Monday, April 18, 2011

Cleveland Indians Fast Start

The Indians are off to a fast start and making my predictions look bad. As a fan of the team I couldn't be more happy. I want to qualify some things though about this fast start.

The Good

1. This team is fundamentally sign, possibly the most fundamentally sound team I've seen in all of the years that I've followed the team 30+. Manny Acta has done a tremendous job of getting the players to buy into the philosophy of playing fundamental ball and Mark Shapiro should be given credit for emulating the Minnesota Twins organization as this team looks a lot like successful Twins teams of the past.

2. The starting pitching has been very good. The good starters have been great and the fringe starters have been good. A lot of credit goes to the organization and coaching as not only are they showing that they can manage big league pitching (Masterson's career progress looks a lot like Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona) they are showing that they can repeat the process. Big kudos to Tim Belcher who seems to have the pitchers following his guidance.

3. The stars of this team aren't hitting yet. Shin Soo-Choo and Carlos Santana have not gotten off to good starts and Grady Sizemore is just coming back. This is a perfect scenario as Choo and Sizemore should hit and when the fast starters fall back to earth some, this team should continue to hit, which means they should at the least play .500 ball at that point. That's good news.

4. Confidence is one of the most important things a baseball team can have. Good starts and things going right lead to more confidence and create an environment where talent can come through. A good start does wonders for players like Matt LaPorta, Carlos Carrasco, and Michael Brantley allowing them to press less and adjust to the big leagues. This is a huge plus for a team like this.

5. Chris Perez is a month or so away from being considered an elite closer. The organization hasn't ever had one (Doug Jones who was not anything special is the best closer in team history). Perez is bringing a dominance to the back of the bullpen that is allowing the team as a whole to relax. Perez is shortening games for this team and truly coming into his own.

6. Great April starts give teams chances to be competitive throughout the year. Pundits swear that April means nothing, they lie. April means a lot and part of it is confidence and part of it is the nature of a long season. 10-15 games above .500 at the end of the month would be huge for this team. The likelihood that they are a .500 team in talent means that it's just as likely they play .500 for the rest of the year as it is that they regress to 15 games under .500. 15 games above .500 in the Central Division puts them squarely in the playoff race. It's also a lot easier to be in front of teams in the standing then it is to be behind. Want an example, a 7 game lead for a team means that the chasing team needs to go 21-0 vs the team in the lead going 14-7 over a 21 game stretch, even if you draw it out farther it's harder then it seems to make up ground. Baseball is typically played in 3 game sets and if you play hot baseball taking 2 of 3 from teams over a long stretch (.660 win %) you still need the team you are chasing to completely fall apart because if they win 1 of 3 for a period of time, you still need 21 games just to catch them. That's close to one month of the season and assuming those things happen. Not an easy task.

Now let's talk about the bad.

1. This team has little depth a couple injuries and it could hurt them a lot. There already is a potential problem with starter Mitch Talbot. Another starting pitching injury would really hurt this team especially since it's unlikely that the 3, 4, and 5 starters aren't going to continue this pace.

2. The haven't played very good teams yet. The two good teams they've played they are 2-4 against. It's great they are playing 9-0 ball vs bad teams or teams in slumps but that can't continue. This isn't overly concerning though but they need to play .500 ball against good teams then beat up the bad teams.

3. A number of players are off to fast starts that aren't sustainable. Justin Masterson is unlikely to win a Cy Young this year, it's inevitable he falls back to earth, the same with Asdrubal Cabrera, the good news though is that there are some stars that can pick up the slack, but that's still speculation that they will.

In conclusion there are many more good things then bad things right now to talk about. Manny Acta is earning my respect for the way he is handling this team and it was absolutely necessary for the team to get off to a fast start. (Eric Wedge managed to get his teams off to a fast start once and even then it was only a decent start and they made the AL Championship series). A fast start will let them build confidence and should bring fans to the games which will help the demeanor of the team and allow the pressure to remain low, a great thing for a developing team.

I'm cautiously optimistic, although disappointed I can neither watch or listen to the games as I'm currently running a streak of my own, when I listen on the radio or watch the game on TV the Indians are 0-4, when I only check the score after the game they are 11-0. Far be it for me to stand in the way of progress, so until they lose without me watching, I've resigned myself to the fact that I can only view from afar. 158-4 here we come.

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