C.C. Sabathia threw a three-hit shutout tonight against the Orioles. Travis Hafner hit another grand slam, giving him five - FIVE - grand slams before the All-Star break, a major league record.
And the 9-0 win "improved" the Indians' record to 40-45, bringing them to within 18 games of Central Division leader Detroit.
At least they're a more, umm, respectable, 16 games out of the Wild Card, behind the White Sox.
Where, oh where, did this all go wrong? Remember, this is an Indians team that finished 2005 with a record of 93-69, the sixth-best mark in baseball, and missed the playoffs by just one game. Granted, we knew the departures of Coco Crisp, Kevin Millwood and Bob Howry would hurt, but with a limited payroll (ahem, Mr. Dolan), the team could make do with cheaper alternatives. And a great nucleus - Sabathia, Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, etc. - was returning. Certainly this year's squad would, at the very least, remain competitive and perhaps even push over the top and into the postseason.
After the Cavs thrilling postseason run ended, the talk around town switched to the Indians (that, and LeBron not signing his contract yet, which is another column all in its own). I can't remember the Plain Dealer having so many letters from irate fans. It's the miserly, penny-pinching owner Dolan's fault. My grandmother evaluates talent better than GM Mark Shapiro. Eric Wedge is the worst X's-and-O's manager in baseball history. And on and on and on.
Somewhere along the line, though, aren't the players held responsible? Larry Dolan is not booting ground balls at third base (that would be Aaron Boone). Mark Shapiro is not among the league-leaders in strikeouts (that would be Peralta). Eric Wedge is not serving up fastballs down the middle to be jacked out of the ballpark (that would be Guillermo Mota).
I interviewed Wedge when the Indians winter press tour visited Columbus at the end of January. The confidence level was higher than Ricky Williams during the offseason. Everyone - coaches, players, fans - had great expectations for 2006.
“I think the experience [the team] gained last year, and the improvements they’ve made over the last three years, is going to play out well for us this season,” Wedge said at the time. “We need to continue to get better, be more consistent, and do a better job in situations late in ballgames. If we can keep everybody healthy and do those things, I think we’ll be in great shape.”
Experienced? Yes. Injury-free? Relatively so. Consistent? Ummm...
This is an Indians team that beat the Yankees 19-1 one night, then lost the next two games by a combined score of 21-7. This is an Indians team that lost a game against St. Louis by making two errors in the ninth, then followed that by blowing a seven-run eighth inning lead the next game against the Reds. An offense that scores 12 runs one game is silenced the next. A pitching staff works wonders one night gets worked over like a slow-pitch softball pitcher the next. Not a whole lot of consistency there, but that falls on the players who, simply put, are not getting the job done.
Last season, a major concern was the 22-36 record in one-run games. No big deal, according to Wedge. “I look at losing 36 one-run games as a positive. It’s sure better than losing 36 five-run games.”
Through July 7, the 2006 Indians have managed a 7-11 record in one-run games and have lost their last seven one-run ballgames. While that's a little disturbing, so too is the fact that few games are even coming down to the wire. The Indians are blowing teams out or getting blown out.
I think that also falls on the players. They're professional athletes, and they have a job; win ballgames. It's been feast or famine for the Tribe all year, and right now you'd think they be a little more hungry.
How to resolve this lack of hunger for next year (because let's face it, this team is deader than a funeral home)? Maybe the guys should follow C.C. through the buffet line.