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Indians Indians Archive View from the Porch: Stretch Run Edition
Written by Adam Burke

Adam Burke

HRPorchViewWe have officially reached the sprint part of the marathon and we can see the front runner ahead of us. It’s a refreshing change from the past few years when we were the guy doubled over next to the medic, too weak to drink from the Dixie cup of water and uncomfortable because we had soiled ourselves around mile twelve.

With that lovely image in mind, there are just over 50 games left to play, 52 to be exact, and the Indians remain one or two really good weeks of baseball away from being atop the division nobody wants to win. They will get a chance to take matters in to their own hands when Detroit comes to town this Tuesday-Thursday. Needless to say, I will blow this series way out of proportion one way or another, but that’s the beauty of being a fan.

Anyway, we have to be happy with where we are thus far. Would I rather have us start 15-30 and be playing at a 40-25 tear over the last two and a half months? Without a doubt. Playing the cards we’re dealt here, we have been the worst team in the AL Central since May 23 (the Royals are one game better over that span) and yet we sit just four games back. With 52 games to play. If you had told me that at the start of the season, I would have been thrilled with such optimism and also told you how much of an idiot you were under my breath.

Consider what a crazy season it has been so far with big hits from nearly everybody who has worn the uniform to the walkoff wins to the injury problems and to the notion that we were a buyer at the trade deadline. Consider what a crazy 52-game stretch we have left. Shin-Soo Choo will return sometime within the next two weeks. Thirty-eight of our remaining 52 games are against the Central (where we have a less-than-spectacular 16-18 record).

If there was ever truth to the old expression of controlling your own destiny, the Indians certainly fit those criteria. The last few seasons, we had to hang our hats on playing spoiler. This year, we can play spoiler by trying to play ourselves into the playoffs.

Crunch time has begun. The Indians go to battle with youngsters and great pitching. The Tigers go to battle with veterans and suspect pitching. I like our situation in comparison to theirs, except for the four game lead they currently hold. Our starting rotation is better and our bullpen is better. Their lineup is more consistent. Good pitching beats good hitting. See the SF Giants over the Texas Rangers last World Series. See the 2007 Indians over the Yankees in the ALDS.

There is a blessing and a curse to having a lot of young players like the Indians do. For the blessing side of things, we have younger bodies that are more eager to go to the ballpark everyday and have to be fresher at this stage of the season. But, we also have kids who have not experienced this much pressure on this big of a stage. I can hope that they do not fully comprehend the pressure of each game situation during a pennant race, but that’s just unrealistic. They know.

Think about it. Between the Tigers and the Indians, there are no two more clutch players than Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Who would you take in a must-win game? Justin Verlander or Justin Masterson? As incredible as Masterson has been this year, and would have as good as or better of a record than Verlander if he got any run support, I just cannot see our offense doing anything against Verlander. I cannot say the same for Masterson against the Tigers. If it got to the bullpens, I would like our chances.

Adversity is clearly in place. The Indians, as a result of rainouts, will have to play 44 games in 44 days to end the season and will have three off days from August 9 to September 28, the end of the season. There are two doubleheaders and a makeup game on the schedule. Add that in with an AL Central-heavy schedule and 10 games in nine days against the AL Central in the final week, capped off with a three-gamer in Detroit, and you have a real grinder of a schedule.

kipnisrbiWho do I trust to handle that adversity? Let’s go with a surprise first. Jason Kipnis. The JK Kid has not looked overwhelmed the same way that Cord Phelps did. Part of that may be the fact that Kipnis has job security in light of the Orlando Cabrera trade, a luxury that Cord Phelps did not have. But, let’s be honest, here. Kipnis passes the eye test above Phelps. He lays off borderline pitches, he plays a lot more athletically than Phelps did, and he has surprising power. Blowing up Dustin Pedroia on a double play ball led to a run for the Indians this past week. Those are the little things that winners do. Jason Kipnis looks like a winner.

Also able to handle adversity, Justin Masterson. If anybody could pack up his balls and go home, it’s Masterson. In Masterson’s 23 starts, he has gone less than six innings twice. He has received four runs of support per start. The highest hismasterson_pitch ERA has been after a start is 3.28.

Take his Boston start on Thursday night as an example. Masterson, with an offensively challenged group, gave up two runs in the first inning on three hits with one strikeout. After that, Masterson went five innings giving up two hits, one a solo home run, and struck out eight. He’s got some stones. He’ll be asked to win some big games the rest of the way. In other words, he can cement himself as an ace with his next two months of pitching.

How about Vinnie Pestano? He had a major bump in the road just prior to the All-Star Break, giving up five runs on five hits from July 6-8. Pestano has had 36 scoreless appearances. If Pestano throws a first pitch strike, opposing hitters are batting .114 with 45 strikeouts. Pestano is a no BS kind of guy. Fastball/slider. Here’s my fastball, try to hit it. When a guy is that confident, he can pitch in high leverage spots.

These guys will have to be good for the Indians down the stretch. It’s not enough to be good up to this point. Everything becomes magnified in a playoff race. The Indians, for better or worse, will be in this playoff race. The pitching is too good for them not to be. Lately, the team has been a hit here or a hit there away from winning a ballgame. If those hits start coming, there’s no reason the Indians can’t cross the finish line first.

actaheaddownLost in all of this, the analysis of players and the critiquing of trades is the question nobody is asking. How does Manny Acta respond to being under pressure? The only pressure he faced in Washington was about losing his job, which was a welcomed blessing in disguise. Acta has never taken a major league team to this point in his managerial career. He pushed every right button over the first 45 games and has left many questioning him since that time.

Is he a good motivator? Can he handle issues in the clubhouse? Will he have the stones to get creative with hit & runs or squeeze plays when the offense struggles in a big spot? We saw it in April and May, we saw far less of it in June and July. Is he tightening up under the bright lights? Will he be able to take a team where they need to go after being a cellar dweller for years?

All valid questions. He has the right answers with the media. He has embraced the fans via Twitter. He gained a lot of respect from the fan base for his managing style when things were going well. But, can he get over the hump he’s never gotten over? Sure, the players play and the managers manage. There may be only so much he can do. The team has little margin for error every night and that includes from the top step of the dugout.

We saw plenty of those questions get answered on Friday night. He pushed Ubaldo too far. He hit and ran twice with Jason Donald, one time swinging through it and getting the runner thrown out and another time hitting in to a double play. He hit and ran with Kearns on a full count and got Fukudome thrown out. He chose not to bunt with Jason Donald in extra innings to lead to the hit and run double play.

He seems to be uncaring publicly about the magnitude of games or about mistakes that players make. Never would I expect him to berate a player to the media, but he seems so apathetic. I don’t expect a manager to get thrown out 65 times a year like Bobby Cox, but I think Acta has been tossed three times in the two years he’s managed the Indians. Look like you care. Don’t downplay everything. Teams adopt the personality of their manager/coach. A fiery coach is more likely to have a fiery team. See Ron Gardenhire, a scrappy guy with a perennially pesky team. See Mike Sciosia, a serious, ballsy manager with a constant winning team.

Four back with 52 to play. Again, if that was told to you at the start of the year, you would be content. But, based on how it happened, it’s simply not good enough. It’s up to them to let it all hang out for the next 8 weeks. They control their own destiny.

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