With the Red Sox reeling, things don’t get any easier when they return home to find the Cleveland Indians are waiting for them. Not only are the Indians surprising everyone with their fine play, they are also leading the AL Central. To make matters worse, the Sox stink at home with only one win in their last eleven as the home team.
We hooked up with Lewis Pollis from Wahoo’s on First to get his insight analysis on the Tribe through the first five weeks of the season. Enjoy.
1. The Indians are off to a nice start, leading the central when many thought it would the be the tigers in first all season long. Is it fair to say the Indians could push the tigers for the division right down to the wire?
Absolutely. The Tigers are still the definite favorites, but this Indians team looks like a contender. I couldn’t understand all the pessimism about the Tribe this winter—Cleveland has a young team that basically played .500 ball last year despite being hosed by injuries and the roster looks better now than it did a year ago. Seems like everyone’s shocked now that the Indians are doing well, but it really shouldn’t have been a surprise.
2. Who’s had the biggest impact on the tribes success so Far?
I’d have to go with Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s hitting .337/.420/.531 (164 wRC+) while playing a premium defensive position. He’s still having range issues (he’s one of the flashiest fielders in baseball, but that doesn’t mean he’s one of the most effective), but he’s been so hot at the plate that we can look past it. FanGraphs has him at 1.4 wins above replacement—the best in the league for a position player who’s played fewer than 26 games. I guess you could say he’s been pretty solid.
3. Walk us through what Ubaldo Jimenez has done for Cleveland this year?
Not a whole lot, really—he’s looked pretty bad. He’s lost about 4 mph on his fastball over the last two years. He’s struggling to find the plate and he’s not fooling batters into swinging at the bad stuff. A 5.1 K/9 rate just can’t cut it for a pitcher who usually makes his living by missing bats, especially when he’s walked 25 in 35.2 innings. He’s not “effectively wild” anymore, he’s just plain wild.
4. Were you surprised by the Johnny Damon signing and how do you think he’ll fit in offensively?
Yes and no. It wasn’t surprising in that the Indians have been after a left fielder ever since we learned that Grady Sizemore would miss the start of the season, and they’d even been connected to Damon before. It was, however, surprising in that Damon isn’t as good as Shelley Duncan on either side of the ball, and neither has really struggled against same-handed pitching in recent years so they’re an odd pair as platoonmates. It’d be nice to use Damon the bench as a pinch-hitter, but he supposedly has an agreement with Chris Antonetti to play regularly.
At this point in his career Damon is like a poor man’s Shin-Soo Choo offensively—solid plate discipline with moderate speed and power. He’s really struggled out of the gate this year, though (.167/.194/.267 in eight games). Yet for some reason he’s not only usurped Duncan’s role as the starting left fielder but also taken over the leadoff spot. I’m still at a loss for why the team has so much faith in Damon and so little in Duncan.
5. Another former red sox, Derek Lowe is cruising along nicely. Just how valuable has the almost 40 year old been?
Lowe has been great. He’s 4-1 with a 2.39 ERA this year, and while a lot of that is luck (he has a 4.58 SIERA) don’t underestimate the power of his rejuvenated sinker. Whether he’ll be able to keep that up is a real question—he’s striking out barely a batter every four innings—but he’s been the anchor of the Tribe staff so far.
6. Finally, give us a quick breakdown of each pitching matchup and who wins each game?
First up is Lowe vs. Josh Beckett. I assume you Red Sox fans know the book on Lowe pretty well. Beckett’s looked pretty shaky this year and so much of his game depends on getting batters to swing at bad pitches—something he could struggle to do against Cleveland. I’ll see we take game one.
Next is Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Clay Buchholz. Both pitchers have been completely unpredictable this year. If either of them has any semblance of his best stuff on the mound Friday, his team will win. But I have no idea who it would be.
Saturday is Josh Tomlin vs. Felix Doubront. Tomlin has a reputation for being the most pitch-to-contact guy on a pitch-to-contact staff (he led all of baseball with his 1.1 BB/9 rate last year), but he’s cranked up the strikeouts so far in 2012 (7.0 K/9). I like him to beat Felix Doubront.
Finally, the series closes with Justin Masterson vs. Daniel Bard. Masterson was brilliant last year, but he’s clearly lost his command in 2012. He’s pitched three straight quality starts but hasn’t looked quite like himself doing it. Get him rattled and things seem to snowball from there. I make a point of never betting against Masterson, but it’s been hard to keep that mentality this year. I’d say the Red Sox take the finale.