Practically everyone in Cleveland loves Terry Francona, and for good reason. His hiring signaled that the Dolans were finally serious about fielding a competitive team again, and the flurry of moves that followed led to the competitive roster we have now.
We’re also learning to appreciate Francona’s style. He’s a players’ manager, and he also preaches patience. And he know what he’s doing, so in most instances his approach plays dividends. Early in the season many fans wanted to cut Ubaldo Jimenez and move Jason Kipnis down in the lineup. Now Kipnis is on fire and Ubaldo is at least showing flashes of his old, All-Star form. Patience is a virtue with Francona. He understands that it’s a long season.
But, no manager gets it right all the time, and every approach sometimes fails you, at least in the short term. Yesterday’s meltdown in Boston was one of those days. Chris Perez didn’t have it. As we know now, he was hurt, but in his desire to be there for his teammates he basically let them down by blowing an easy 3-run save opportunity. But more blame goes on Francona, who seemed much more concerned with supporting his closer than winning the game. But in the end he lost the game and probably made things even worse for Perez, who will have nightmares after this outing.
Perhaps the Indians are getting a little lucky. Even in a beleaguered sports town like Cleveland luck has to turn your way at least a little from time to time. With Scott Kazmir returning to All Star form and Ubaldo Jimenez suddenly looking at least competent, the Indians appear to have a starting rotation that can support the rejuvenated offense and solid bullpen in a run to the playoffs.
Or maybe we have a front office that’s made some shrewd moves at a time when ownership finally ponied up enough money to give them a fighting chance. Chris Antonetti certainly deserves some credit for taking a chance on Kazmir and plucking out guys like Mark Reynolds and Ryan Raburn.
And finally, we might have one of the best managers and coaching staffs in baseball with Terry Francona leading the teeam. It’s hard to put too much blame on Manny Acta when ownership tied the hands of the front office, but Acta didn’t exactly get the most out of his team. With Francona we have a proven champion and someone who clearly knows more about baseball than everyone in the Cleveland sports media combined. He and his staff have been working tirelessly with Jimenez and Kazmir, and when everyone was panicking about Jimenez, Tito knew that patience was needed. Jimenez may still disappoint everyone, but he seems to have a fighting chance with the coaching he’s been getting.
Throw in some breaks like incompetent umpires and the Indians are on a roll heading into a weekend showdown with the Tigers. It’s still very early, and we all know baseball seasons can turn on a dime, but this fast start feels different than previous years. This team is very deep on offense, giving Francona endless options to play matchup baseball with his lineup, and suddenly the pitching looks like it can turn into a strength as well. And we have some insurance with guys like Trevor Bauer at AAA. They definitely have my attention . . .
Baseball is very hard to predict from year to year, and one of the reasons has to do with the unpredictability of starting pitching. And then we have guys like Ubaldo Jimenez. He has a ton of talent, but he also has a delivery that can easily get out of whack. The results can be hideous, but then he can put together dominating performances like he did last night.
I love what the Indians are doing after years of running the franchise on the cheap, and Terry Francona is an excellent manager. But, we all know that the team’s success this season will depend on the team’s very unpredictable starting pitching. It’s unpredictable because we have young talent mixed in with guys like Jimenez and reclamation projects like Scott Kazmir. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. With a little luck the Tribe might stumble into a starting rotation that helps them compete for a playoff spot.
From my perspective, the Indians have been a mess since they traded Cliff Lee for a bag of beans. Last year was a mess with the idiotic re-signing of Grady Sizemore and the miserly approach of the Dolans.
But since they added Terry Francona as the new manager, I have to say I’m impressed with the approach of the front office. The signing of Nick Swisher is excellent news, as he rounds out a lineup that has a legitimate bat at every spot in the order. Yes, a couple of them are strikeout machines, but now they can be parked later in the batting order where their power will be a plus.
I’m still hoping the Tribe moves Chris Perez, not because I have anything against him, but just because closers are overvalued, and they should be able to get real value in return while handing the closer job to Vinnie Pestano.