How could this happen to me?
They could title the article, "What in the world is wrong with the Indians?" and it would be appropriate. That's what ESPN.com Insider Jerry Crasnick asks in his latest column. Mark Shapiro basically says, "Heck if I know." The Indians are third in runs scored and have outscored their opposition by nearly 30 runs, yet they are as far or farther out of first than the last-place team in every other division.
As Shapiro is quoted in the article:
"This year has been a very large disappointment. We're bitter about it, and we still have to figure out why. But we haven't been able to put our finger on one thing."And as Crasnick writes, maybe that's because there isn't just any one thing to put a finger on. Even if there were, it would be one very large finger -- like King Kong size. There's the bad baserunning, frightening fielding, lousy left fielders, awful offseason moves, and broken bullpen.
Just a typical year in Cleveland.
To help out Mark Shapiro, here's the God Hates Cleveland Sports ranking of reasons this year has been a very large disappointment:
10) Eric Wedge -- We're not ready to join the Fire Eric Wedge movement. It really isn't his fault that Jhonny Peralta can't figure out which base to throw to, that Aaron Boone has wasted nearly 900 plate appearances in an Indians uniform, that no one on the team can run faster than a glacier, and that Victor Martinez throwing out a baserunner is more rare than a Stradivarius. But he doesn't help, especially what with his strange love affair with Ramon Vazquez. You know, the guy with six career homers whom Wedge pushed for the Indians to keep over Brandon Phillips, then used as a pinch-hitter in a game when a home run was needed to tie the game.
A temper tantrum might help. Everyone's sick of hearing how the Indians just need to focus and try hard. Just start throwing things around to get some attention. Like Aaron Boone.
9) Leftovers in left field -- For as lousy as he's been, Jason Michaels still has an almost identical on-base percentage and slugging percentage as Coco Crisp. But that's only because Coco Crisp has been lousy in Boston, not because Jason Michaels has been exceptionally good. Eight homers and 40 RBI out of your left fielder just ain't gonna cut it, especially when he throws himself around in the field like a fish trying to escape capture. In RBI, he's ahead of only two other AL left fielders with more than 300 at-bats -- and behind three others with less at-bats.
8) J.P. Riccardi -- We'll blame the Toronto Blue Jays' GM for starting the cascade that led to the downfall of the Tribe bullpen. Infatuated with closer B.J. Ryan, the Tribe chased him like a puppy after its master. Problem was, while the Indians were courting Ryan, current flame Bobby Howry left the house and joined the Cubs. A week later, Toronto gave Ryan a five-year, $47 million deal and the Indians were left without a date to the prom.
7) Mark Shapiro -- Larry Dolan's empty wallet has Shapiro in chains, but that excuse only flies for so long. If you're going to win the 2005 GM of the Year award, you better not let your team drop to sixth-worst in the majors the last year. The Paul Byrd signing has been fine, but everything else Shapiro has touched has turned to dust. Jason Michaels -- bust. Revamped bullpen -- as bad as '04. Aaron Boone -- killed the team for two years. Jason Johnson -- let's agree to forget it ever happened. Brandon Phillips for a can of air -- oooops! But letting Austin Kearns slip through his fingers when all the Washington Nationals gave up were a couple of middle relievers (one of whom who was damaged goods) may haunt Shapiro like a ghost for years to come.
6) Art Modell -- Why not? He's the most hated sports figure in Cleveland history. Might as well take out this Indians season on him, too.
5) Fernando Cabrera and the New Bullpen From Hell -- After an excellent 2005 (1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings), Cabrera was projected as the new Bob Howry, which made Howry expendable while the Indians chased after overpriced closers. Now that Cabrera's fallen on his face (6.10 ERA in 3682 innings) it's dominoed over to every other reliever. Rafael Betancourt's ERA is a run higher than his career mark. Scott Sauerbeck hid from police in the bushes one night, then gave up one too many homers to a lefty. Danny Graves should never have been on the team to begin with. Guillermo Mota, well, let's just skip Guillermo Mota. And Kyra Sedgewick makes a much better closer than Fausto Carmona.
The Indians have the AL's fourth-worst bullpen ERA at 4.96. Remember the pen from 2004 ruined by Jose Jimenez and Scott Stewart? They ended up at 4.88, third-worst in the AL. Sound familiar?
4) Cheap Larry Dolan -- If you look closely at one of the guys roaming Carnegie Avenue while rattling a cupful of change, don't be surprised to see Larry Dolan in disguise. No one wants to hear about the Tribe's poor pockets anymore, and after two years of Aaron Boone and Ben Broussard clogging up the middle of the lineup, it's obvious the Indians need another bat. The way to get another bat is to pay for one. Heck, there's people that think Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds will help the Indians next year. These people obviously need help, but it shows that just making a splash in the free-agent market will go a long way toward befriending the fans again. Hopefully the Indians wouldn't just buy someone to buy someone, though. Hopefully they can actually open the purse strings to pay someone what he's worth.
3) Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook -- The Indians brought in Jason Johnson to be their innings eater this year, when all along they already had an innings eater. His name is Jake Westbrook. And he's Mr. Average. Westbrook has a career 4.41 ERA -- almost exactly in line with his 2006 ERA -- and a 48-49 inning. All while tossing 200 innings per year. Now THAT'S an innings eater. Couple him with the disappointing Cliff Lee (4.75 ERA this year, 4.47 ERA career) and you've got two average guys anchoring your rotation by dragging it right down to the bottom of your ocean.
The Indians and everyone else were expecting improvement from these two guys. When you've got two average guys starting 40 percent of your games, everyone else has to be above average to make up for it. And God knows the Indians don't have enough above average guys to make up for it.
2) Jhonny Peralta and piss-poor fielding -- Peralta's fielding statistics are actually right about where they were last year. But since his hitting has dropped to Tom Veryzer levels, his defensive reputation is taking a hit. And since the Indians need slick fielders behind their sinkerball pitchers, they can't afford a dropoff in fielding.
But the Indians have committed the second-most errors and allowed the most stolen bases in the AL. Every Indians infielder (including the departed Ben Broussard and Ronnie Belliard) either made the most or second-most errors at his position while they were in town. And sometimes even when they don't make an error, they still look like they're playing infield on ice skates.
1) God -- Actually, God is the top one million reasons for why the Indians have fallen down a bottomless pit. But we have to pretend to have some semblance of control by listing a few other reasons. Otherwise, we'd hurtle ourselves right down that pit after the Indians.