As far as marketing campaigns go, the Cleveland Indians “What If” promotions, to me, are like a slap in the face. First of all, teams that have actually won championships, don’t have to go the theoretical route when asking fans to conjure up grand images. Those franchises roll footage of dramatic plays followed by on-field team celebrations and clubhouse champagne showers. In Cleveland, we get “What If.” Also, I have witnessed (and been a part of) many discussions where these words are used as a defense mechanism to deflect attention away from the real concern.
I know we are only a few games into the season, but let’s follow the lead of those at “The Corner Of Ontario And Carnegie” and reflect on what we have seen the first week of the season from the Tribe.
What If… The Indians starting pitching maintains its respectability throughout the season? Through the first cycle of the starting rotation, only the rough start of Josh Tomlin (4th starter) was a point of concern. The work of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe were nothing short of spectacular. All made it deep into the game and kept their Earned Runs below 3.0. Although Tomlin’s outing against the White Sox was marred only by a bad 1st inning, he settled down. Tomlin was able to give the Indians a solid 5 innings with only one Earned Run after that.
What If… The Bullpen Mafia continues to blow leads and saves as they have the first week of the season? The strength of Cleveland’s 2011 team was the bullpen. The staff became known as the “Bullpen Mafia” (much to the dismay of Y-Town residents and their leader Jim Trafficant) for their ability to enter the game in any situation, face a limited number of batters and preserve a win. This season, the Indians relief pitchers have all the makings of the Keystone Cops. The hard work of the starting rotation has been wasted once they leave the game and turn the ball over to the bullpen. This group is going to have to settle in and have some strong performances, if the Indians are going to be competitive this year.
What If… Travis Hafner stays healthy and earns his salary as a designated hitter? Much like a relief pitcher, a designated hitter has a specific job to do. He is not asked to provide an array of abilities for the betterment of the team. He has one job: hit the baseball. I have a critical opinion of baseball “specialists.” When a member of a team has roles and responsibilities that are not equal to those of his peers, my expectations of that individual to complete his task are much higher. When a professional has the ability to whittle his responsibilities down to one task, it should be accomplished at a level far above those of his teammates.
Let’s put this in a business perspective. This image may not be difficult for some to create.. You have a co-worker that is paid, extremely well, for a single skill set that they bring to the company. We’ll say this person is an IT Network Specialist. On a regular basis, you are experiencing issues with connectivity to your network. You call the “Specialist,” but a majority of the time, he is out of the office (not available). When he is able to come to your desk, he can only fix your problem once in a while, and the guy in the cubical next to you can do an equally good, if not better, job of getting you back online.
This is my issue with designated hitters, specialists. Stay healthy. Hit the ball. Do your job.
What If… The off-season acquisitions of pitcher Derek Lowe and 1st baseman Casey Kotchman pay dividends into late summer? Lowe is the veteran pitcher the Indians need to stabilize their starting rotation. At 39 years old, Lowe is coming into his 15th major league season for the Indians. At 3.93, Lowe’s career ERA is respectable, and it is unrealistic to believe he can continue with the 0.00 ERA he had following his 7 strong innings against the Blue Jays. Lowe needs to continue to be a productive, calming presence in the Indians clubhouse for their staff of young hurlers to follow.
Kotchman has been a journeyman throughout his nine years in the major leagues. The Indians had a revolving door at the first base position last season. Players were shuttling between Cleveland and Columbus at a regular clip with no one stepping forward to take command of the position. The Indians signed Kotchman in the off-season with the hope that he will be the man to do just that.