Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Escape Engine 3

(Editor's note: Escape Engine will be a series of baseball features on this site. The first month of the series will focus on bullpens.)

The fast rise and fall of a bullpen is a tragic thing to watch. A month of fantastic pitching could just as easily crumble as continue, as anyone knows, but to predict such a fall is divine. Since sportswriters mention bullpens more than they actually talk about them, we've decided to devote a little time to some contenders' bullpens (with little focus on the closer, since they get enough airtime already). This week we've focused on the Cleveland Indians, currently 2 1/2 games ahead of the Tigers in the AL Central at 34-21. We have them winning the wildcard, if you must know.

(Ed. note 2: feel free to tell me I'm full of shit in the comments section. I know my knowledge of non-East Caost is fairly limited.)

For a second, can I ask a question? When does a good start technically become a good start? When do we label a team (or in this case an entire division) the class of it's opponents? 31-18 is nothing to scoff at, obviously, and the starting pitching for the Indians has been fierce. As always, it makes for a rested and fierce bullpen come the summer, but does this always mean that a good start can't become a mediocre finish? I think the cut-off is the end of May, personally. Cleveland can officially call themselves a threat, rather than a promise. Calling a start anything up until the all-star break infuriates me. On with the column.

The Indians have put their threatening face on the past few years, but one thing or another keeps their prodigious offense from raping postseason pitchers as well as regular seasoners. The bullpen has been less of a calamity and more of a mediocre yet maddening misfire for fans. If the pitching staffs of the world were judged by Nichola Cage movies, they would be in the Con-Air category-- no plot but an effective amount of exciting escapes and explosions (this is a scale from Face-Off to Raising Arizona, by the way). The difference this year is going to be the pitching, but the question is whether or not a true anchor will emerge. How long can Joe Borowski be effective in any role that pays him 4 Million dollars for a 1.57 WHIP and an above 7 ERA?

Let's Just Talk About This Guy First: Having seen Rafael Betancourt pitch three or four times this year, color me damned impressed. The 1.54 ERA and .81 WHIP are no justice to how this man has been mastering hitters. He is 2nd in the league in holds (11) and has made 22 appearances. Throwing in times he is giving them a chance for late inning combacks (see: Detroit v. Cleveland 06/01) he is responsible for well more than half of his appearances being Cleveland victories. Does this mean is VORP is approximately infinity? All this, and he's been on the 15-day DL once already.
Late Innings Other Than Betancourt: As aforementioned, Joe Borowski is a shaky cause to back as closer. His numbers suggest a terrible job, but 17 saves is respectable-- good even. In fact, he reminds me of an Alejandro Pena (or any of the Braves closers in the 90s). Effective for a few years, but the fans are just WAITING for a complete implosion for 4 blown saves out of 5 and a trade for 3 cents on the dollar. I remember watching Braves games when I was young and feeling the same way as when I see Borowski enter. Just don't let the lead runner on--DAMNIT. OK, don't let him steal sec-- DAMNIT. OK, fly-out and we got one guy down. Let's just DAMNIT, infield single. Let's get a double play right, here Joe. C'mon Joe. DAMNIT. OK, 5-4. Two down. OH SHIT STAY IN THE PARK STAY IN THE PARK GET IT GRADY. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. Whew. And I am not even an Indians fan.
Middle and Long Relief: Collectively, Tom Mastny, Roberto Hernandez and Fernando Cabrera are a crew of mediocres. This nucleus is the reason I can't see this team winning the Al Central. Sure, middle relief isn't the most important thing in baseball, but these are the kind of numbers that end up killing guys like Betancourt and Borowski-- the bridges. None of them is under 5 ERA in 15+ appearances, which make them shaky candidates for inherited runners to say the least. This WHIPs are high and the walks are inexcusable. Hernandez (42 years old) is officially hovering at 2 baserunners an inning while Rafael Perez remains limited in innings pitched (6 well pitched innings and counting...).

Long-Term Eye: Generally speaking, I hold out hope that the AL Central will finally shut pundits up about the AL East's detritus-ridden reign over everyone's minds. Between the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Jay and Rays, none of those teams would be ahead in the standings of the Central right now. I believe that. Challenge all you might, but the pitching and hitting is younger and better (or at least it is damn close to it). Much like the NFC East, it is just going to take a while for the analysts and casual fans to realize it. The Indians are a big part of that reason. As far as the bullpen is concerned, this may be the year it is just good enough to get them into the postseason. It depends, ultimately on Borowski and the bridges to Betancourt. Can a trio of ineptness hold up for an entire season? In the most hotly contested division in the league, it had batter.

Fun Fact: I am in throes of one of the worst fits of depression I have had since moving to New York City. Outstanding. Anybody got any pain pills?

Projection: We're sticking to our guns. The bubblegum and scotch tape (i.e. middle relievers) are just effective enough to outlast the Twinators, Athleticisms and Yanquees. I just hope they aren't prepared to win a series in the playoffs unless they make a deal before the ever-looming trade deadline. I say a trade for a Chad Cordero type of guy. Young and durable, though he hits spots of trouble. Why not? The Nationals aren't using him for anything special right now.


Phony Gwynn said...

Just had to get a veiled Skins reference in on the Indians post, eh you injun-hater?

And, man, I told you you should've let me pop that shoulder in. Now I'm sad that you're sad. And that makes me sad. Der. Sadder.

I'm sad.

Business or Leisure? said...

Ity's OK, little guy. I'm really good at being depressed, so i'm just working on developing my talent. In a way, I'm the Jon Lester of depression-- only without cancer (just a dislocated shoulder).