Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Second half fix needed or sky might fall permanently on Tribe

Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Cleveland. Those are the only four teams in the American League with absolutely no chance to make the playoffs this season. All four teams are more than 15 games out, while no other American League team is less than five games out of either the division lead or the wildcard. The news becomes more depressing if you include the National League where only the lowly Cubs and Pirates are more than 10 games out of a playoff spot. It took less than one year for the Tribe to rejoin the list of also-ran bottom feeders.

For most Clevelanders, their baseball history is the period between 1995 and 2001. They just showed up at the Jake during those days and expected a win. It wasn't baseball these fair-weathered fans were watching, it was winning. Last season, many of them bothered to show up just in time for the last week of the season where their self-fulfilling prophecy losing came true as the Indians choked away the playoffs.

For the fans who actually know what position Ray Chapman played, that Herb Score actually pitched and how to spell Dybzinski, last year was a lot of fun and not just because of the winning. The early glory years of the Jake were awesome, but outside of the 2000 season (the only year the Tribe missed the playoffs during that stretch) there weren't any pennant races. The Indians just clubbed their way to victory in a dismal division. Last season was a true baseball fan's dream season. Every game mattered and it seemed every game was close. Even when the stadium was empty, the real fan just could sense something special was happening.

And while I can't speak for everyone, it sucked me in. I let a pennant race cloud my thoughts and beliefs. I was convinced this was the start of something special, I didn't even call the choke job a choke job when it happened.

Everyone is flabbergasted by the Detroit Tigers this year. It seems like they came out of nowhere. The Tigers arrived into this week 34 games above .500. They only had 32 losses total at the start of the week. It is impressive and I am sure many in Cleveland are wondering with all the hype before this season, why isn't this happening in Cleveland.

And now with hindsight, we know that it did happen — well almost — last year. We let 93 wins and a thrilling August and September distract us from the failings of last year's team. The Tribe lost 36 one-run games last season, which was more than half of their losses. And why do teams lose one-run games? They do because of mental breakdowns: The failure to make a defensive play. The failure to move a runner.

Sure, last season's Tribe was full of heart and often that desire was enough to compensate for mistakes. Last season, the Indians had their five-man rotation intact for almost every start, in fact they only used six starters for the whole season. The Tigers are winning this year because of their pitching. The Indians had that pitching last year. But their inability to hit last year in April and May and then the last week of the season did them in.

Last season should have been magical, but the fundamentals weren't there. Shapiro is now discovering that lightning doesn't keep striking in the same place. And without the same pitching, even with better hitting, the Indians are horrible. You can't say you are building the team on pitching and defense and then plug into the line-ups players who can't defend.

It is the easy way out to blame Eric Wedge and his staff for the lack of fundamentals this team has. But where else do you point the finger? Someone has to be accountable for the bad baseball this team plays. They only win games when they outslug someone. They have scored 30 more runs than their opponents yet are nine games below .500.

It is not that rare to see a team like Detroit rise from mediocrity in one season. But I have been trying to think of a team that struggled for a few years, had one good year where they almost made the playoffs then followed that up with a stinker of a year before rebounding to play well and become an elite team. Can anybody help with one there? It doesn't happen.

But history needs to be made next year. The Indians have no choice but to find out what pieces are keepers and then open up the pocket book for next year. Because if they don't, baseball is in trouble in this town. There are only so many entertainment dollars in this town and the Cavaliers are going to monopolize them for at least the next four years. The Browns' ineptitude has given the Indians a free pass for a decade, it looks like that is about to change. This next off-season is the most important one in the club's 105-year history. If they are not competitive next year — not only will attendance suffer but the new TV network will fail and you will see cable companies drop it like mime does talking. And very few fans will complain. Baseball will become an after-thought. And soon rumors of the team leaving town will start. And if they stay, it will be another 40 years of misery.

The Indians said they traded Bob Wickman in order to find out if Fausto Carmona can close out games. OK, makes sense to me. So explain to me why Aaron Boone and Ben Broussard are still getting at-bats. Neither should be on this team next year, let the young kids play and find out who fits into the plan — then pull out the checkbook and buy the rest. Call me Chicken Little, but I really believe the fate of baseball in Cleveland is at risk.