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Indians Indians Archive The B-List: 9/21
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum

You would think that one more loss would not be particularly devastating.  The Twins were at home.  The Twins are better than the Indians.  The Twins clinched the A.L. Central with their win and Chicago’s loss.  And yet Buff finds himself in an emotional trough that looks like it might be difficult to climb out of.  Today’s B-List includes all the regular ruminations on Fausto and Hafner and even Jord Brown, but describing why he’s so down takes Buff more than the 80 words shown on the front page. 

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Indians (62-89) 1 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 4 10 0
Twins (91-60) 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 4 X 6 12 1

thometwinW: Perkins (1-1) L: Masterson (6-13) S: Capps (15) 

With Minnesota’s win and Cleveland’s loss, Cleveland’s “Magic Encouragement Number” has been reduced to zero. 

1) Bereft 

Look, the story of the game wasn’t all that unusual: Fausto was good but not entirely sharp, and he labored a bit.  The bullpen started out pretty good, but gave up a big inning, and the better team won.  The offense put together a few nice innings and squandered some others, but they hit 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position and converted 11 baserunners into 4 runs, which is pretty average stuff.  The Twins executed exceptionally well in the late innings and came away with the win.  The Indians’ lineup was littered with guys who aren’t very good in 2010 and losing the game was hardly an earth-shaking shock. 

So why am I so upset?  Because of who we lost with

See, it’s one thing to lose because Justin Germano gives up a homer or Chris Gimenez grounds into a double play or Shelley Duncan strikes out.  These guys aren’t core players.  These guys are the cloth-stuff dummies you hang from the ceiling to illustrate how much force Vernon Davis imparts when he lowers his shoulder after catching a pass.  The proverbial cardboard cutouts.  Placeholders.  Who cares?  It’s disappointing and I wish we had someone better and I wish they were better and I don’t like when the Indians lose.  It’s no fun and it sucks. 

Even when the loss is a result of a Jeanmar Gomez struggling or Mike Brantley taking a collar or Jason Donald failing to turn a double play, these are young guys who are potentially core players but who are awfully young and inexperienced.  Young guys not only make mistakes, but they get better, too.  Shelley Duncan is pretty much This Good (mashes lefties, doesn’t hit righties, plays adventurous defense).  He’s 30 years old.  He has major-league value, but he’s not likely to make some sort of Quantum Improvement and become Renaissance Ryan Ludwick.  He’s Shelley Duncan.  The young guys … my Armor of Hope (+3 vs. Age-22 stats!) resists such denting. 

But in the grand scheme of things, this sort of thing doesn’t do much to dent my Armor of Hope (+2 vs. Cynical National Sportswriters!).  We lost because a bad player performed badly.  The solution to this is pretty straightforward: replace the bad player with a better one.  This might mean something obvious (Carlos Santana will play instead of Marson and Gimenez when he is healthy), or something reasonable (surely there’s a left fielder out there who can hit better than Trevor Crowe: we found Austin Kearns for nothing, after all), or something far-fetched (I bet the Royals would trade Alex Gordon because they hate him!).  But it seems that one of the more uncomplicated things to do is replace a schmoe with someone who is less schmoey. 

The thing that punctures the Armor of Hope is when a guy I expect to play a significant role on the 2011 team and is someone I consider ready to play that role fails in that role. 

The thing that makes the Armor of Hope collapse into shards of useless junk is when more than one of these guys fails. 

Because look: you can say what you want about whether this guy will be ready or that guy can be replaced, but at some point, you have to say, “This guy is ready, and he’s here, and because of this, we will get This Level of Performance from him, and This Level of Performance is something that will increase our chances of winning by an acceptible amount.”  Okay, you probably will say it a whole lot more articulately than that.  I’m on a deadline here.  But I think you can see what I’m trying to say: every season, you have a series of checklists, and one of them has to be “The Givens.”  We may have questions about whether Fausto Carmona will be a reliable, quality starter next season, and the error band might be pretty large, but it’s pretty much a given that Fausto Carmona will be in the rotation and that this is an acceptible thing.  The Cleveland Indians can win baseball games with Fausto Carmona in the rotation.  I’m fine with that. 

Likewise, Shin-Soo Choo is a very good right fielder.  Well, more specifically, Choo is a right fielder who is a very valuable baseball player.  Despite his arm, I think Choo is only an adequate defensive right fielder.  But on the “Givens” checklist, Choo in RF is fine. 

So coming into last night, two of the “Givens” for me were that Justin Masterson was a quality pitcher, and that Tony Sipp is actually an above-average left-handed reliever.  It’s an open question as to whether Masterson is really a starter or not, and I expect that he is, but even so, the standard argument is that whatever he is as a starter, he’s even BETTER as a matchup right-handed reliever.  If anything, he should be MORE effective in this role. 

Let’s go to the bottom of the 8th.  Cleveland leads 4-2. 

In the previous inning, Masterson had done a good job getting out of a mess: with men on 1st and 2nd and two out, Masterson replaced the left-handed Raffy Perez to face right-handed Mike Cuddyer.  After a swinging strike made it 1-1, Cuddyer grounded into a fielder’s choice to shortstop, and Masterson had shown the two signature skills he has: swing-and-miss stuff, and good groundball tendencies. 

In the 8th, though, Masterson allowed the left-handed Jim Thome to single.  No big shame there, Jim Thome is a really good hitter.  But then the right-handed Delmon Young doubled to score the pinch-runner.  That’s kind of Fail, but Young’s having a good season.  It was disappointing, though. 

Then against right-handed Danny Valencia, who is admittedly having a borderline Rookie of the Year season (with 255 AB, he just hasn’t played enough, IMO), Masterson gave up another single.  Although Valencia is hitting .297 against right-handers, he only has 7 walks in 165 AB for a .320 OBP and a .412 SLG.  I mean, that’s not really very good.  It is, in fact, Shelley Duncan (overall).  So that’s more Fail. 

Then Nick Punto … the Nick Punto who hits .239/.317/.319 against right-handed pitching and is generally more Nick Punto than anyone else in the entire league, hit a fly ball to avoid the double play.  You could credit Nick Punto for a nice piece of hitting there.  I will not. 

Oh, by the way, the number of hitters Justin Masterson threw a first-pitch strike to?  That would be zero, Wink. 

Jose Morales came to the plate to face Tony Sipp.  I will admit that I know less about Jose Morales than I do about Burkina Faso.  He is apparently a catcher of some sort.  He tied the game with a sac fly.  For a guy with low sliders, this is more Fail. 

And then Denard Span.  Denard Span, bless his heart, is having a bad season.  His .267/.335/.355 line suggests he should not be leading off.  It also suggests he is Trevor Crowe.  Surprisingly, as a left-handed hitter, he hits lefties better than righties.  This season, last season, every season.  He hit a single.  We lost the game. 

(And Orly Hudson doubled, but by that point, I had already thrown up.) 

See, these are two guys I expect … I want … I NEED to perform well next season, largely in THIS EXACT CIRCUMSTANCE, for the Indians to have any chance at winning ballgames and being interesting enough to write about for a sixth year.  And yes, I understand that everyone fails at some point or another.  The Twins deserve credit.  These two guys have had plenty of success this season.  It is an overreaction to one isolated incident. 

It is my honest reaction. 

2) Coda 

That Luis Valbuena, an ice-cold pinch-hitting Shelley Duncan, and Mike Brantley failed in the top of the 9th doesn’t even register on the Hopelessness scale. 

3) Channeling the spirit of Lake Woebegone 

Fausto Carmona was not dominant, but he was still pretty good, and I don’t care. 

4) Gutting it out 

Playing through a painful shoulder injury, Travis Hafner went 2-for-4, including his 29th (!) double on the season, scoring a run and driving one in, and I don’t care. 

5) Opportunity meets advantage 

Moved up to the two slot in Asdrubal Cabrera’s absence, Drew Sutton took advantage of the increased exposure to rap out a pair of hits, including an RBI single, and I don’t care. 

6) Rethinking the position 

Luis Valbuena, a player who has been scrupulously hidden from left-handed pitching, is now batting .324/.432/.459 off lefties in very limited action (37 AB).  He had a double off left-handed Jose Mijares, who is both roly and ploy, and I don’t care. 

7) Slow and steady still stinks pretty bad 

Jord Brown is showing some improvement, raising his average from .200 on Sept. 3 to .239 with 9 hits in 31 AB, and had his 3rd multi-hit game in his past 7 starts, and I still don’t care. 

8) Cheerful abandonment of objectivity 

Every year, there’s a player that I just get so tired of watching and rooting for and waiting for him to pull out of some self-created morass that I find it impossible to stay objective.  This year’s player is Trevor Crowe, who erased a 1-for-4 night by getting caught stealing, and I don’t care.

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