September 2008

We're going to the end of the line

If you didn’t know any better (and some people don’t), you’d think very little has changed since March 31, 2008.

Here, on the final day of the season, the Indians are still playing the White Sox, and their lineup still includes Grady Sizemore in CF, Travis Hafner at DH, Victor Martinez at C, Jhonny Peralta at SS, Ryan Garko at 1B, Asdrubal Cabrera at 2B and Franklin Gutierrez in RF. On the surface, the only changes are Ben Francisco in for Jason Michaels in LF, and Jamey Carroll in for Casey Blake at 3B.

Talk about stability.

And then you look at the following list of players who have donned the Tribe uniform at various points of ’08, and you remember what a long, strange year it’s been. Ladies and gentlemen, here, in no particular order, are your 2008 Cleveland Indians…

Grady Sizemore

Jhonny Peralta

Ryan Garko

Ben Francisco

Franklin Gutierrez

Kelly Shoppach

David Dellucci

Casey Blake

Asdrubal Cabrera

Jamey Carroll

Shin-Soo Choo

Victor Martinez

Andy Marte

Travis Hafner

Jason Michaels

Sal Fasano

Michael Aubrey

Andy Gonzalez

Jorge Velandia

Josh Barfield

Brad Snyder

Yamid Haad

Paul Byrd

Cliff Lee

Fausto Carmona

CC Sabathia

Aaron Laffey

Jason Tyner

Jeremy Sowers

Rick Bauer

Rafael Betancourt

Joe Borowski

Craig Breslow

Scott Elarton

Jorge Julio

Masa Kobayashi

Jensen Lewis

Rafael Perez

Juan Rincon

Zach Jackson

Jake Westbrook

Anthony Reyes

Ed Mujica

Matt Ginter

Tom Mastny

Scott Lewis

Brendan Donnelly

Bryan Bullington

Rich Rundles

Brian Slocum

John Meloan

 

And here, in very particular order, are your lineups for this afternoon's season finale...

 

INDIANS (81-80): CF Grady Sizemore, 3B Jamey Carroll, LF Ben Francisco, SS Jhonny Peralta, 1B Ryan Garko, DH Travis Hafner, C Kelly Shoppach, RF Franklin Gutierrez, 2B Asdrubal Cabrera. RHP Bryan Bullington (0-1, 5.59).

 

WHITE SOX (86-72): SS Orlando Cabrera, LF DeWayne Wise, RF Jermaine Dye, DH Jim Thome, 1B Paul Konerko, CF Ken Griffey Jr., 2B Alexei Ramirez, C A.J. Pierzynski, 3B Juan Uribe. LHP Mark Buehrle (14-12, 3.87).

 

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY...

 

  • When all is said and done, the Indians will have posted a record of .500 or better in three of the last four seasons. They have at least 80 wins in four of the last five seasons.
  • The Tribe last swept a three-game series in Chicago in May of 1999.
  • The Indians were 16 games under .500 (37-53) on July 9. Since that time, they have gained 10 games on the entire division, improving from 16 games back to six games back. This is a good note, though it's equal parts a credit to the Indians and an indictment on the rest of this weak division, which nobody seems to want to win.
  • The Tribe has won 16 of its last 22 road games and is 21-13 on the road in the second half.
  • Speaking of the second half, the Indians have scored 378 runs (most in the Majors) and averaged 5.6 runs per game since the break. The Tigers are second with 363 runs. In the first half of the season, the Indians were 16th in the Majors in runs scored at 426.
  • Shin-Soo Choo has hit safely in 24 of his last 27 games with an at-bat, batting .404 with eight homers and 31 RBIs. His .400 average in September ranks third in the AL.
  • Hafner is in a 1-for-18 funk.  
  • One of the highlights of any season is the rookie hazing ritual in which the rookies must wear Halloween costumes for one of the final flights of the season. Somehow, the Indians pulled this one off under the media's radar this season. PR guru Bart Swain was kind enough to share with me the highlights of this year's crop. On the Tribe's flight from Boston to Chicago on Thursday night, Rich Rundles was dressed as a cop, Michael Aubrey was dressed as a member of the Village People, John Meloan was dressed as a character from the movie "300," Ben Francisco was dressed as Urkel (not sure how Ben got roped into the rookie hazing ritual two years in a row), and -- the highlight to end all highlights -- Masa Kobayashi was dressed as a pimp, and his interpreter, Toshi Nagahara, was dressed as a prostitute. "I had a whip and everything," Tagahara said. "They spent a lot of money." Sounds like money well spent to me.

Just because the season is over doesn't mean "CastroTurf" shuts down. This blog remains a work in progress (one of these days I'll actually find the energy and/or intellect to post photos or do those tag things), and I'm not sure how frequently it will be updated. But be sure to stop by as frequently or infrequently as you like, and I'll try to keep as much Indians content coming as I can.

 

In the meantime, I'm headed off to Anaheim for MLB.com's coverage of the Angels-Red Sox AL Division Series. There will be no Mailbag on the Indians.com site tomorrow, but, beginning Oct. 6, the Mailbag will run every week of the offseason. So please keep your submissions coming at tribemailbag@yahoo.com (and don't forget to include your first name, last initial and hometown).

 

And as always, thanks for reading.

 

~AC

Words between the lines of age

My friend Kate asked me the other day what my favorite word is. That’s a tough question for a writer to answer. It’s like asking a painter to pick his favorite color. Or asking a mailman to pick his favorite stamp. Or asking a politician to pick his favorite empty promise.

So, unfortunately, I was unable to settle on just one. But in the top five, certainly, is the word “penultimate.”

pe·nul·ti·mate

-adjective

1. next to the last: the penultimate scene of the play.
2. of or pertaining to a penult.

-noun

3.

a penult.

This, then, is an exciting day, because I get to use one of my top five favorite words. We are here at the penultimate game of the 2008 season. And this, therefore, would be my penultimate pregame blog entry of 2008, which would include our penultimate lineups and penultimate batch of pregame excruciating minutia.

And you know what? Now that I just used the word four times in a single paragraph, I can’t help but like it less.

INDIANS (80-80): CF Grady Sizemore, 3B Jamey Carroll, RF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Jhonny Peralta, C Victor Martinez, 1B Ryan Garko, DH David Dellucci, LF Ben Francisco, 2B Asdrubal Cabrera. LHP Zach Jackson (1-3, 5.96).

WHITE SOX (86-73): SS Orlando Cabrera, CF Brian Anderson, RF Jermaine Dye, DH Jim Thome, 1B Paul Konerko, 2B Alexei Ramirez, C A.J. Pierzynski, LF Nick Swisher, 3B Juan Uribe. RHP Javier Vazquez (12-15, 4.46).

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • Cliff Lee is doubtful to make Sunday’s start. He was playing catch before the game, and the Indians were to make their decision afterward. But Lee is still bothered by his neck, so I’d say there’s little to no chance he gets the nod tomorrow. Bryan Bullington will start in his place. White Sox fans rejoice.
  • Some medical updates for you… An MRI confirmed that Andy Marte has a moderate left calf strain, according to head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff. He will be out of commission for two to four weeks. He’ll head to Goodyear, Ariz., to rehab and get ready for winter ball.
  • Anthony Reyes has been shut down for 10 days. He’ll be shut down a total of 30 days before beginning a return to throw program at home in Los Angeles. Assuming all goes well, he’ll begin his normal offseason throwing program in January.
  • Aaron Laffey finished up his rehab of his elbow soreness and is entering the offseason at 100 percent, Soloff said.
  • This marks two consecutive days off for Travis Hafner. What gives? Eric Wedge said it’s not a physical issue. He just didn’t like Pronk’s numbers against Vazquez (4-for-22, no homers, six RBIs). Hafner will be in the lineup for tomorrow’s finale.
  • Chen-Chang Lee, the right-hander from Taiwan who was recently signed to a Minor League deal, made his organizational debut in the Fall Instructional League on Friday. He gave up a run on two hits in 1 1/3 innings, striking out a pair.
  • I guess my question is: Does it even matter if the White Sox make the playoffs? I’m finding it really difficult to imagine this team going anywhere.

~AC

UPDATE (6:35 p.m. ET): Yep, it’s official. Bullington’s getting the ball tomorrow. So Lee finishes off at 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA. Somewhat kinda halfway decent.

"I'm disturbed, I'm depressed, I'm inadequate… I've got it all!"

Because I am my own travel agent and I tend to book early flights that always seem to take me through Cleveland, regardless of where I’m coming from or where I’m headed, I’ve been up since 4:15 a.m. ET today. And I even gained an unnecessary hour on the day with the move to the Central time zone. So excuse me if I’m a little groggy with this blog entry and fall asleep on my keybkjfl;afjkdla;

(Good gag, huh?)

Where was I? Ah, yes, we’re in U.S. Cellular Field. Home of the most bizarre press box setup in baseball (it was moved from behind home plate to the upper deck in right a couple years ago) and one of the most dysfunctional organizations in MLB (you’ve got to love Ozzie Guillen warning Orlando Cabrera to be more careful with what he says to the media).

The Indians have a chance to do to the White Sox what the White Sox did to the Indians in ’05. Then again, with the way the Sox are playing, calling each other out and generally choking, it appears the Euclid High School baseball team could roll into here right now and take care of business.

Should be an interesting weekend. Here are tonight’s lineups. If you need me, I’ll be trying to squeeze in last night’s episode of “The Office” between innings…

INDIANS (79-80): CF Grady Sizemore, DH Ben Francisco, LF Shin-Soo Choo, 3B Jhonny Peralta, 1B Ryan Garko, C Kelly Shoppach, RF Franklin Gutierrez, 2B Josh Barfield, SS Asdrubal Cabrera. LHP Scott Lewis (3-0, 1.42).

WHITE SOX (86-72): SS Orlando Cabrera, CF Brian Anderson, RF Jermaine Dye, DH Jim Thome, 1B Paul Konerko, 2B Alexei Ramirez, C A.J. Pierzynski, LF NIck Swisher, 3B Juan Uribe. LHP John Danks (11-8, 3.20).

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • If I were a betting man (and I’m really not), I’d say Cliff Lee’s season is over. His stiff neck is still bothering him. You never know until you know, of course. And we’ll know tomorrow for sure. Bryan Bullington would start Sunday in Lee’s absense.
  • The front page of today’s Chicago Tribune sports section has the headshots of tonight’s starting pitchers. When Scott Lewis took a look at it earlier, he remarked, “Man, did I get ugly.” He made sure to make this comment within earshot of Jensen Lewis, whose picture was mistakenly used in place of Scott’s.
  • If Peralta boots three balls tonight, what will people e-mail me about this offseason? Because currently the over/under on the “When are the Indians going to move Peralta to third?” count is about 1,942.
  • After a late arrival from Boston last night, the Indians did not take BP today. “We had four tough games in Boston, and we got in late,” Eric Wedge said.
  • The Indians are 0-6 in Chicago this season and have lost seven straight here, dating back to last September.
  • The Tribe has guaranteed that it will finish the season with back-to-back winning months (18-10 in August, 14-10 in September thus far).

~AC

Carmona, Martinez suspensions reduced

Fausto Carmona and Victor Martinez each appealed their suspension by MLB and each had their suspension reduced by one game. As a result, beginning tonight, Carmona will serve a five-game suspension (with one game carrying over into 2009) and Martinez will serve a two-game suspension and will be eligible to return to the lineup Saturday in Chicago.

Madonna, she still has not showed

I was three years old when Madonna’s “Material Girl” video began airing on MTV in 1984. This was a particularly significant event in my life, because it initiated a lifetime of 100 percent heterosexual inclinations (“Not that there’s anything wrong” with the opposite, of course).

Flash forward 23 years, and if Madonna had followed the natural trend of the female pop icon, she would be washed up, wrung out, wrinkled and hung up to dry by now. She would be the subject of an “E! True Hollywood Story” that details her descent into a prescription-strength robitussin addiction, and her face would resemble an old catcher’s mitt.

But Madonna is none of those things. On my walk to Fenway this afternoon, I passed a ginormous billboard promoting her two upcoming concerts at TD Banknorth Gardens in Boston. Unaware Madonna even had a new album, let alone that she was touring, I did a quick perusal of the Internet and found she ranks fourth in the latest Pollstar power rankings (then again, AC/DC ranks first… so I’m not sure that’s really an indication of anything). A London Times review of Madonna’s Wembley Stadium show mentioned that she pole-danced atop a DJ booth and has the body of a woman half her age.

I don’t know whether to be horrified or impressed with all this new information. But I suppose it is beyond denial that Madonna, at 50, is still a sex symbol (even if it is among the AARP crowd), still relevant enough to have affairs with ballplayers (A-Rod should be available in October) and still a concert draw. Way to go, Madonna Ciccone. I’ll always be a fan of “Material Girl,” as long as the mute button is on.

On a completely unrelated note, let’s all congratulate former MLB.com and Indians.com associate reporter Andrew “The Scribble” Gribble for landing a full-time gig covering Auburn University athletics for the Opelika-Auburn News. Gribble did an excellent job helping out with coverage of the Tribe and several other teams this season, and he’ll be missed. But he has a fine opportunity down south, and I’m sure he’ll make us proud.

With all those accolades out of the way, let’s hear tonight’s lineups, shall we?

INDIANS (79-79): CF Grady Sizemore, 3B Jamey Carroll, LF Ben Francisco, SS Jhonny Peralta, C Kelly Shoppach, DH Travis Hafner, 1B Ryan Garko, RF Franklin Gutierrez, 2B Josh Barfield. LHP Jeremy Sowers (4-8, 5.48).

RED SOX (93-65): CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 3B Jed Lowrie, 2B Dustin Pedroia, 1B Kevin Youkilis, LF Jason Bay, C Jason Varitek, RF Mark Kotsay, DH Jeff Bailey, SS Alex Cora. LHP Jon Lester (15-6, 3.26).

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • Jhonny Peralta said he’s been told he will be starting at third base Friday night in Chicago.
  • Cliff Lee is dealing with a stiff neck and didn’t throw his bullpen session today. So now he’s questionable for Sunday’s start on multiple fronts — his physical state and the White Sox’s spot in the standings. Bryan Bullington would get the start if Lee doesn’t. The Indians held Bullington around 60 pitches last night, just in case.
  • Speaking of Lee, in today’s editions of The Plain Dealer, he is asked in a Q&A what his favorite book is. His response? “I don’t think I’ve read a book in my life, to be honest.” I’m sure the University of Arkansas is very proud.
  • Adam Miller made his Fall Instructional League debut yesterday in Goodyear and worked two scoreless innings, allowing no hits and no walks and striking out three in the Indians’ 7-1 win over the Royals. Miller hit 94 mph on the radar gun.
  • Remember that giant Coke bottle that used to sit high above the Green Monster? Jensen Lewis does. In Game 7 of the ALCS last year, Lewis gave up a home run to Kevin Youkilis that rocketed off that bottle and further added to the Tribe’s misery. The bottle has since been removed. “Good riddance,” Lewis said. “I put a crack in that thing last year.” When Lewis returned to Vanderbilt to work out in the offseason, his buddies filled his locker with Coke bottles as a cruel reminder.  
  • Remember Ben Francisco? He’s 10-for-his-last-63 with two RBIs over his last 18 games.

~AC

Is Cliff done, too?

It’s obvious Cliff Lee’s stuff has lost some of its luster the last three starts. That’s what happens when you make 31 starts and pitch 223 1/3 innings.

For now, Lee is penciled in to start Sunday in Chicago. But if that game has no impact on the postseason race between the White Sox and Twins, the Indians might opt to put Lee on the shelf.

“Let’s see what the game means and go from there,” manager Eric Wedge said.

More on the Indians.com site in a bit.

"No one gives us the finger. We're Yankees!"

I don’t really consider myself a Yankee-hater. I don’t have the energy to begrudge them their $200 million payroll or 26 World Series crowns. That’s negative energy I’d rather expend on Nickelback, Jay Leno and people who use smiley faces in their e-mails.

That being said, the fact that the Yanks were officially bounced from postseason contention last night gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. And the fact that the Rays are the likely division winners only makes it better. This is the chess team captain getting the head cheerleader while the quarterback sulks (of course, I don’t know where that leaves the dork who wrote for his school paper… but enough about me).

Anyway, Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner isn’t as happy about this scenario as I am. He vented to the Sporting News about baseball’s need to do away with divisions and let the top four teams from the American and National Leagues advance to October. Here was one particularly choice quote:

“Baseball went to a multidivision setup to create more races, rivalries and excitement. But it isn’t fair. You see it this season, with plenty of people in the media pointing out that Joe Torre and the Dodgers are going to the playoffs while we’re not. This is by no means a knock on Torre — let me make that clear — but look at the division they’re in. If LA were in the AL East, it wouldn’t be in the playoff discussion.”

Now, I could write an entire blog entry filled with reasons why the LA probably shouldn’t be in the AL East, but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’d like to open up the floor to other Hankian ideas for radical realignment. Should baseball do away with divisions? Should the divisions be rearranged? Or are you happy with things the way they are (the Indians’ October absence notwithstanding).

As Hank taught us, no idea is too crazy to propose, so let’s hear what you’ve got. That is, if you’re not too busy consoling LeBron.

Here are tonight’s lineups…

INDIANS (79-78): CF Grady Sizemore, 3B Jamey Carroll, RF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Jhonny Peralta, C Victor Martinez, DH Travis Hafner, LF Ben Francisco, 1B Ryan Garko, 2B Josh Barfield. RHP Fausto Carmona (8-7, 5.19).

RED SOX (92-65): CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 2B Dustin Pedroia, DH David Ortiz, 3B Kevin Youkilis, RF J.D. Drew, 1B Mark Kotsay, C Jason Varitek, LF Chris Carter, SS Alex Cora. RHP Paul Byrd (11-12, 4.53).

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • Scott Elarton has been on the Indians’ DL since June 30 with a non-baseball medical condition, the details of which have not (and will not) be divulged. But Eric Wedge said he spoke with Elarton about a week ago. “He siad things are going good, he’s doing better,” Wedge said. “We didn’t talk about whether or not he wants to pitch next year.”
  • Cliff Lee is one of just seven pitchers since 1920 to win 22 of his first 25 decisions (according to Stats LLC), and his 22 wins are one shy of the team record for wins by a left-hander, set by Vean Gregg in 1911. He’ll get one more shot at that record Sunday in Chicago.
  • The Red Sox last night became the first team to clinch an appearance in the postseason by defeating a pitcher with at least 20 wins since Sept. 23, 1973, when Oakland won the AL West by defeating Chicago’s Wilbur Wood (24-19). That nugget comes to you courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau.
  • The Indians tied the Major League record for getting hit by a pitch. The mark of 100 was originally set by the Astros in 1997.
  • Ryan Garko has reached base safely in 31 straight games.
  • Josh Barfield went 2-for-3 last night to triple his hit total for the season.
  • The Indians haven’t made an error in five games and rank fourth in the AL with a .985 fielding percentage. Of course, that didn’t help Jhonny Peralta get to the grounder to his left side in the fifth inning last night.
  • The Indians are hitting .280 in the second half with 350 runs scored in 63 games (5.6 runs per game). They are first in the Majors in runs and first in OPS (.820) in the second half.
  • Bullpen coach Luis Isaac was asked who has the advantage tonight — Paul Byrd or the Indians’ hitters. “It’s 50-50,” Isaac said. “But one 50 can be stronger than the other.” I really don’t know what that means, but I like it.

~AC

Marte's done.

Andy Marte’s inglorious 2008 season has come to a close. He heard his calf muscle pop in the second inning last night and had to be helped off the field. He’s on crutches now and will head to Cleveland on Thursday for an MRI.

Marte said he could be out of commission anywhere from a week to a month, depending on the severity of the strain. He’ll likely head to the Indians’ new facility in Goodyear, Ariz., for rehab, then he’s planning to play Dominican Winter Ball.

The Indians told him to be prepared to come to Spring Training camp in shape and ready to play, but it remains to be seen which team’s camp he’ll report to. He does not appear to be the Tribe’s “third baseman of the future,” as once thought.

UPDATE: With Asdrubal Cabrera out the next two games, Wedge had Victor Martinez take groundballs at third before tonight’s game, in case he needs to fill in at any point for Jamey Carroll. As far as the long-range plans (well, as long-range as you can get, when there are only five games left), it’s possible Jhonny Peralta could be pushed to third for a game, depending on how Carroll’s going.

And that, of course, would just lead to add fuel to the Peralta-to-third fires.

Tougher than the rest

The walk from the visitor’s dugout to the clubhouse at Fenway Park takes you down a damp, dank hallway that still has mildew from 1937.

That walk always reminds me precisely what I love about Fenway Park. It has that “feel” you can only get here and at Wrigley Field. While I understand the rationale behind the hoopla surrounding the final game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, spare me any mention of it being the same park where Babe Ruth hit No. 60 in 1927 or Don Larsen threw a perfect game in the World Series, because that park was basically obliterated in the renovations of 1974-75.

Forget the 33-year-old Yankee Stadium. Give me Fenway. Give me the Pesky pole, the Green “Monstah,” the lone red seat in the right-field bleachers that marks Ted Williams’ longest home run, and the coffee stain in the visitor’s clubhouse that was probably left by Tony Lazzeri.

Give me all this, and I’ll give you tonight’s lineups…

INDIANS (79-77): CF Grady Sizemore, 2B Jamey Carroll, LF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Jhonny Peralta, 1B Victor Martinez, DH David Dellucci, C Kelly Shoppach, RF Franklin Gutierrez, 3B Andy Marte. LHP Cliff Lee (22-2, 2.41).

RED SOX (91-65): RF Jacoby Ellsbury, 2B Dustin Pedroia, DH David Ortiz, 3B Kevin Youkilis, LF Jason Bay, SS Jed Lowrie, 1B Sean Casey, C Kevin Cash, CF Coco Crisp. RHP Tim Wakefield (9-11, 4.18).

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • Josh Beckett hit three guys last night but said he didn’t have bad control. Uh, sure. “I don’t think I had control issues,” said Beckett. “One guy had gigantic body armor on the whole [expletive] left side of his body.” That guy would be Ryan Garko, who shrugged off Beckett’s complaint. Manager Eric Wedge added, “So what?”
  • Thanks in part to Beckett, the Indians are now one hit batsman from tying a Major League record (100) set by Houston in 1997.
  • Jhonny Peralta is just the 12th shortstop in history to record 40 doubles and 20 homers in a single season.
  • With a win tonight, the Indians would equal their best record of the season (three games over .500).
  • Brian Slocum, one of the forgotten men in the Indians’ expanded clubhouse, will have minor elbow surgery performed Thursday at the Cleveland Clinic. A small inciscion will be made to remove tissue that has been causing him pain. The surgery shouldn’t affect his offseason throwing program. 
  • Cliff Lee hasn’t lost in 78 days. If he wins tonight, he ties the club record for wins by a left-hander, set by Vean Gregg in 1911, and becomes the first Major Leaguer to win 23 since Randy Johnson and Barry Zito did so in 2002. Lee is also on pace to have the highest-ever winning percentage for a 20-game winner.
  • Shin-Soo Choo’s second-half OPS is 1.046, which is the highest in the AL among those with at least 200 plate appearances.  
  • The Indians have scored the same number of runs as the White Sox this season (772), despite having 57 fewer home runs. The Sox have played one less game than the Tribe.
  • The line of the week, already, is as follows, and it shall remain anonymous: “Hey, did you say hi to Kenny Lofton? He’s still standing on third base.”

Lastly, I hope you all did something special to celebrate Bruce Springsteen’s 59th birthday. Hopefully you didn’t blast “Jessie’s Girl” on your Ipod.

~AC

Cabrera in the corner

Asdrubal Cabrera has decided not to appeal his three-game suspension and will be out of uniform for the remainder of this three-game series at Fenway.

No word yet on when MLB will hear the appeals of Victor Martinez (three-game suspension) and Fausto Carmona (six games). The smart money is on both those guys dropping their appeals after Wednesday night’s game, which will be Carmona’s final start of the year.

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