeah...I don't even do that.

You see, the expectation you set for yourself is something only you can meet. You are also the only one that can set those expectations. What makes it more is that I outline those expectations here a few times, even though I had no clue what it would take to meet those expectations.

Here's where I tie it all in. We've set some really high expectations for this year's Indians team. We all have these high hopes that not only playoffs are in their future, but a run is as well. We're doing that based off last year, regardless of what the team did or didn't do in the offseason. It is just the normal general expectation that follows a team that surprised and went to the playoffs.

On top of all of that, the Indians themselves set up high expectations, only heightening that sense of expectancy.
Photo - Vinnie Pestano via @VinnieP52

Unfinished Business? That's the motto this team is rallying around this season. The idea that there is a lot left to prove, and last year the business that wasn't finished was winning in the playoffs. This year, they're here to finish that business. What is that expectation?

Hey, don't get me wrong, I love that the team is looking at that. I love that the team is so confident and is shooting for nothing less than winning it all. I love the swagger that it can bring, the confidence and aurora surrounding the team. This team is for-sure fighting and every game thus far they've brought their A-game in the effort and fight department. One thing this team is not is apathetic.

But we've set up these expectations that every single piece of this team is going to be firing on all cylinders, the team is going to go 162-0, and beat the White Sox in EVERY game, not just all but two.

Well, guess what? The White Sox already beat the Indians twice this year with many more to go, Justin Masterson is not in mid-season form, and I'm not posting every day like I'd like to in a perfect world.

Irregularity my friends. This is baseball. The team is 6-6, this is the first actual post since the season started. Time to forget expectations and embrace the reality. No team is built to go 162-0. No team is even built to go 120-42. If they are, forget HGH testing, investigate them for fraud or insider trading.

The reality is that this team is good with some flaws. Some of those flaws can probably work themselves out in the coming months. I have no doubt Masterson will get things together. He's certainly bought himself the benefit of the doubt to have a few shaky outings in a row, especially early in the season.

The bullpen will be better, just believe that, especially when the starters can go more than four or five innings with some more regularity. These starters, all four of them (let's not include Carrasco, k?) have the ability to be solid cogs all season long. When is the last time that you can remember Indians pitching leading the league in strikeouts? The slight problem with that is that they're also second in walks.

Danny Salazar is good, scary good. He just wants to strike everyone out right now though. Nothing wrong with having that kind of stuff. But he'll learn to harness it soon enough and the results will be amazing.

This lineup is showing some incredible promise, from top to bottom with the way they are producing. If the pitching could only hold a lead, we'd be talking more about the third best offense in the American League. The two teams ahead of them? The two teams that have accounted for four of the Indians six losses. The pitching those two teams faced? The Indians pitching. Draw a circle around that.

We're 12 games in! I know I don't need to preach to most of you, but I think all things considered, the way this season is starting out is a very good sign of where this team is headed. In my mind, here were the concerns this team had coming into the season.

Concern: The replacement pieces in the bullpen, if they'd take and mesh, and if the group was deep enough.

This group is definitely deep enough. After seeing the club make a switch so quickly with Vinnie Pestano for CC Lee, it tells me that the club is confident in the pieces they have. If you aren't working, we will try a replacement. Vinnie had a really short leash, sure, but this club knows they need seven to eight men who are getting the job done and they will always try and operate like that. The other replacement pieces, Cody Allen setting up, John Axford closing, have been awesome thus far. The rest of the pen will fall in line after that, as long as they aren't stretched thin by the starting pitching.

Concern: The rotation is not as strong as it was last year.

This concern is noted. It isn't as strong as it was to end the season last year. But let's keep this in perspective real quick. Bryan Belknap asked an intriguing question the other day on Twitter. Carrasco now or Ubaldo this team last year? Which one do you pick? Remember how frustrating Ubaldo was to start 2013? A few bright flickers here and there, but it was mostly hair-pulling. Remember this team started with Brett Myers in their rotation? You might forget this now because he's started the year off on fire in Oakland and one of those games, he kicked our asses, but Scott Kazmir was brutal to start the year when he finally did get out there. Give this rotation some time to work out its kinks. And to possibly make up for choosing to give Carlos Carrasco the first crack at the fifth starter's spot.

Concern: Did the Indians do enough in the offseason to address the additional pieces?

Photo - Getty Images via Zimbio.com
I know, the biggest concern offensively was that the Indians didn't do enough to address the starting nine. Mark Reynolds carried the offense to start the year last year, there's a hole now that Gomes is starting at catcher, Swisher is at first, and there is a platoon in right field. I think we've heard it all. David Murphy? Really? That guy? Yes, that guy is leading the team in RBI right now. He had an atrocious spring, but we all know to not trust those numbers. Great, Bourn on the DL, how can the team overcome that hurdle to start the year? Easy, get someone to do produce like you thought Bourn would. Can we keep Nyjer Morgan forever? Seriously, he's doing exactly what you would have thought Bourn would do when the Indians signed him to that contract for fractions of the price. He's getting on, stealing bases, bringing energy to the top of the lineup.

When Morgan starts and leads off: The Tribe is 5-2 with an average of 5.7 runs scored. When it is anyone else the team is 1-4 with an average of 3.2 runs scored. Sample size, whatever, but the guy is getting on base and making things happen. He's worth keeping, even when Bourn comes back.

So to answer the concern, this team definitely did enough to address their additional pieces. This team has a lot of options right now offensively and you have to feel good about the lineup and the pieces Tito has to work with.

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Let's just take it easy now. As much as you might want to fall in love with those Morgan numbers, just as you temper your expectations and unhappiness with the starting pitching or whatever, temper your excitement about Nyjer Morgan and David Murphy. Half of the universe wanted to cut #MurphMan a week ago. Some of you are ready to trade Asdrubal Cabrera now and start Francisco Lindor (he's still in Akron!). Don't get me wrong, Lindor is coming soon enough, but Cabrera is showing some value right now.

Here's one more bigger concern, and somewhere I think Asdrubal is key to this team. This team, and this is a complete 180 from where this team was under the Acta era, does not have a lot of right-handed hitting dominance. Their average against lefties right now is sitting at .215 with a .287 OBP in 158 at-bats. The scary thing is, they've faced lefties more than any other team in the game.

Cabrera has always been a better hitter against left-handed pitching. His career average is .287 with a .338 OBP and a .430 slugging percentage. He probably has more power from the left side when he's hitting righties, but he's more of a better hitter against left-handers when he's hitting right-handed.

Of course, that is just one thing. Other than Yan Gomes, this team does not have an everyday starter who they can routinely place in the middle of the lineup that hits left-handed pitching. Not the worst problem to have, but as good as Ryan Raburn can be when he's hitting, he's not an everyday middle of the order bat. Part of the problem with now is Carlos Santana's slump. Another switch hitter that the Indians have who is a better hitter against lefties than he is righties. He will get it going and this team should start to even out in that regard. But right now, the scuffling is exposing a minor problem this team has if they face lefty loaded teams like they have been. They've already had two against Chicago with Danks and Sale and they'll get one more today with Quintana, so all things considered, if they split, that's not a bad thing.

That all being said. Carlos Santana leads the universe in walks from an 0-2 count despite his poor hitting. Even when he doesn't produce hitting-wise, he still makes his at-bats count and that is why he is special.

Michael Brantley is still hitting with runners in scoring position and that Raburn/Murphy platoon has the makings of a lethal combination when Bourn can get back and those guys can be maximized. Although, I'd argue Morgan should continue to play that Bourn role and let Tito use them as he would when Bourn is there.

And before I get out of here, that brings up an interesting question that I'm sure will gain steam when Bourn is ready to come back and Jason Giambi gets even closer. What in the wide world does this team do in regards to Nyjer Morgan? Can you justify getting rid of him right now? Can you justify giving up on Lonnie Chisenhall, who is now back from paternity leave but has more hits than games he's played in?

Seems to me that the Indians could sacrifice versatility and boot Elliot Johnson, considering Chisenhall and Aviles can take care of your backup infield roles and you have that DH spot to play around with. Johnson has seen just four games, he has to be the odd man out, yes?

But what about when Giambi comes back? Do you boot that eighth man that Tito values so much in the bullpen? Lately, they've  needed that eighth man, but if the starters pick it up, it really isn't necessary. Some intriguing decisions coming down the pipe in the next few weeks.

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So my intro kind of alluded to it, but what you see is what you are going to get from now on. Not to get all deep on you, but life is what it is right now. I certainly have the time to devote to this space, but simply don't have the energy or even the desire. In fact, I've had more time than I ever have and in the past, I probably would throw everything into this space. Not that you care, but I've been taking more me-time and that is more rewarding than anything.

I think that produces better material at the end. This wasn't a force post, but rather sitting down and feeling like talking about what I wanted to talk about and just going off on the tangents that I like to go on. I have no schedule, not plan, no routine. For the better part of six years, I've spent a lot of time and energy in this place and the reward has been feeling like there's a little space on the internet for me. The people that read enjoy it, and I'm thankful you take the time to come here and see what I have to say. I hope you stick around, despite this being an erratic venture of Tribe thoughts. Of course, no longer will this live up to its name of being a daily assault on a lifespan, but perhaps that is a good thing for me and you. I could post twice in a week, or go two weeks between a post, but that's the beauty of how things are going to go around here.

Of course, if Nyjer Morgan gets let go, I may post five days in a row. You just never know at this point.

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