Baby steps. Sometimes that’s better than no steps at all.
The Cleveland Indians went 3-3 this past week, and while it may not seem as if it was all that impressive of a week, the Indians still went .500 while playing on the road, which really is not too shabby.
The one major negative is the fact that the Indians could not take two out of three games from the Wildcard-leading Oakland Athletics, and the team fell to 4 ½ games back in that race.
There’s still plenty of time left in the race, but these next few games will prove critical for the team and its chances of remaining in contention.
With that being said, let’s take a look back at the week that was as the Indians begin another very important week beginning today.
August 12 at Minnesota, L 3-0 (WP: Albers, LP: Salazar)
August 13 at Minnesota, W 5-2 (WP: McAllister, LP: Deduno)
August 14 at Minnesota, W 9-8 (WP: Perez, LP: Pressly)
August 16 at Oakland, L 3-2 (WP: Doolittle, LP: Masterson)
August 17 at Oakland, W 7-1 (WP: Jimenez, LP: Straily)
August 18 at Oakland, L 7-3 (WP: Otero, LP: Kazmir)
Player of the Week
Michael Brantley — Left field
6 G, 7-for-21, 2 R, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 3 BB
When the Indians are going good, that usually means that Michael Brantley is a big part of things, and that was true during the past week. Brantley had three straight games where he collected two hits, and he was a catalyst for the team’s come-from-behind victory Wednesday at Minnesota. The numbers do suggest that Brantley may be a tad overrated by Tribe fans as Baseball Reference has his WAR at 2.8 while FanGraphs has it at 1.6. Ideally, a corner outfielder would hit for more power, but Brantley certainly has other admirable attributes, including his ability to hit with runners in scoring position. On the year, Brantley owns a .346 average with two outs and runners in scoring position, so he clearly is one of the most clutch players on the team. Brantley’s heroics were huge Wednesday for the Tribe as he started a four-run rally in the eighth inning when he hit an RBI single to score Jason Kipnis. Later, in the 12th inning, Brantley hit a sacrifice fly to score Nick Swisher, and that proved to be the difference in the contest. Over the next month and a half, the Indians are going to be in the thick of the Wildcard race, and a guy like Brantley could prove critical to the team’s chances of earning one of those spots.
Minor League Player of the Week
Dorssys Paulino — Shortstop, Lake County Captains
6 G, 9-for-27, 6 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K
It feels good to put Paulino in this spot. Paulino is in the midst of a seven-game hit streak, and his average is now at .245, which is the highest it’s been all season. Paulino has been under a microscope all season this year as everyone knew he was a highly-touted offensive prospect coming into the season, but he had been somewhat underwhelming so far as he’s struggled a bit with the Lake County Captains. However, there are now legitimate signs that Paulino could be starting to figure things out, and that’s a great thing for Paulino and also the Indians. In the month of August, Paulino has hit .327, which is the highest mark of any months of the season. While it may have been tough to see Paulino struggle in the beginning of the year, ask yourself this. Would you rather a player struggle toward the beginning of a season or the end of it? That’s basically a rhetorical question as we all know it’s best for a player to perform better down the stretch. It’s hard to say where Paulino will play next year. One would hope that he would be promoted to High-A Carolina, but there is of course a chance that he could be back for another go-around with Lake County. Nonetheless, those within the organization seem to indicate that Paulino’s prospect standing has not been hindered by his struggles, and his recent surge at the plate can only help his status moving forward.
A Rough Week
Carlos Carrasco — Starting pitcher
1 GS, 4.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R/ER, 4 K
Lost in the Indians’ big win against the Twins Wednesday was the fact that Carrasco once again struggled in a start for the Indians. This was a tad discouraging as there was some optimism going into the start since Carrasco had pitched five shutout innings in his last appearance, which came out of the bullpen. There is no telling as to whether Carrasco will get any more starts this season, but he certainly does not seem to be a capable Major League starter at this point. In seven starts this season, Carrasco has allowed four or more earned runs on five occasions. He had one stellar appearance on June 17 where he allowed one run across 7 1/3 innings of work, but aside from that, he’s basically been terrible. Heading into the season, there was much optimism for Carrasco, and it was easy to see why as his stuff was better than ever before, and he also had a strong Spring Training. However, at this point, it might be better for the Indians to look into recalling Daisuke Matsuzaka if they’re in need of another starter before the season’s end. While Matsuzaka does not have Carrasco’s pure stuff, he has posted a 3.62 ERA in 18 starts with the Clippers this season. There is no telling how those numbers would translate from Triple-A to the Majors, but Matsuzaka does seem to be a more reliable option than Carrasco. That unfortunately does not say too much about Carrasco.
The amount of home runs that Ryan Raburn has hit in 224 plate appearances this year. This total is currently tied for the Indians’ team lead, and it’s one short of Raburn’s career-high of 16, which he set in 2009.
News & Notes
— Try to figure Ubaldo Jimenez out some time. My guess is that you won’t come close to accomplishing that task. Jimenez had a very good start for the Indians this past week as he allowed just one hit and one run across 5 2/3 innings of work. Jimenez actually took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before a Josh Donaldson single scored Josh Reddick. The one hit seems to suggest that Jimenez had a dominant outing on the mound, but that was not exactly the case either. While Jimenez did record eight strikeouts, he also walked five batters. He did pitch well enough to not allow the walks to become all that much of an issue, but there are still concerns when a player is walking so many batters. For one, it’s never good to pitch when there are so many base runners, and the other concern is that all the walks force a pitcher’s pitch count to quickly escalate. While much has been made of Jimenez’s improvement this season, his walk rate of 4.9 batters per nine innings is actually the highest rate of his career. However, it’s a Catch-22 though as Jimenez is striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings, which is up from the 7.3 rate he posted last year and just below his career high of 8.7. Basically, Jimenez dominates and struggles at the same time. Nonetheless, it’s now August 19, and his ERA is an even 4.00. Tell me you would not have taken that before the start of the season?
— Believe it or not, Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera showed some signs of life this past weekend. After going 0-for-13 in the first four games of the week, Cabrera broke out for two hits in each of the past two contests against the Oakland Athletics. That was just two games, but it did mark the first time that Cabrera had had back-to-back multi-hit games since July 24 and 26 against the Texas Rangers. It’s far too early to say that Cabrera is fixed, but it’s still a positive to see him break out of his terrible slump. Many have been down on Cabrera and have made the point that the Indians should have traded him this past offseason. Well, that may be true, but the bottom line is that the Indians are stuck with Cabrera at this point, so the only real thing that Indians fans can do is watch him and hope that he starts to come around at the plate. With the Tribe in the thick of the Wild Card race, it will be imperative for Cabrera to find some consistency at the plate if this team is going to contend. It does not appear as if the Indians are going to make a move to acquire a hitter, and even if they did, the hitter probably would not have as big of an positive impact as the one Cabrera would if he just starts to get right. Plain and simple, few players have the ability to affect the Tribe’s fortune more than Cabrera.
— Of course, the other player that could have a huge impact is catcher Carlos Santana. Since the All-Star break, Santana is hitting only .221/.305./.375 in 28 games. His average has fallen all the way down to .262, and he looks to be just a shell of the guy who hit .389 back in April. Santana’s OPS of .806 is still more than respectable, but there just does not seem to be any signs that he’ll be taking off on a hot streak anytime soon. On Sunday, Santana did muster two hits, but he was basically up and down the rest of the week as he went hitless in three of six games. While Santana is a very valuable player, and his patience at the plate cannot be denied, it’s hard to believe that he’ll ever develop into the dominant power hitter that fans envisioned just a few years back. Santana finished the 2011 season with 27 home runs and a line of .239/.351/.457, and it was hard to not be impressed by what the future may hold. Given his age, it seemed as if Santana could easily become the team’s first player to hit more than 30 home runs since Grady Sizemore. However, Santana followed the 2011 campaign up by hitting 18 home runs in 2012, and he currently has 14 this season. In other words, it seems unlikely that Santana will even eclipse 20 home runs on the season. Yes, Santana remains very valuable, but it’s also clear that he is not the dominant, middle-of-the-lineup bat that the Indians hoped for. It’s just further proof that the team desperately needs to acquire a cleanup hitter this offseason.
— Two games played. Two home runs. That was the story of Ryan Raburn’s performance this past week. Raburn hit two more dingers this past week to bring his season total to 15, which actually ties him for the team lead. The right-handed hitting outfielder now has a line of .272/.366/.574, and his OPS of .940 also leads the team. Raburn, who was recently resigned to a two-year deal with an option for a third year, will inevitably regress in the future, but it’s hard not to love what he’s provided so far. In 195 at-bats, Raburn has tied Kipnis with 15 home runs, yet Kipnis has hit those home runs in 428 at-bats. However, Raburn’s success also outlines one of the Indians’ main concerns. While he’s certainly provided the team with a big boost, it’s not exactly a good thing when a utility outfielder leads a team in both home runs and OPS, which is exactly what Raburn is doing. An argument could be made that Raburn is deserving of more playing time, but that could lead to him becoming overexposed, and his numbers could then start to decline. Terry Francona has done a good job with optimizing Raburn’s effectiveness, but he may have to look to play him more and more simply because he does not seem to have a better power option.
— Left-hander Scott Kazmir struggled on Sunday as he allowed five runs in five innings of work. He is now at 119 innings on the season, so there could be concern that his arm is starting to tire.
— Right-hander Danny Salazar will make his fourth Major League start tonight. Salazar will look to bounce back from last Monday’s start against the Twins where he struggled somewhat and allowed three runs and two home runs in four innings of work.