Mailbag: Plans to tinker with lineup?
Beat reporter Anthony Castrovince answers fans' questions
Are you excited yet?Well, of course you are. You're an Indians fan. Your team is in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, with 19-game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona ready to start Games 1 and 2. Your Tribe just throttled the Yankees, LeBron James had to walk out of Jacobs Field hiding his Yankees hat in shame and Ryan Garko took a cue from the mailbag and put a "Seinfeld" reference in his blog. Exciting times, all around. But you're nervous, too, aren't you? You keep waiting for something to go wrong. You half-expect Sabathia to ruin his pitching and his hand-modeling prospects by burning his fingers on a steam iron (yes, that's another "Seinfeld" reference, for those scoring at home). Your Tribe, you reason, will find a way to blow this. Joe Borowski will enter a game with a four-run lead and somehow give up the postseason's first-ever five-run homer. Or the Indians will reach the World Series against the Rockies, every game will get snowed out and Major League Baseball will rule it a kiss-your-sister draw. Something will go wrong, because, in Cleveland sports, it inevitably always does. Yet maybe, just maybe, this is the year you're wrong. Maybe this is the club that makes it happen and breaks a 59-year World Series championship drought. Do I, in my infinite Indians wisdom, know if this is the year? Well, of course. I am privy to such inside information. Consider it a job perk. The results of the playoffs are sitting here in front of me, typed out by Commissioner Bud Selig himself. I won't spoil you any of the surprises. I don't want to take the fun out of this. But with a few minutes to kill before the ALCS kicks off, I will handle a handful of your Tribe-related mailbag questions, so let's get to it. Do you think manager Eric Wedge will tinker with the lineup for the Boston series? Maybe move Kenny Lofton up to second and Casey Blake up to seventh?
-- Mike C., Richmond, Va. In a word, no. Why mess with what's working, Mike? This team's offense really took off when Asdrubal Cabrera took over the two-hole and Lofton the seventh spot in late August. Cabrera had his first "rookie moments" in the ALDS, chasing pitches he didn't chase in the regular season. But that's too small a sample to make wholesale changes. Besides, having Lofton and Blake in the lower-third really lengthens the lineup, and Wedge has been happy with the results. The offense might have been the Tribe's greatest concern coming into the AL Division Series series. The Indians had shown a tendency to tense up in the clutch quite a bit this season, as evidenced by their .255 batting average with runners in scoring position, which ranked 12th in the AL, and .257 mark with runners in scoring position and two outs. Those numbers would naturally lead one to wonder how the Indians' bats would handle the drama of postseason play. In the ALDS, though, the Tribe was as clutch as they come. The Indians batted .444 (12-for-27) with RISP and two outs, knocking in 13 or their 24 total runs in the series. In honor of Wedge, I've decided to join him by not shaving during the postseason. My dad has also chosen to wear the same Tribe shirt on game days. Have you heard of any playoff quirks going on in the clubhouse? Are you doing anything?
-- Andrew A., Chicago I've already got enough quirks, Andrew. I don't need to add any in October. Well, I suppose listening to the new Bruce Springsteen album at least twice a day could be considered superstitious, but that would have happened regardless of whether or not I was covering a playoff club. Anyway, I've got bad news for you. Wedge shaved his beard after Game 4 of the ALDS, so I'm afraid you're on your own. Wedge is a guy who likes to keep things close to the vest. Before the ALDS began, he refused to openly announce his roster and Game 1 lineup. He also refused to confirm that he was, indeed, growing a playoff beard. That's some wily managing right there. Never let the opponent know your shaving habits. That's the first step to defeat.
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-- Rob F., Ashtabula, Ohio Borowski is still under contractual control for next season. The Indians hold a $4 million team option on him for '08. Given his performance this season, the thin relief market and the relative affordability of his contract, I suspect the Tribe will exercise that option and Borowski will remain in his current role. Perez isn't going anywhere. He's only a rookie this year, and he's therefore under control through 2012. Left-handed closers are rare, but not unheard of. Perez certainly has the raw stuff, the ability to handle both left-handers and right-handers, and, it seems, the mental makeup. But until a guy pitches in the ninth inning, one can never be sure how he'll handle it. You ever notice that no one talks about the economy when it's going well, but that's all you talk about when it's not? I think the same thing can be said for the pitching staff and the remarkable stretch of very few injuries (and none major) to the staff. When it happens in a year, it can be passed off as a fluke. But this is two years in a row where the Indians seem to remain injury-free?
-- David H., Akron Well, yes and no, David. Both Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook endured abdominal strains. But what's ironic is that those injuries actually worked to the Tribe's advantage, as it gave Carmona an opportunity to grab (and later keep) a rotation spot. But yes, the Indians' coaching and training staffs have done a good job keeping a close eye on their pitchers the last few years and avoiding major arm injuries. Oblique injuries are harder to preemptively combat. Interestingly, this season, the Indians' players -- pitchers and position players -- spent less total time on the disabled list than any other team in baseball -- for the second year in a row, no less. The team used the disabled list nine times for a total of 323 days. Not that it really matters, but I noticed that out of the 10 nominees for the DHL Delivery Man of the Year Award, the Indians were not represented. Shouldn't the team with the AL saves leader and two of the best bullpen ERA guys in the league at least have one guy considered?
-- Joe D., Cleveland You would think so, wouldn't you, Joe? Maybe the good people at DHL were under the misguided impression that the Indians use rivals UPS or FedEx for their shipping needs, and they did this out of spite.
-- Emeline F., no location given Yes, it's obvious Farrell is privy to all kinds of inside info on many of the Indians players, seeing as how it wasn't that long ago that he was in charge of overseeing their development. But let's be realistic here. Over the course of a 162-game season, plenty of reports on players' tendencies emerge. And the Red Sox have been scouting the Indians for weeks. They're privy to information on the Tribe's players, and vice versa. Now, it's a matter of execution. Farrell insists that while he does have familiarity with the Tribe's youngsters, he'll still be reliant on the reports filed by the Boston scouts. Of course, some of his players are looking for a little more. "I expect that scouting report to be pretty good," closer Jonathan Papelbon deadpanned the other day. If the Indians do win the World Series, do you, as the team beat writer for MLB.com, get a ring?
-- Evan C., Palm Bay, Fla. I've already got rings under my eyes from covering the 4 1/2-hour marathons against the Yankees. That's got to count for something, Evan.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.