Miguel Cabrera’s 2000th Hit – and other fun stuff…

Headlines:

Charlie Blackmon has the first six hit game in Rockies history since Andres Galarraga went 6 – 6 in 1995. [SI]

It started off a little rocky, but Masahiro Tanaka won his first start with the Yankees, going seven innings and fanning eight.  [MLB]

Josh Beckett isn’t coming back as soon as he had hoped.  While making a rehab start, Beckett left his game in the fifth inning after injuring himself while fielding a bunt.  Beckett is trying to return from thoracic outlet syndrome, but was put on the DL prior to the Dodgers going to Australia. [MLB]

Houston leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler was hospitalized with a stomach virus and likely will not play on Saturday either.  [MLB]

Miguel Cabrera got his 2000th career hit – and it was a homer.  My take on it is that Cabrera, if he stays healthy and productive, could finish with around 3800 career hits before it’s over – the closest anyone may come to Pete Rose for the forseeable future…  [FoxSports]

Jason Kipnis signed a six year extension with the Cleveland Indians, worth $52.5 million, and a seventh year option could extend the deal into 2020.  The Indians have been locking down young talent, having recently signed deals with Michael Brantley and catcher Jan Gomes. [MLB]

They said I had to go to rehab…

Those extending spring training with minor league stints include Cody Ross, Michael Bourn, Matt Harrison, Stephen Pryor, Devin Mesoraco, Mat Latos, Boone Logan, Craig Breslow, Ryan Cook, Gordon Beckham, Jeremy Affeldt, Taijuan Walker, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Jonathan Broxton, and Mike Adams.

Welcome Back!

Matt Kemp returned to the Dodgers…

Hurry Back!

White Sox pitcher Nate Jones strained a muscle in his left hip.
Mets outfielder Chris Young has a right quad strain.
A’s SS Jake Elmore has a strained left quad…

That must have been some 4th of July Party…

Daniel Murphy and Brian Duensing return from the paternity list, while Rays LF Sean Rodriguez heads to the paternity list…  Congratulations!!!

Belated Birthday wishes…

Those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances on 4/4 included:

(1888) Tris Speaker
(1897) Lefty (Ray) Miner
(1916) Mickey Owen
(1924) Gil Hodges
(1941) Eddie Watt
(1942) Jim Fregosi
(1943) Mike Epstein
(1947) Ray Fosse
(1956) Tom Herr
(1975) Scott Rolen
(1987) Cameron Maybin
(1991) Martin Perez

Baseball 365

Arrivals:

(1876) Big Bill Dinneen – good pitcher, good bowler, decent enough umpire…

(1907) Sugar Cain

(1938) Ron Hansen – back when shortstops could field and usually couldn’t hit – and Ron was one of those guys…

(1951) Rennie Stennett – second sacker of those great 1970s Pirates teams.

(1985) Lastings Millege – one assumes he’s no longer a prospect…  He hasn’t had a major league hit since 2011.

Departures:

(1974) Fred Snodgrass

Fred Snodgrass is most famous for his dropping a fly ball in the 10th inning of a game in the 1912 World Series that contributed to the Red Sox coming back and beating the Giants.  What is forgotten about that play is that immediately after the drop, Snodgrass was forced to play shallow with a runner at second.  When Harry Hooper launched a fly to deep right center, Snodgrass ran like the wind to haul it in – and then rifled a throw back toward second that very nearly doubled off that runner.  The Giants missed a shot at getting Tris Speaker out on a foul pop, which gave Speaker a chance to drive in the tying run.

When Snodgrass returned to his native California after his playing days, we would become a banker and major of Oxnard, CA.

Snodgrass is one of about two dozen players who were interviewed for Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times” – and his story is a fascinating read.

Transactions and Events:

(1972) The Mets get Rusty Staub from the Expos for Ken Singlton, Tim Foli, and Mike Jorgensen.

(1977) The Yankees acquire Bucky Dent from the White Sox for Oscar Gamble, LaMarr Hoyt, Bob Polinsky, and cash.

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2011 Season Forecast: Cleveland Indians

Last Five Years:

2010:  69 – 93  (Fourth in AL Central)
2009:  65 – 97
2008:  81 – 81
2007:  96 – 66
2006:  78 – 84

Remember 2007, anyone?  the Indians were a game away from getting to the World Series.

Runs Scored: 646 (12th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 752 (12th in the AL)

With this combination of runs scored and allowed, the Indians would have been expected to win 69 games – which is what they did.

Season Recap:

Most experts had the Indians and Royals battling for the bottom of the AL Central, and the Indians did just that – edging the Royals by two games to claim fourth in the division.

The Indians got off to a moderately slow start, but fell way off the pace in May, going 9 – 18.  Other than that month and a rather poor August (10 – 18, but played better than that), the Indians roared down the stretch with a 15 – 12 September, catching the Royals to get out of the cellar.  Part of this was adding a few nuggets – like rookie catcher Carlos Santana and infielders Jason Donald and Jayson Nix – who were happy to get playing time and helped lead the charge.

Starters:

Fausto Carmona returned to form, tossing sinkers and sinking fastballs, and giving the Indians 210.1 innings of solid baseball.  Justin Masterson’s first season as a regular in the rotation wasn’t a complete loss.  Sure, he allowed a lot of runs, but he had decent strikeout numbers and hung in there for the whole year.  He needs to work on his control, but there’s something to build on here.  Mitch Talbot won 10 games, but I’m not sure how.  He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he tends to walk even more guys than Masterson.  Jake Westbrook returned to make 21 fair starts before being shipped off to St. Louis for the stretch run.  David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez served as fifth starters – only Huff looked way out of place and of the three, Tomlin looks to be ready to take a turn 30 times and be successful.

Looking forward, a rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, and another kid named Carlos Carrasco has some potential for growth.  I see Talbot falling off a little, but if Carmona can hold form, the other three guys could certainly shave 30 – 40 runs off the runs allowed side of the ledger.

Relievers:

Chris Perez did a great job as the closer and returns for another season.  Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann will tote some innings as well.  Justin Germano did an okay job last year and gets a non-roster invitation to training camp.  He has a shot at being the 11th man on the staff.  Of these, I am less inclined to believe that Perez and Smith will be as successful, so Lewis, Herrmann, and SOMEBODY will have to step up.  I think the bullpen may be off by 10 runs over the course of the season.

Catching:

Carlos Santana had a great first 40 games.  He’s a convert – came to the Dodgers in 2005 as a third baseman and played all over the infield and outfield – an Elmo Plaskett sort of career.  I 2007, he was switched to catcher and has shown himself to be a quick learner with a strong arm.  As a hitter, he has a .401 OBP in the minors with 25 homer potential.  His backup, Lou Marson, has solid defensive skills but struggled at the plate last year – even after being sent to AAA.  I don’t think this will happen again.

Infield:

Last year’s infield started out as Russell Branyan, Mark Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta.  By August, Grudzielanek was released and now is retired.  Branyan was returned to Seattle, and I have no reason why they would have done that – but what the hey.  Matt LaPorta came in to play first.  Jayson Nix outplayed Andy Marte to win the third base job, and Jason Donald earned a shot at second base.  Only Cabrera played most of the season – but even he, by the end of the season, was seeing less playing time because his bat had tanked from where it was in 2009.

Looking forward, Donald or Nix looks to be the third baseman, LaPorta will get one more shot at first base, and Asdrubal Cabrera will get a shot to return to form at short.  More importantly, the Indians have imported Reds infielder Orlando Cabrera to play second base.  Jayson Nix and Valbuena return as depth.  I like adding Orlando Cabrera, though he’s getting long in the tooth and hasn’t really played a whole lot of second base in his career.  Donald can hit as well as Peralta these days, and LaPorta has room for growth.  Defensively, it’s not awesome – but it’s not bad either (well, LaPorta didn’t impress me).  If nothing else, it’s an infield that gives a manager a lot of daily options if necessary.

Outfield:

In right field, Shin Soo Choo is awesome – 20/20 with a high batting average and on base percentage.  He’s one of the best in the game.  The problem is the other two positions.  In center, the Indians are hoping that Grady Sizemore can return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.  At peak, and Sizemore is just 29, Sizemore is a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.  He hasn’t had centerfield range in years, though, so I’d rather see him play left field.  That leaves Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe in left (or center) and neither impressed at the plate, being low average, low power guys with speed.  Crowe might be the better defensive option in center, but neither has 1000 innings in the field yet, so it’s still open for debate.  Austin Kearns returns to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and DH option.

DH:

Travis Hafner, no longer the threat he once was, still helps put runs on the board.  Carlos Santana, Shelly Duncan, or Austin Kearns will be the other half of a platoon arrangement.

Down on the Farm:

The guys at AAA who looked like they could play a little, Brantley, Crowe, Donald, LaPorta (who caught in AAA), all got shots with the parent club.  Of those who did not, Jose Constanza hit .319 with less power and a lower OBP than Brantley, so that won’t work.  Cord Phelps moved up from AA, is just 24, and hit .317 with a little power.  Phelps is a 3rd round pick out of Stanford in 2008 who has been moved up quickly and played better at each level.  That being said, the entire Columbus AAA team hit .285, so I wouldn’t put stock in those averages holding up at the big league level.  None of the guys who hit .300 in AAA hit anywhere near .250 in the bigs in 2010.  A couple of pitchers were rushed to the bigs, including Gomez and Huff, while Carlos Carrasco pitched better than all of them (10 – 6, 133Ks in 150.1 innings, good control, 3.65 ERA in a hitter’s park).  So of the young arms in camp, I like his the best.

AA Akron features a couple of pitchers who might make you look for them in a year or two.  Alex White is just 22, had a 2.28 ERA in 17 starts, and had good control, decent K numbers, and kept the ball in the park.  The UNC grad was the #1 pick of the Indians in 2009 and appears to have a fast track to the majors.  Chen Lee pitched relief, fanned 82 and walked just 22 in 72.2 innings of work.

The second round pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Kipnis, hit well at A+ Kinston, batting .300 with a .387 OBP and power, earning a trip to Akron, where he continued to hit well (.311/.385/.502).  I like him because he’s from Northbrook, IL – a graduate of Glenbrook North, where a bunch of my cousins went to school.  He’s still figuring out second base, but he will be in the majors before you know it.  The 2008 #1 pick, Lonnie Chisenhall, has migrated to third base and shows power – but right now projects out as an Andy Marte clone – and that’s not MLB ready yet.

2011 Forecast:

Let’s call it guarded optimism.  The young pitchers should be able to build on 2010, but I think the defense will suffer if Sizemore is allowed to play center and with Orlando Cabrera learning a new position (and LaPorta likely getting 1000 innings at first).  It’s not a total wash, but it’s at least mitigating some of the potential improvement.  If Sizemore plays left and Crowe plays center, the team will remove 30 runs from the runs allowed side.  If Sizemore is still in center, I don’t see any change.

The offense will certainly be better at catcher, and if Sizemore can hit, that’s another huge plus – possibly 80 extra runs on the board between the two positions.  Cabrera or Donald or Nix will be better than a full season of Luis Valbuena, too.  When I feel optimistic, the system says that the team should score 725 runs and allow about 740 – but managerial decisions and Sizemore’s health aren’t guarantees, so I’ll hedge my bet and guess it will be more like 700 and 750 instead.  That puts the Indians at 75 wins – a nice step in the right direction.  On the other hand, the potential is there to get to 80 games if a lot of things work in their favor.  Besides, Cleveland could use some good news from a sporting standpoint.  As such, I’ll be rooting for the pleasant surprise…