On Friday we learned that the A's disappointing season has largely been the result of injuries and massive offensive outage. The A's then proceeded to sweep the Yankees, scoring an average of 5 2/3 runs per game.
Tonight the Yankees open a three-game series with the American League's second most disappointing team, the Cleveland Indians. So what's Cleveland's problem? It isn't injuries, only relief pitcher Matt Miller currently resides on the Tribe's disabled list. It isn't offense, the Indians have rivaled the Yankees for the major league lead in runs scored all year (both teams have scored 359 runs thus far, though the Indians have needed one more game to reach that total). What does that leave?
That's right, pitching. Only five teams in baseball have allowed more runs than the Indians, the Brewers and post-Mazzone Braves in the NL and the terrible trio of Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Kansas City in the AL. One reason for that is that in the AL only those three embarrassments and the major-league worst Twins have less efficient defenses than the Indians, who are in a very bad way on both sides of the ball at third (ol' buddy Aaron Boone) and second (the erratic Ronnie Belliard) and will be in right field as well as soon as Casey Blake's bat crashes back to earth.
Curiously, the fact that two of the Tribe's four infielders have had their gloves turn to stone hasn't had a tremendously negative effect on extreme groundballer Jake Westbrook, but extreme flyballer Cliff Lee has been having a rough go of it. Meanwhile, new addition Jason Johnson has doubled his groundball rate and seen just about every other number on his stat sheet (save for Ks and homers) shoot up as well.
C.C. Sabathia continues to progress toward being a true ace, and Bob Wickman continues to get the job done in the ninth, but elsewhere things are, if you'll pardon the term, thin. The three best bullpen ERA's after Wickman are Rafael Betancourt's 3.57, Jeremy Guthrie's 4.63 and Rafael Perez's 0.00, the last representing a single inning's work. Other than those four and Sabathia, the only man on the staff with an ERA under 5.00 is Jake Westbrook. Guillermo Mota has been a flat disaster, closer of the future Fernando Cabrera has struggled with wildness, and would-be fifth starters Fausto Carmona and Jason Davis have been just plain hittable.
Still, as bad as things might look, that offense counts for a lot. In fact, the Tribe's Pythagorean record is four games better than their actual mark and would rank them just a game and a half behind the Yankees in the East or all alone in first in the West. Cleveland has a supply of reinforcements in the minors. If things don't shape up soon, expect to see some of them in Cleveland as we approach the All-Star break and the trading deadline.
Paul Byrd, the other big pitching addition for 2006, will take the Yankee Stadium hill for the Tribe tonight. The Yankees handled Fraiser pretty well in last year's ALDS (though that fact was obscured by Randy Johnson's own failings in Game 3). That's reassuring as Byrd has settled down after a rough April to turn in quality starts in five of his last seven outings. Opposing him will be Chien-Ming Wang, who finally turned in a solid outing against the Red Sox in his last turn.
Home Ballpark (2005 Park Factors): Jacobs Field (94/94)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Jason Michaels replaces Coco Crisp
Eduardo Perez replaces Jose Hernandez
Todd Hollandsworth replaces Jody Gerut and Jason Duboise (minors)
Tim Laker replaces Kelly Shoppach (minors) who replaced Josh Bard
Paul Byrd replaces Kevin Millwood
Jason Johnson replaces Scott Elarton
Fernando Cabrera takes over Bobby Howry's innings
Guillermo Mota replaces David Riske
Fausto Carmona replaces Arthur Rhodes
Rafael Perez replaces Scott Sauerbeck
Jeremy Guthrie replaces Matt Miller (DL)
1B Ben Broussard (L)
2B Ron Belliard (R)
SS Jhonny Peralta (R)
3B Aaron Boone (R)
C Victor Martinez (S)
RF Casey Blake (R)
CF Grady Sizemore (L)
LF Jason Michaels (R)
DH Travis Hafner (L)
R Eduardo Perez (1B)
L Todd Hollandsworth (OF)
L Ramon Vazquez (IF)
R Tim Laker (C)
L C.C. Sabathia
R Jake Westbrook
R Paul Byrd
R Jason Johnson
L Cliff Lee
R Bob Wickman
R Rafael Betancourt
R Fernando Cabrera
L - Rafael Perez
R Guillermo Mota
R Jeremy Guthrie
R - Fausto Carmona
L Grady Sizemore (CF)
R Jason Michaels (LF)
L Travis Hafner (DH)
S Victor Martinez (C)
L Ben Broussard (1B)/R Eduardo Perez (1B)
R Jhonny Peralta (SS)
R Casey Blake (RF)
R Rafael Belliard (2B)
R Aaron Boone (3B)