Thursday, May 15, 2008


With a couple of exceptions -- a 12-run outburst against Toronto, notably -- the Cleveland Indians left their bats down in Winter Haven. The only regular starter hitting over .300 is Victor Martinez, who, as a No. 4 hitter, has yet to hit one home run. Though some are starting to come around - Hafner has hit in his last few - the offensive state for the Wahoos is still certifiably anemic.

OK, the complaining and negativity end here, I promise. The Indians are 22-19 and back in first place in the AL Central. What's there to complain about, really?

The starting pitching staff has handcuffs on every single hitter in their American League, going an epic 55 1/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. As of Friday, it's been a week since the Indians' starters have given up an earned run. In that time span, they threw three complete-game shutouts, if you count Cliff Lee's nine-inning goose egg that amounted to a no-decision (and I count it.) Lee threw a eight innings of shutout ball in his previous start against the Yankees, and two starts before that, he threw a two-hit shutout in Kansas City, sandwiching in there a terrible start in which he gave up a three-run homer and still won. (In some circles, that's known as a "quality start.")

The defense has been stellar. Sure, Asdrubal Cabrera turned an unassisted triple play, but he also has made some mind-boggling catches in the field. Grady Sizemore is running down everything hit in the air to center field, and both Franklin Gutierrez and Ben Francisco have been showcasing their strong arms, throwing out numerous base runners.

To me, the real stunner is Aaron Laffey. Laffey was solid last year as the Tribe's No. 5 during the second half of the season. He logged a 4-2 record with a 4.56 ERA in 9 starts last year and assured that Cliff Lee would stay at AAA (turns out that was a very good thing for Lee). No one really gave Laffey much of a shot to win the No. 5 starter spot out of Spring Training, and they were right. He didn't pitch particularly well in Winter Haven. But he's hit his stride since the call-up, filling in more than adequately for Jake Westbrook, who was tremendous himself before he got hurt. Laffey must stay up with the varsity when Westbrook comes back, in my opinion. Maybe the Indians should try a six-man rotation? It will save some innings from the rest of the staff for later in the season. Can you imagine? A six-man rotation with three lefties and three righties? Three hard-throwers and three finesse guys? Preparing for that kind of versatility would give managers, hitting coaches and hitters absolute fits.

In short, the Tribe has the most depth in baseball as the most coveted position. If they can move Betancourt back to the eighth-inning role, where he is most effective and comfortable, they will be set in the bullpen. And I think Eric Wedge can make this move now, as Masa Kobayashi appears to have the moxy to close out games.

The Tribe loses the designated hitter this weekend as they travel down I-71 to play a set in Cincinnati, but I don't think it matters. They've been playing National League baseball -- scratch that, 1960s era National League baseball -- for the past two weeks. The pitchers hitting my actually help them. Jeremy Sowers starts tomorrow night, and if he twirls a gem, the Indians will have a logjam in their rotation so tight that the only thing busier than Mark Shapiro's cell phone -- with offers from other general managers for a starter -- will be Carl Willis', who will receive calls from reporters who want to feature the next Leo Mazzone.

Small ball: It worked in 1948. Why not now?


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