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 take a look at how the Tribe is faring after their first week of baseball. We'll discuss the offense's impressive attempt at a rally on Opening Day, new ways the Tribe might get more fans out to the ballpark, and which players on the team ought to be a little nervous about their job security.
I would like to thank this week's participants Dale Thomas and Jim Piascik for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. If you ask any serious baseball enthusiast "what's the single most discouraging thing that could happen to your team on Opening Day?", many of them would surely answer, "watching my team's ace implode on the mound".
Indians fans had to endure just that during Friday's opener, when Fausto Carmona was crushed for 10 runs on 11 hits in just three innings.
Losing on Opening Day largely thanks to Fausto's horrible outing was disappointing, but obviously what this means for our supposed ace going forward is of far greater concern than just one loss.
Exactly how worried are you about Fausto as a result of what happened to him in the opener? Do you think he can correct the problems he had in the opener and quickly bounce back in his next start?
Given his history of being badly shaken when his mechanics fail him, are you also worried that even if Carmona can get the technical stuff worked out, there's a chance the bad outing has shaken his confidence badly enough to seriously affect his control in the future?
Samantha Bunten: First off, we need to start telling it like it is: Carmona is NOT an ace. Being the first pitcher in a team's rotation doesn't automatically make Carmona or any other guy in that slot for his team a real "ace". Lee, Sabathia…those guys were aces. Carmona, even in his better starts, is not.
That being said, I don't think the Opener is an indication that Fausto has gone totally off the rails. Certainly, I'm concerned. Especially since he appeared to be laughing on the mound several times while he was getting lit up. Let's hope that was just a nervous tic.
I imagine he'll straighten it out in his next start, and eventually put up a decent season. He won't however be an ace, be the guy who he appeared to be in 2007, or even be regarded as the best pitcher on our team by the end of this year.
Dale Thomas: The fact that Carmona IS the team's ace is my biggest worry.
He left an awful lot of stuff up in the zone, and on a day when the umpire was in a low-ball mood. 10 runs, 11 hits, three innings. That's an opening day record that dates all the way back to 1876. (Cubs, Braves). Yes I'm worried!
He's had only two seasons where he won more than eight games, and one of those was sub .500 (13-14, 2010). Obviously I think he'll do better in his next start, but I don't expect him to land in the win column. In 2009 he had a similar game in June (31.50 era) from which he never really recovered. Zero confidence here.
Jim Piascik: I'm very worried about Fausto the Ace after the Opening Day loss, but not as much about Fausto the pitcher.
I don't think that Fausto Carmona will ever develop into the ace of the staff. He's not a Colon, Lee, Sabathia, or Feller; he's a good no. 2 starter. I think that he'll be decent this year, but not great.
I don't think that his horrible Opening Day outing will ruin his season, but I do think it should serve as a warning to not expect 2007 out of Fausto ever again. That was a fluke; that's not his destiny.
2. Despite the horrible pitching by Fausto Carmona and Justin Germano on Opening Day, the Tribe's first outing of 2011 wasn't all bad news.
The offense, while quiet for the first part of the game, came to life in the late innings and mounted a 10-run comeback when down 14-0.
Obviously, any time a team scores 10 runs, it's good news. But it's even more noteworthy that the Indians were able to score 10 runs after being down 14-0. Though the rally unfortunately fell short, it speaks to the team's attitude and tenacity that they were willing to keep fighting even when down by such a huge number of runs.
Did the effort make you feel good about the Tribe's offense? Do you agree that there is significant importance in the fact that the team kept fighting despite being down so far? Did the attempted rally make you feel at least a little better about the Tribe's disappointing Opening Day?
Samantha Bunten: I thought what the Tribe offense did on Opening Day was just fantastic. After the fourth, I was ready to shut off the game because I couldn't take it any more. I'm glad I kept watching though, because that attempted rally by the offense was really something to see.
This is the kind of fight we need out of a young, inexperienced team that is going to have battle their way to every win they get this season. I know the rally in the Opener ultimately fell short, but that's not the hitters' fault. Blame this one on the pitching; 10 runs should ALWAYS be enough to win a ballgame.
Dale Thomas: Yes, I'm pretty happy with the Tribe's offense thus far into the season, and I think it's huge that they didn't give up in the opener.
After Germano, the relievers pitched pretty well. It totally made me feel better. That's far different than saying I felt good, but at least some of the shame subsided...
Jim Piascik:The comeback definitely made me feel good about the Tribe's offense. I don't think it's nearly as bad as it's made out to be. Sure, there aren't many household names, but there's definite talent in the lineup.
The fact that they fought back and didn't give up is a good sign for the season. It's not like the Tribe's going to coast at any point this season. They're going to have to fight for everything they get and the Opening Day comeback is exactly the kind of effort they need to have.
3. During the first few games of the season, the Indians saw some disappointing play from some players who were expected to be among the team's top performers, and some surprisingly good performances turned in by players from whom not much was expected.
Which Indians do you think have been surprisingly good so far? Which players have been surprisingly worse than you expected? Is membership in either group just a product of a small sample size, and therefore probably not indicative of anything that will last, or is there a chance that some of these surprises (good or bad) are unexpected signs of what's to come in 2011?
Samantha Bunten: The obvious choice is Jack Hannahan. Going into the season, I was willing to put up with what I thought would be lackluster offense in exchange for an end to the suffering we've been put through defensively at third base for the last few years. The fact that he's bringing some offense to the table is just icing on the cake.
I have to give a nod to Michael Brantley too, a longtime favorite of mine who is finally putting up the numbers to be the kind of guy I've been incorrectly claiming he could be for about two years. It's early, but I'm hoping this means he's righted the ship for good.
Obviously Choo's .100 average is disappointing and surprising, especially when you take into account his Golden Sombrero last Sunday. Still, if there's any guy who I'm not worried about early struggles with, it's Choo. He will be fine. Then of course there's Fausto, but I don't exactly see that one as a surprise.
Kearns is the one that's bugging me right now. I didn't expect miracles from him, but he's yet to get a hit. Whatever you think of him, he's certainly better than that.
Dale Thomas: Through four games, we have seven hitters batting over .300. That's good news.
Hannahan has been a nice surprise, and so has Hafner. Orlando Cabrera is also on the good list through four. Lou Marson has even logged two hits! Talk about a nice surprise.
On the flipside is Choo at a dismal .063, and LaPorta doing his usual thing at .167. LaPorta is no surprise but Choo is.
After only four games, I don't put a lot of stock in any of these stats, other than to say that I don't think Carmona's start was a freak accident and I don't think Choo will continue his slump. At this early stage I would say that the team effort thus far is very encouraging.
Jim Piascik: Jack Hannahan has surprised me so far. He's everything you could want defensively at third base and has shown some surprising pop. While I don't think he's anything more than a stopgap until Lonnie Chisenhall's ready, he's proved to be more than worth our time.
Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Carrasco have struggled out of the gate, but I'm not concerned in the slightest yet. We've played so few games that it's hard to take any stats seriously right now. Let's wait until at least 20 games (preferably 40) before making definitive judgments. Anyone can have a bad four or five game stretch.
4. As manager Manny Acta is often the first to point out in the early days of a season, it's far too early in the year and far too few games have been played to truly assess players' performances and determine how safe their jobs are.
However, we at Tribe Talk often like to prematurely speculate on such things anyway. Based on the games we've seen so far (and perhaps also on performances in Spring Training), which current players are most in danger of losing their jobs? Which players will be pushed the most at their position by their backups?
Who will be the first player to be supplanted by the player behind him on the depth chart due to poor performance on his part or performance too good to ignore on the backup's part?
Samantha Bunten: Kearns and Germano should both be worried for their futures if they don't shape up in a hurry. Kearns becomes expendable as soon as Sizemore gets back, and if that takes longer than expected, our Triple-A team has quite a few outfielders who could snag Kearns' job if he doesn't get it together.
Germano is a little different, because there aren't a whole lot of long relievers in line to take his place. Still, if he doesn't find a way to bounce back in a hurry, there's a demotion in his future. He was one of the last to make the team out of Spring Training, and if he doesn't improve soon, he'll be one of the first to go.
Regardless of that, I still think Chiz is the first guy we'll see called up this year in terms of players who will come up to permanently supplant the incumbent at their position. Hopefully we'll be able to keep Hannahan around as a backup though, since he's done a really nice job so far.
Dale Thomas: If I were Germano, I'd be nervous. And LaPorta is...well, LaPorta. However, I think Kearns will be the first to go to the bench just as soon as Sizemore can get back.
Chisenhall will probably be the first to be called up from the minors because of an excellent Spring. I'm guessing they will leave LaPorta right where he is.
Jim Piascik: I think that Austin Kearns should be replaced soon. He's not that dynamic of a player and is best suited to being a fourth outfielder. I'd rather see one of the AAA outfielders replace him until Grady Sizemore's ready. I don't think he has nearly as much value as people think.
I'm also going to head off any replace Matt LaPorta thoughts. He's only had 13 plate appearances so far this year. That's far too small of a sample size to make a determination on. Let's talk when he's had 20-40 games to prove himself. It's too early for me to talk about LaPorta.
5. Fun Question of the Week: It seems like every year, we wind up having a discussion in this column about what to do to remedy the Tribe's eternally sagging attendance at Progressive Field. This season will be no different, as our ballpark witnessed its smallest crowd ever during last Saturday's loss to Chicago.
Obviously, the best way to get fans out to the ballpark (and keep them coming game after game) is for the team to start winning and if not contend, at least compete in the division. Still, the Indians have to come up with other ways to fill the house when the team can't produce enough wins to draw a crowd.
The promotional schedule, with its dollar dog days and fireworks nights, tries to give the fans a reason aside from just the game itself to come down to the ballpark, but obviously that hasn't been enough.
Tell us, what are your best original ideas for getting more fans to the ballpark? They can be new, fresh ideas for promotional giveaways, or they can be suggestions for other ways to draw a crowd...anything that might keep the Indians from posting the worst home attendance figures for the second season in a row!
Samantha Bunten: I always like cross-promotions with other teams in town, like last season when they did the one where you could get into the Tribe game for half off if you showed your ticket stub from a Cavs game.
Unfortunately that won't work this season, as…get ready for this…the Indians are currently the best team in town. They're obviously better than the Cavs, and even though no one wants to acknowledge it, they had a better winning percentage than the Browns last year. Plus there may not even be a football season in 2011.
That said, the best route to go is probably with new and improved promotional items. The Indians need to take a lesson from minor league and independent league baseball and get more creative about what they give away. Instead of doing more of the same old things (dollar dogs, figurines, fireworks, etc.), they need to come up with new and more interesting promotions that have a bit of a sense of humor.
I don't need any more magnet schedules or bobbleheads, but if you're offering me a dartboard with a White Sox logo in the middle of it or a Chris Perez wig, I'm there in a heartbeat.
Dale Thomas: I think there should be an ESPN special every week where we all guess where the Tribe will move to for each remaining week of the season. At the end of each show, they'll say we're moving to South Beach.
We replace the house lights with tanning bulbs, fill the outfield with water and the infield with sand. The shops will sell swim suits instead of jerseys, the beer taps will deliver Mojitos and reggae will be broadcast over the loudspeakers. Sold out. Play Ball!
Jim Piascik: I think they should just give more stuff away, especially nicer things. I don't care if I get a magnet; I don't think many people are coming to the park for that magnet alone.
I know they're giving away Choo jerseys later this year. How about more of that? I'd go to the game anyway, but I'd be much more likely to choose the day where I'm getting a free jersey. Those things are so overpriced as is, I'm sure they can afford to give more away.
Especially if it means not finishing last in attendance, I think it's a good move. More jersey giveaways, more dollar dog nights, more fireworks, more of everything. Just throw stuff at people. People like free stuff, but they love good free stuff.