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Indians Indians Archive Around The Division: The Incredible Shrinking Ballgame
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum

 You know what's annoying about being a fan of a team in the AL Central?  The fact that all the games are so damned short.

I don't mean literally: they still take between two and a half to three hours to play.  Everybody's on television of some sort these days, and as long as advertisers are paying money, the games are going to last a while.  Hey, it's baseball, I'm not complaining.  No, what I mean is that in a typical AL Central matchup, you have a battle between a Really Annoying Bullpen and a Very Annoying Bullpen most of the time.  (During a typical Kansas City game, you have a Non-Existent Bullpen, which can make the game's interest factor wane absurdly early, but this isn't really part of the thesis.)

I used to write a column (which I'll try to jump-start here once the season starts) which listed some small observations about the previous night's game, and in most Minnesota games, one of the items was, "Have I mentioned that I hate Minnesota's bullpen?"  The answer was invariably, "Yes," because I had mentioned it, and would generally mention it again, because I did.  And I still do.  Minnesota's bullpen is Very Annoying.  They grow these guys in hydroponic chambers somewhere deep below the permafrost somewhere out in Hibbing or Lake Woebegone or something: I can't tell you what they look like, I can't tell you which guy is named what, but I can tell you that from the sixth inning on, Minnesota is going to bring in some guy you don't know who throws some stuff you can't identify and all of a sudden the game is over 'cause we didn't hit the damned ball.

Poof!  The Incredible Shrinking Game.

Now, the Twins make things interesting by generating zero offense (when Jason Tyner is generating more VORP than your regular second baseman and Terry Tiffee is racking up a brisk .293 SLG in 159 ABs, your offense could be considered "subpar"), but they negate this interest by pulling seemingly random meatheads out of their farm system or from other teams' castoffs and turning them into hard-throwing harbingers of doom.  As an Indians fan, I don't care for this.

Of course, we do that, too.

Are you seriously telling me that you knew that Bob Howry was going to toss 73 innings of sub-2.5 ball?  Raffy Betancourt with an ERA of 2.79?  Seven guys with RA+ (a measure of runs allowed adjusted for park factors and such and normalized to league average) over 1.3 (eight if you count Kaz Tadano's 4 IP)?  Six over 1.47?  That's simply ludicrous.  Even replacing Howry, Rhodes, and Riske with some permutation of Mota, Cabrera, Brown, Tadano, Whomever, and Whomever Else results in a bullpen that probably annoys the heck out of other teams in the division.

And it wasn't the most annoying in the division, because the White Sox were Evil.

In fact, consider the top four back-end relievers for the White Sox.  Here is a typical day in the life of Neal Cotts: upon waking up in the morning, Cotts would jump into his baby seal oil powered car at 5 AM and rev its two-stroke engine for ten minutes to maximize the number of neighbors disturbed and the amount of foul-smelling smoke into the air.  He would then speed ruthlessly through neighborhoods to the local Starbucks, where he would buy the largest, hottest coffee he could, pay with counterfeit money, and then toss the scalding hot coffee at homeless people on his way to the animal shelter.  After picking out the very cutest puppy and kitten from the litter, he would take them home and pan-fry them for breakfast.  He would then roto-till the neighbors' yards with ground road salt, superglue the elementary school's doors shut, drive back to Starbucks, pretend to have spilled the coffee, get a free refill, and scald the local safety patrol volunteers near the middle school.  After a brisk game of Ground Glass Roulette with his children's breakfasts, he would ...

Well, okay, he didn't do any of that.  But he was Evil, okay?  Trust me on this one.  The man threw 68 innings of 2 ERA ball, generating more VORP than Bob Wickman (and almost as much as Howry) while striking out nearly a guy and inning and giving up POINT ONE FIVE HR/9 in the third-easiest place to hit a homer in the Solar System (#1: Coors Field; #2: the Surface of the Moon).  (That's sick, BTW.)

And Cliff Pollitte was better.

Bobby Jenks (of whom any of the false things attributed to Cotts could actually have some plausibility) struck out 11.44 guys per 9 IP (highest rate on the Indians: Raffy's 9.71).  Dustin Hermanson had a 2.04 ERA when he went down.

By the way, here are Your Minnesota Twins (ERA, VORP): Juan Rincon (2.45, 23.4), Jesse Crain (2.49, 23.2), Joe Nathan (2.70, 22.9, rubs Nair on the inside of Little Leaguer's baseball caps), Matt Guerrier (waived by the PIRATES!  The Pirates!) (3.39, 18.0), J.C. Romero (3.47, 9.6), etc.  Travis Bowyer not there?  Who cares?  They'll bring someone else you've never heard of up.  Liriano is sick.  Baker is sick.  Who are these bastards?

Even Detroit is getting into the act: I don't believe in Todd Jones' long-term viability, but they've got Chris Spurling and Ferd Rodney (who closed in the WBC) and Frank German and Jamie Walker ... if Woodyard and Good and Colon come around, this is a deep pen which may only shave cats instead of eat puppies, but it won't be much fun, either.

See, that's the problem in the AL Central: the starters are actually pretty damned good.  You get six good innings out of the starter, and then you figure you can breathe a little until the Big Guns come out of the bullpen.  Except you can't.  The guns start coming out Right Away, and if you fall behind by three runs and get to the seventh inning, you might as well start warming up the damned bus.

Have I mentioned that I hate the Minnesota bullpen?  I should have.  Because I do.  And Chicago's.  And Detroit's.  Well, maybe not "hate" Detroit's.  It irks me.

Thankfully, I don't find ours as annoying.  My guess is, fans in Chicago, Minnesota, and Detroit feel differently.

(I would mention the fans of the Royals, but I could get either of them to answer e-mail before press time.  Sorry, guys.)

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