With the White Sox opening a three-game series tonight against Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field, we reached out to Lewie Pollis of the fantastic Indians blog Wahoo's on First for his thoughts on the state of the first-place Tribe:
What, if anything, are you expecting out of Johnny Damon now that he's finally in the fold?
Not a whole lot. Damon still knows how to weasel his way on base and both his bat and his cleats will both be nice to have off the bench, but Damon almost certainlywon't be an improvementover incumbent left fielder Shelley Duncan on either side of the ball, and since neither player really struggles against same-handed pitchers they'd be an odd couple to platoon.
I'd be thrilled if Damon's role is that of a pinch hitter, fourth outfielder and backup DH. But he reportedly hasa gentleman's agreementwith Chris Antonetti to play regularly, so I'm afraid the Indians will be hamstrung into giving him more playing time that he should get. Hard to tell exactly what that means, though.
No team in baseball has taken a higher percentage of walks than Cleveland. Was that expected?
No, it wasn't. It does make some sense, though. Carlos Santana has always been a bona fide stoic at the plate. Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Jack Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, Shelley Duncan, Lou Marson they're not all good hitters, but they all have solid plate discipline. That's never really been a concern for this team. So it's not as though this came out of left field.
Shin-Soo Choo has a .375 OBP but has the power numbers of, like, Juan Pierre. Are you concerned about him?
After 72 plate appearances, there isn't a whole lot that concerns me. That said, we saw Choo's power numbers fall last year too, which from an on-field standpoint was the biggest reason for his down year. He's still hitting line drives and demonstrating solid plate discipline, so some of his pop should come back. Anyway, his days of hitting 20 homers a year are probably over, but he's not this anemic. And even if he is, his speed and pitch selectiveness make him an above-average hitter.
What should we make of Travis Hafner? Will the power ever come back?
The MVP-caliber light-tower power that made him arguably the best hitter in the league? That's been gone for six years. But he's gotten his slugging percentage back to the mid-.400's four years in a row now (if we include 2012) and he's got enough pop and plate discipline left in the tank that he's still one of the Tribe's best hitters.
Hafner is tremendously frustrating for Indians fans. He's incredibly overpriced and the Indians have a ton of payroll tied up in him, and since he can't play the field anymore he's limited the Tribe's DH flexibility for almost a decade now. But through it all he's been a huge part of this Cleveland offense, and there's nobody else in the organization who could replace his production.
What's wrong with Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson?
It's a lot of things going wrong for Masterson. His velocity is down across the board. He's abandoning his bread-and-butter fastball and sinker in favor of more sliders and changeups. He's struggling to find the plate and doesn't seem eager to challenge hitters. And there are times as when he walked Brendan Ryan and beaned John Jaso with the bases loaded where it seems like he has absolutely no control over where the ball is going.
Meanwhile, Ubaldo just can't seem to strike hitters out. (Masterson has had the same problem, but his game is not based on punchouts to the same degree as Jimenez'.) His velocity is down quite a bit his fastball has dropped almost 4 mph since 2010 and he just isn't fooling hitters. He's gone from "effectively wild" to just plain wild.
I don't mean to overdramatize or read too much into small sample sizes, but it isn't just superficial to say that neither pitcher looks like his normal self.
I'll say the Indians take two of three. I'm not confident about game one (Chris Sale...oy) but I like our chances in games two and three.