Tag: Zack McAllister

Chris Antonetti, Terry Francona

2014 Preview: Cleveland Indians


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Big Question: Did the Indians lose too much pitching?

After four consecutive losing seasons the Indians improved by an incredible 24 games in 2013, going from 68 to 92 wins in manager Terry Francona’s first year on the job. And the improvements came on both sides of the ball, as the offense added 78 runs to go from 13th to 4th among AL teams and the pitching staff subtracted 183 runs to go from 14th to 7th.

For the most part the lineup remains intact, with David Murphy essentially replacing Drew Stubbs in the outfield, Carlos Santana moving out from behind the plate, and Yan Gomes taking on a bigger role. It’s still an offense built around Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Nick Swisher, and still likely to be good but not great this season.

I’m not as sure the pitching staff can avoid a sizable dropoff, though. Chris Perez likely won’t be missed in the closer role, although his departure and the decline of setup man Vinnie Pestano leaves the bullpen in a state of John Axford-dependent flux. Gone from the rotation are Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who combined for a 3.64 ERA and 356 strikeouts in 341 innings.

Danny Salazar is one of the highest-upside young starters around and looks capable of making a huge leap this season to replace one of the Jimenez/Kazmir combo, but other potential rotation options like Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Harang, and Shaun Marcum lack any sort of upside. Which is why Trevor Bauer could be so key this season. Not so long ago he was one of the best pitching prospects around, but the former No. 3 overall pick has struggled to consistently throw strikes and has seen his stock drop considerably since being acquired from the Diamondbacks.

Salazar living up to the hype and Bauer getting his stuff together would erase most of the question marks about the rotation, but even then the Indians are still counting on continued ace-caliber work by Justin Masterson when his track record in that regard is a bit sketchy and non-dropoffs from Corey Kluber and Zack McAllister. I absolutely think this will be a decent pitching staff, but barring Salazar/Bauer breakouts giving back some runs from last season shouldn’t shock anyone.

What else is going on?

  • Reviews of his defense at third base this spring have been mixed at best, but it sounds like the Indians will give catcher/designated hitter Carlos Santana some action there during the regular season, perhaps in a quasi-platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall. That would clear the way to slide another impact bat into the lineup, but Francona will have to find the right balance in terms of avoiding a huge defensive dropoff and giving Chisenhall a chance to develop. It’s an interesting situation, if only in terms of seeing whether an old dog can learn new tricks.
  • Clearly the Indians are convinced that Gomes is for real, naming him the starting catcher and moving Santana elsewhere in the middle of his prime. There’s no doubt he was impressive in an 88-game stint last season, but Gomes had an ugly 67/18 K/BB ratio and never really posted especially strong numbers in the minors before reaching Triple-A. He’ll hit for power, but the rest of his offensive game is less of a sure thing at age 26.
  • Axford had a 2.19 ERA in his first two seasons, but then posted a 4.35 ERA between 2012 and 2013, thanks largely to serving up 20 homers in 134 innings. However, his strikeout rate of 10.8 per nine innings and average fastball velocity of 95.5 miles per hour both suggest he has plenty of gas left in the tank. He can’t be much worse than Perez in the closer role and while Axford isn’t without risk he was a smart pickup for the Indians as they try to rebuild the bullpen on the fly.
  • Cleveland spent $48 million on center fielder Michael Bourn last offseason, but he hit just .263 with a .676 OPS while missing 30 games with injuries, posting his worst on-base percentage (.316) since 2008 and the fewest steals (23) of his career. And now he’s a question mark for Opening Day because of lingering hamstring problems, which is scary for a 31-year-old whose value is so dependent on speed.

Prediction: Second place, AL Central.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the fourth inning of their MLB Inter League baseball game at CitiField in New York

Mets 1, White Sox 0: For as good a pitcher as Matt Harvey is, something is clearly wrong with him given that he did not get the win in this game. The object of the game is to win it, Matt. You clearly lack The Will to Win, as I’m sure Hawk Harrelson mentioned during the broadcast of this game. Give me Bobby Parnell, who notched his third win of the season. He knows what’s truly important. Harvey: nine innings, one hit, twelve strikeouts, no walks but — again, I must stress — no win. Tsk tsk.

Reds 5, Braves 4: Craig Kimbrel: no longer immortal. Ninth inning homers surrendered to Shin-Soo Choo — who hit two — and Devin Mesoraco rocked and shocked the Braves who entered the ninth with a one run lead. Closers, man. Closers.

Indians 1, Athletics 0: Zack McAllister threw a shutout into the eighth. AND GOT THE WIN, MATT HARVEY.

Twins 6, Red Sox 1: Scott Diamond threw seven shutout innings. AND GOT THE WIN, MATT HARVEY.

Orioles 4, Royals 3: Matt Wieters drove in three, including the tie-breaking run in the eighth after Baltimore had blown a three-run lead. The O’s turned three double plays too.

Pirates 4, Mariners 1: Jeanmar Gomez threw five shutout innings even though he was only given a couple hours notice that he was gonna start. His comment right before the game, I assume.

Blue Jays 6, Rays 4: Everything in this game pales compared to the condition of J.A. Happ after he took a line drive off the side of his head. As I write this all that is known is that he is scheduled for a CT scan and is in stable condition. Here’s hoping the visuals of it are far worse than the damage.

Cubs 2, Cardinals 1: The Cardinals’ six-game winning streak comes to an end.  Travis Wood has been pitching really well and throws another nice one (6.2 IP. 5 H, 1 ER, 8K).

Astros 7, Angels 6: Gonna laugh my butt off when the Astros pass the Angels four fourth in the AL West. Houston snaps a six-game skid.

Brewers 6, Rangers 3: Yuniesky Betancourt hit his eighth homer because baseball is random and fun and the Baseball Gods want us to try to figure out how in the hell thinks like Yuniesky Betancourt becoming an offensive force ever happen. His explanation for all the home runs he’s hitting:

“Leave the ball on home plate and I swing”

“I swing wherever it is,” he did not add, “but wen it’s on home plate I actually hit it.”

Rockies 2, Yankees 0: A two-run homer for Carlos Gonzalez was Hiroki Kuroda’s only real mistake, but given that Jorge De La Rosa made no such mistakes to the Yankees it was enough. The Yankees don’t play in Coors Field much, but when they do they tend to lose.

Diamondbacks 5, Dodgers 3: Paul Goldschmidt with a two-run homer off Brandon League in the ninth to break the tie and, ultimately, win the game. It was an 11-pitch at bat, with Goldschmidt fouling off five full count pitches.

Padres 5, Marlins 1:  The Padres stay hot. Easy to do against Miami, but still. Will Venable’s two-run homer per the AP game story made me laugh:

In the second, Venable hit a fly that Marlins right fielder Ozuna treated as if it was a routine ball. That threw off Venable, who hesitated out of the box before jogging down the first base line. Ozuna threw up his hands and shook his head looking for the ball — it landed seven rows up in the right field porch.

Phillies 6, Giants 2: Chase Utley had three hits, including a homer. Ryan Howard homered too, as the Giants Phillies knocked in five runs off Tim Lincecum. Maybe they just needed a trip to the west coast to clear their heads. Works for me sometimes.

Tigers vs. Nationals: POSTPONED: I fly a starship across the Universe divide. And when I reach the other side. I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can. Perhaps I may become a highwayman again. Or I may simply be a single drop of rain. But I will remain. And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again.