Welcome to Tribe Talk, where our panel of Cleveland Indians fans weigh-in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.
This week, we discuss the Tribe's chances for a sweep against upcoming opponents, consider revamping the rotation and tweaking the batting order, and evaluate the performance of the Cabreras.
I would like to thank this week's participant Lewie Pollis for his contribution. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. The red-hot Indians hit a bit of a stumbling block last week, struggling a bit on the West Coast and going .500 on their road trip to Oakland and Los Angeles. Still, the team remains in good shape, 4.5 games ahead of Kansas City entering the week.
Over the next two weeks, the Indians will see Tampa Bay, Seattle, Kansas City and Chicago. What do you make of their upcoming opponents? Do you see this as a series where the Tribe should be able to roll over the competition, or will they have to fight for every win?
Which of those opponents do you think will give the Tribe the most difficult time? Which do you think would be the easiest to sweep?
Samantha Bunten: Hindsight is always 20/20, but I think we all knew before the week started that Tampa Bay would prove to be a difficult opponent. I expected the Tribe to take two of three, rather than the other way around, but I think it was pretty obvious that no one was going to be sweeping anyone.
Kansas City and Seattle, fortunately for the Tribe, are a different story. The Tribe should absolutely be able to sweep Seattle, and it's a possibility with the Royals as well—though I think they'll have to work for that. Luckily, Kansas City is only a two-game series; after that, the Indians go to Chicago, which—considering the way the White Sox have played this season—is really a gift from the baseball gods.
Lewie Pollis: Having already seen two of the games against Tampa, I can say with full certainty that they'll be pretty tough opponents. For the record, I would have said that before the series started too. They're the only team of the group that really scares me at all.
I could easily see the Indians sweeping the Royals or Mariners. So yeah, the next part of the schedule should be a little easier than the last week has been, but anything can happen in a sample size this small. The best team doesn't always win.
2. There has been some griping about the batting order lately—from Choo needing to be moved down to the bottom while he struggles, to Santana being too inexperienced to hit in the cleanup spot, to Sizemore needing to be moved out of the first spot because he isn't the prototypical lead-off hitter.
And yet, this lineup—flawed as it may be—has gone 22-10 as of Monday. Do you think it's better to proactively make changes to the lineup such as those listed above, or do you think the team's success is an indication that the lineup should be left alone?
If you were in charge, what would your lineup card for the Tribe look like?
Samantha Bunten: There's a lot to be said for the "if ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality in baseball, but that doesn't mean the Indians should stop making small adjustments that will play out better over the long haul .
To me, there are two key things that need to change in the batting order. First, Sizemore should not be batting lead-off. This isn't a knock on Grady at all. It's just that he's not the type of player who fits well in that spot, especially since the Indians do have a prototypical leadoff hitter in Michael Brantley. Sizemore is better suited to the three-hole.
Then there's Choo. I still think he'll figure it out eventually, but his numbers are bad enough that he's lost the right to figure it out in the third spot in the batting order. Move him down. When he eventually gets it together, they'll have the option to move him back up closer to the top.
Here's my current ideal batting order: 1. Brantley 2. A.Cabrera 3. Sizemore 4. Santana 5. Hafner 6. Choo 7. O. Cabrera 8. LaPorta 9. Hannahan
Lewie Pollis: I don't know what Santana's inexperience has to do with anything, and Choo's struggling is just the fact that his BABIP is 89 points lower than his career average.
Anyway, at this point my lineup would probably be something like: 1. Brantley 2. Sizemore 3. A. Cabrera 4. Santana 5. Choo 6. Hafner 7. LaPorta 8. O. Cabrera 9. Hannahan
3. With so many players on the roster doing so well for the Indians this season, it's easy to accidentally forget to give a guy or two the credit they deserve. We haven't talked much about Asdrubal Cabrera or Orlando Cabrera on Tribe Talk yet this season, but both have really done a fantastic job thus far in 2011.
Asdrubal leads the team in hits, HRs and RBIs and has played stellar defense at shortstop, and Orlando has been an excellent hitter in pressure situations and has provided solid defense and veteran leadership.
What do you think of Asdrubal's performance so far? Do you consider him an underrated player?
What do you think of Orlando Cabrera's performance so far? Are you happy the Tribe spent money to sign him in the offseason? Has he been worth it so far?
Samantha Bunten: So far this season, Asdrubal has demonstrated he's a well-rounded player who can be consistent—something we haven't always seen from him in the past. The power numbers are a bit surprising, and I don't think they'll last, but I do think he'll maintain a very solid average and continue to be a reliable player in all facets of the game.
As for Orlando, I've been pleasantly surprised at how he's panned out for the Tribe. I was a little unsure about the signing at first, but I think he's proven he's worth the money. He's shown he's a worthy veteran presence on a young team and has delivered both at the plate and in the field.
With Jason Kipnis getting closer and closer to being major-league ready, O-Cab's days are surely numbered; however, having him around allows the Indians to refrain from bringing Kipnis up before he's ready out of desperation. If Kipnis looks prepared to join the Tribe later this season, O-Cab could be a valuable trade chip or an excellent utility infielder.
Lewie Pollis: Droobs isn't underrated at all, and this question reveals why—despite what our eyes tell us, A-Cab's defense has been anything but "stellar." UZR says he's cost the Indians 6.3 runs already with his poor range, the worst in the league.
Defensive metrics are shaky in a sample size this small, but this isn't a new trend; his career UZR/150 is -11.1. It's weird to think about him that way since it seems like he makes a web gem every other game, but maybe he wouldn't have to lay out for so many balls if he could get to them without diving. As long as he's hitting this well, I'm happy to put up with his subpar D, but if anything the perception that he is an elite fielder might make him somewhat overrated.
As for Orlando—the subjective fan in me loves him because he always seems to come up with the big hit, but we're talking about a guy with a .640 OPS and a wRC+ of 79. His fielding has been suspect too—UZR is far from gospel this early and he could still be adjusting to second base, but at -5.9 runs he comes out as the worst defensive infielder in the American League.
If the Indians are still in the race at the All-Star Break and Jason Kipnis isn't ready yet, I think they'd have to consider moving Asdrubal back to second and trading for another shortstop—maybe someone like Jose Reyes.
4. Two weeks ago, the Indians were terribly shorthanded at starting pitcher due to injuries, prompting them to call up Jeanmar Gomez and Alex White. Now, however, with Talbot close to coming off the DL and Carrasco even closer, the team will soon find itself with a decision to make regarding the future of the rotation.
How do you think the Indians should handle the issue? Should Alex White stay in the rotation even when Carrasco and Talbot come back? If so, who is the odd man out?
If you could dictate what the starting rotation would be once all seven potential starters are available, which five would make the cut, and what order would you set them in going forward?
Samantha Bunten: Masterson, Carmona and Tomlin aren't in danger of going anywhere. Those should probably be the first three guys in the rotation—in that order—unless Carmona has too many meltdowns.
I think Carrasco should stay and Gomez should go, which leaves one spot and two pitchers to fill it. Talbot is probably worth more in trade than he is in the rotation for us as long as Alex White can keep getting the job done. So far, what White has done proves he has every right to be in the majors—the job is his to lose.
Lewie Pollis: That's a tough one. Masterson and Carmona are sure things. Carrasco stays because his troubles have been largely luck-related (3.28 FIP entering Wednesday's game). I'd have to see more of the others before I made a final decision.
Gomez probably wouldn't make the cut, and unless Talbot's two-start strikeout totals are legit, I'd try to trade him and give the rotation spots to White and Tomlin.
5. Fun Question of the Week: We've talked before about who our favorite Indians are this season, and most of us still have a soft spot for former Indians now playing for other teams like Omar Vizquel as well.
But we all also have other individual players who we're fond of. Tell us, who are your favorite players on other teams who are not former Indians? What is it about them that's gotten you attached to them even though they've never been a part of the Tribe?
Samantha Bunten: No matter what team they're on, I love any player who is willing to throw himself around and play humble-but-aggressive, hard-nosed ,throwback style baseball. Tough-guy types like Ryan Braun who leave every game with a dirty uniform and a couple of bruises.
I also have a long-standing but inexplicable attachment to Billy Butler, and you have to love Josh Hamilton because he always looks so incredibly thankful just to be out there getting the chance to play ball every day. There's something very endearing about a player who recognizes that it's a privilege to play baseball for a living.
Lewie Pollis: There are two kinds of non-Indians players I love: one-time sleeper picks who I got right and non-obvious guys who come through big for my fantasy team (often they're one in the same). Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Matt Holliday, Gordon Beckham, Troy Tulowitzki and Pablo Sandoval are a few examples.
There are some other players who I just like because—well, I don't really know why. Jason Heyward is up there, as are Daric Barton and Ben Zobrist. And, of course, Pujols and Ichiro.