We've won three of four Tribe fans, and man does it feel good. The middle of the lineup went nuts last night, with Asdrubal, Victor, and Choo all going 4-5 with multiple extra base hits. In today's B-List, Buff hits on the streaky nature of streaks, the difference between Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona, Asdrubal at shortstop and Jhonny at third base, and also says a word or two about sportsmanship and professionalism. Let's keep it going this weekend Tribe!
Indians (14-22) (4.5 GB)
W: Carmona (2-4) L: Shields (3-4)
It isn't often that you outhit the opposition by 12 and still feel stress in the 9th inning.
1) The streaky nature of streaks
There's an old saw about how you're never really as good as your best moment and never really as bad as your worst. This doesn't take into account things like Cliff Lee bunting or Daniel Cabrera batting, but it's a pretty sound maxim. I don't think the Indians are truly as bad as their 12-22 record indicated, since that's a 105-loss team. I mean, that's a really bad team. And, more recently, when the Tribe was blowing the Boston and Detroit series' to go 1-5, they weren't that bad, either. Nor are they as good as the 3-1 team since then. The numbers are too small.
See, we just don't naturally think in probabalistic terms. It's very difficult to get your head around the concept that normal random fluctuations happen all the time. On one hand, it seems quite easy to say that a .400 team has a 6.4% chance (0.4 * 0.4 * 0.4) of winning a given three games in a row, but it's not nearly as intuitive to say that the chances of a .400 team having SOME three-game win streak over the course of a SEASON are a virtual lock. You expect a bad hitter to make an out in any single given plate appearance: however, given enough chances, you find that it's not at all unlikely for him to put together a 6-for-10 streak. It really isn't.
The overwhelming tendency of a fan is to interpret performance data, much of which is HUGELY prone to random fluctuations of this type, in a way that confirms whatever hypothesis or bias they have going in. If you think the team is bad, you see the 1-5 streak and nod, "See, they just don't have enough consistent offense or bullpen arms" or whatever you attribute the badness to. If you think the team is good, you see the 3-1 streak and nod, "See, they're coming around, this is the point that turns the tide, they're playing the ball they're capable of now." And the fact is, the actual statistical significance of streaks this small is virtually nil. A .650 team is very likely to have both such streaks in a season. A .350 team is very likely to have both such streaks in a season. In terms of using these data to draw real, solid conclusions from these stretches, conclusions that make good predictions about what is likely to happen in the future, these streaks are utterly meaningless.
This having been said, here's what it FEELS like: this week's team is playing significantly better baseball than last week's team.
So where is the dfifference? It isn't really in the pitching:
Pavano pitches well May 6 (W)Sowers pitches horribly May 7 (L)Lee pitches great May 8 (L)Carmona pitches pretty well May 9 (L)
Pavano pitches well May 11 (W)Sowers pitches horribly May 12 (L)Lee pitches great May 13 (W)Carmona pitches pretty well May 14 (W)
The game before, May 5, was a Bullpen Horror Extravaganza. Reyes lost 5-3 on May 10, we'll see what happens tonight.
So what, if anything, is different? You'd be tempted to say that Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting his posterior off, smashing 4 hits last night to give him EIGHT in the "Good" streak. Except, well, he was hitting pretty well before, too. He has 17 hits in his last 10 games: moving him to second in the order has been a crucial decision for the Tribe. Victor, same thing. Shin-Soo Choo is a better correlator with performance, and he's been hitting pretty well all season. He's traded some power for fewer outs in May, but his .881 OPS didn't move much from April (.888) to May (.873).
A much bigger factor has been the response of Jhonny Peralta to his brief bench stint: after sitting for a couple games against Detroit, Peralta responded with 3 hits in a losing effort, and now has a hit in each "Good" game, including 5 RBI. He's striking out less frequently as well. And, of course, putting Matt LaPorta, a player who can hit (4-game hit streak, walks in 3 of 4 games) and run (stolen base last night) in place of David Dellucci, who cannot, has to help.
I guess there's nothing that I can point to to say, "See, it was THAT" specifically, but taken as a whole, the combination of Cabrera settling into the 2 slot, LaPorta starting to play regularly, Peralta beginning to make better contact, the whole team seeming to embrace more of an up-the-middle approach to driving the ball, and having fewer sure dead spots in the order seems to have not so much energized the offense as it has loosened it.
2) Fausto and the Cliff
Not his colleague, Mr. Lee, but rather a sudden, sharp drop that often results in falling from a great height onto a coyote. For five innings, Carmona looked about as masterful as anyone could ask him to be; in the span of six hitters in the 6th inning, Carmona turned into a Washington National. In fact, he was so bad, it was as if a Cleveland reliever had taken his place.
Tampa is not a super offensive club, especially missing two important cogs in Pat Burrell and Carl Crawford. However, Carmona was simply fantastic through the first five: after a single in the first, Carmona retired the next eleven in a row, including 1-2-3 innings in the second, third, and fourth. He wasn't super-accurate (34 strikes, 25 balls), but add those numbers and you get 59 pitches through 5 innings, including a 6-pitch 3rd and a 10-pitch 2nd. He had a decent-enough 9:5 GO:FO ratio and got Carlos Pena to strike out swinging to end the first.
Whether it was the long layoff during Cleveland's 4-run top of the 6th or some small margin of error (34 strikes in 59 pitches actually isn't very good) coming to bite him, Carmona completely turned to dust in the 6th. After walking the leadoff man with a 9-0 lead (which is plainly inexcusable), Carmona let consecutive stolen bases rattle him and walked the next hitter as well. Things fell apart pretty fast, as Asdrubal Carbrera did not help by booting a grounder and Carmona went 2-0 to Willy Aybar. Struggling to locate, he gave up two more hits and was gone.
What did we learn from this? Well, for one thing, Fausto Carmona is not Elite. Elite pitchers throw strikes. Period. Cliff Lee has risen to this level. Fausto Carmona cannot until that changes.
We also learned that Carmona can be efficient and pretty dominant as well, though. After 2008, I wasn't sure that version of Fausto was available any more, so that's good to see.
And finally, when Fausto starts struggling with the strike zone in earnest, he is of little value to anyone. His strikes are a lot less effective (i.e., hittable) if he has to concentrate more on aiming the ball than pitching.
Now, some of this applies to ANY pitcher. Strikes are good. Aiming is bad. But not every pitcher can saw through a lineup like Fausto did for the first five: at least there is some "there" there. Let's see what he and Victor (who took the blame for losing concentration: more on that later) can do next time to extend that Fausto's stay.
3) A word about sportsmanship and professionalism
If you were facing the Cleveland Indians, I expect you would start by trying to identify any exploitable weakness. For instance, Aaron Laffey throws a sinker with poor accuracy. In fact, a good number of his "strikes" are people swinging a pitches that are dropping out of the zone. So if I were facing Aaron Laffey, I wouldn't swing at any pitch that looked like it was at the knees, because the odds are that it's not going to be a strike. Against Cliff Lee, I would look outside corner first and adjust.
The one clear exploitable weakness Fausto Carmona has is a lack of control. And, at least from my anecdotal memory, he seems to be prone to losing his composure at times, giving up the Big Inning because of it. So I would be patient, and if I had a chance to rattle him, I would.
B.J. Upton did both. After drawing the five-pitch walk, he stole second. Two pitches later, he stole third.
Now, some people were honked off about that. Stealing a base, much less two, in a 9-0 game? What a hot dog! Victor Martinez certainly wasn't happy about it.
But wait a minute.
You're facing a pitcher prone to losing his composure.
He pitches for a team whose bullpen gave up 7 runs in one inning and 12 runs in one inning ... both in the same WEEK.
Where is it written that 9-0 is an insurmountable deficit? At home? Against mooks?
Frankly, I'd have been very disappointed in the INDIANS if THEY had been stealing bases UP 9-0. But DOWN 9-0? What's wrong with that?
And you know what?
It almost worked.
4) The obvious conclusion
If you let a guy stealing off you when down 9-0 bother you, you need to take a breath and reconsider your response. Dude. You should have laughed out loud. You should have pitched from the goddam windup. Who cares about a man on base when you're up 9-0? What's he going to do, steal home nine times? Screw that guy! Go get the hitter, for Pete's sake. Man.
5) Lineup disparity
I don't want to make this a "them vs. the other them" sort of affair, so let's get this out of the way: the lineup slots from 5-9 and Grady in the leadoff slot were hardly worthless. Combined, they got 6 hits, scored three runs, collected a pair of RBI, and drew the team's only two walks. That's not bad.
But let's face it, the story last night was the 2-3-4 hitters:
Asdrubal Cabrera: 4-for-5, 2 XBH (2B, 3B), 4 R, 2 RBIVictor Martinez: 4-for-5, 2 XBH (2 x 2B), 2 R, 4 RBIShin-Soo Choo: 4-for-5, 2 XBH (2B, HR), 2 R, 3 RBI
I mean, that's just whack.
By the way, Carbrera now has 4 extra-base hits in his last 5 games. And a good number of his outs have been hit well enough for outfielders to have to run back to get. If he develops, say, 15-20 HR power, he could end up Roberto Alomar, even down to the switch-hitting. (Note: he has 10 in 645 AB in his major-league career. On the other hand, he is 23.)
It should be noted that I will accept the .336/.400/.448 version he is now. Yeah. I'll take that. Uh huh. Yes.
6) Era Update
Matt LaPorta singled twice in 5 plate appearances. He scored after a leadoff single in the 5th, showing enough wheels to get to second on a groundout to first. He also led off the 6th with a single off new pitcher Joe Nelson, stealing second and scoring on a double by Cabrera.
Bat *and* wheels. Neat! That's just like David Dellucci, except with a bat. And wheels.
Ben Francisco with a bat. Ryan Garko with wheels. The conclusion: if I ever see a lineup with all three of these players in it, I will salt the earth at Wichita State.
7) A note on defense
I like Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. Yes, he made an error, but he also made a superior play to his right, and generally plays well there.
But I really like Jhonny Peralta at third. I'm not talking about in a snide, "Because then he's not at shortstop" sense. I mean I really like Jhonny Peralta at third. He wasn't just "not embarrassing" or "acceptible" at third last night ... he was good.
Whether this is a one-game gork or not remains to be seen, but ... that was neat.
8) The corner has been turned
I am officially out of patience.
Ben Francisco is a fungus.
9) In all fairness
Luis Valbuena joined Francisco in the 0-for-5 club, but he's a 23-year-old middle infielder with 24 games of major-league experience. Francisco is so replaceable, I would replace him.
10) Flagrant second-guessing, now done before the fact
This isn't a Head-Scratcher, but when Carmona started having problems in the 6th, walking the first two hitters, he then uncorked a run-scoring wild pitch to the next batter. At the time, I chimed in on the Game Thread that I'd almost rather go ahead and get Laffey in the game right then. I mean, I've seen the Fausto Cliff Dance before, and it's unusual when it doesn't end in a flat coyote.
Remember, of course: Fausto started the inning with a pitch count of 59. Fifty-nine! He was not only not tired, he probably hadn't broken a sweat. To even have someone warming up would have been pretty reactionary.
You look at Laffey's 8th, though: Pena, Aybar, Gross (Pena and Gross lefties with significant platoon splits): K, 5-3, L-7. If he could have gotten up after the wild pitch, Carl Willis stalls a bit, then Carmona strikes out Longoria as he did, you'd have a 1-run inning instead of a 6-run affair. And you pretty much used Laffey up anyway (2 IP). Not really reasonable, and it didn't really matter, but I thought I'd mention: if Fausto starts blowing up, odds are, he's gonna go all Big Jim McBob/Billy Sol Huron on you.
11) Dept. of the Unlikely
Bucky Zobrist? Really, Matt? You give up a three-run shot to ZOBRIST? Geez.