May 17, 2007

Carmona & Co.

"It's not normal...He's not even human. It was so scary, I thought I was hung over"

That dude is filthy. We've been struggling, but even if we had been playing good, we wouldn't have beaten him. If you've never played the game, listen to me. I'm a hitter. Right handers have no chance, unless they get lucky and get a hit on a broken bat." - Torii Hunter- Minnesota Twins

The Twins were awed by Fausto Carmona this afternoon, as he beat Cy Young winner Johan Santana for the second time this year with a complete game shutout of the Twins. Carmona's winning streak, now at five, was briefly interrupted when he was sent back to AAA Buffalo to make room for Cliff Lee coming off the DL. But he didn't miss a big league start because Jake Westbrook went down a couple days later. Hunter had an opinion on that too:

"I couldn't believe it when they sent him down"...Everyone in the league was saying 'Did you see Carmona got sent down?'"

Of course it won't always go as well as it did today, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Fausto Carmona has played his last minor league game. And with the Indians up a game in the Central as they approach the quarter pole, it's not too early to start imagining what could happen here in Cleveland this year.

The team is ten games over .500 and in first place, with a team batting average to date of .264, six points less than their opponents, so they really haven't started to hit like we know they will. They've blown five saves already, including two gut-wrenching meltdowns with two outs in the ninth inning by Borowski. They are not a particularly good defensive team, currently tenth in the AL, and they give up a lot of home runs (42). They have been snowed out, shipped to Milwaukee, and gone weeks on end without seeing the sun shine.

So how are they doing it? The obvious answer is: solid if not spectacular starting pitching. The less obvious answers are things like the team's track record of getting opposing starters out of the games early by going deep into counts, spoiling good pitches, and forcing high pitch counts for the starter. I can't quote the numbers, but very few opposing starters have made it to the sixth or seventh inning against the Indians. The bullpen has been much more effective than last year too, and Jhonny Peralta is bouncing back, in the field and at the plate.

And so far 2007 has been almost 180 degrees from the way the ball bounced for the Indians last season. Last year guys like Sizemore, Hafner, Blake and Martinez had great individual numbers, but as a team the Tribe just didn't play a winning brand of baseball. They started slowly, and never sniffed the runaway Tigers.

This year the little things are getting done, the team seems tight, with almost a complete absence of individual egos causing problems. The stars - Sabathia, Sizemore, Hafner - are hungry but humble. They are young veterans, who along with Wedge, learned last year how not to get it done. It's a more determined, but also a more relaxed group than last year. I have been hard on Eric Wedge when his team underperformed on the field, so I guess he deserves credit for having the team ready to play every day, and winning most of the close ones.

And let's face it. Certain things just seem to be going the Tribe's way this year. From Jason Michaels' last-out, staggering, basket catch at the wall in snowy Chicago... to Sabathia's win in a game that saw only one Indians hit... to Hafner's 11th inning game-winning grounder to third against the Toronto shift. They have already won half a dozen games in their last at-bat, and that just didn't happen at all in 2006.

I's a marathon, not a sprint. We should know a lot more about this team after they wrap up May with ten games against Detroit and Boston, seven of them on the road. I like how the interleague schedule shapes up; we have Atlanta and the Phillies at home, and travel to Florida and Washington, on top of our home-and-home series with the Reds.

Stay tuned. Why not us?

Posted by dan at May 17, 2007 9:15 PM