Cleveland Indians: Why they’re not contenders

Vic Davalillo

Venezuelan outfielder Vic Davalillo played with six teams, but none longer than the Indians, with whom he started in 1963. Davalillo batted more than .300 five times, though three were in bench roles. Won World Series with the 1971 Pirates and 1973 A's, but Phillies fans remember him best (or worst as the case may be). It was Davalillo's bunt single in Game 3 of the 1977 NLCS, with two outs and nobody on in the top of the ninth, that started the Dodgers' three-run rally for a 6-5 win. Davalillo was 41 when he dropped that bunt and had only 48 at-bats in the regular season for the Dodgers after he was bought from the Mexican League. Davalillo was 44 when he retired after the 1980 season.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Do a Google search on Chen Lee, and you’ll get the Indians’ pitcher, a California lawyer and a doctor in D.C. — all on the first page (Not to mention a definition from urban dictionary). That’s about to change. Chen Lee the pitcher should be dominating Google just as he’s dominated minor-league hitters. And sorry counselor, you can’t sue, not even in California. Lee was 22 and about 8,000 miles from his home in Taiwan when he threw his first minor-league pitch. In three seasons since he’s been a remarkably consistent reliever: 227.1 innings and just 179 hits, a home run every 16 innings, better than a strikeout every inning (278). The Indians had some pretty good luck with a pitcher named Lee and first initial C. a few years ago; they’re about to do so again.

What is this man doing here? It was only three years ago that Jose Lopez hit 25 homers and 42 doubles and knocked in 96 runs — as a 25-year-old. He should have been enjoying his best seasons over the last couple of years, but he’s been so bad he couldn’t even keep his job with Seattle. Lopez has one flaw as big as the old Municipal Stadium the Indians once played in: he swings too much. Lopez has had 141 walks — in eight seasons (his career high was 27 in 2008, and that was abetted by five intentionals). His OPS fell to .609 in 2010 and .617 in 2011, when he was so bad he couldn’t even hit in Colorado (.521 for the Rockies before they released him). It’ll take a lot of injuries for Lopez to play for the Indians, but if he does, he’s likely to mix in an occasional home run with all the outs he’ll make. When he does, don’t cheer too loud. That will only encourage him to swing more.

What he said: Roberto Hernandez Heredia, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona: “I know I should have come clean before, but I was scared to reveal what happened to me. That’s why I waited until it became public.” What he meant: “You think I wanted to people to know who I really was when I was 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA?”

Outlook: In less than half a decade, the Indians have gone from sellers to buyers. At least in their own minds. They haven’t had a winning season since 2007, and even that one ended with three straight losses in the ALCS.

Shortly after the Indians decided to trade talent rather than pay it, and off went Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Which left the Indians as bland as their gray uniforms.

Somehow the Indians performed above their talent level early in 2011 — they won 30 of their first 45 games, and had a seven-game lead in late May — and they deluded themselves into thinking the improvement was real.

It’s not, and the Indians dealt for Ubaldo Jimenez. Caveat emptor. Now the Indians are stuck with an increasingly more expensive Jimenez (10-13, 4.68 in 2011), and they don’t have young pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, whom they dealt for him. Think of them every time you watch Derek Lowe throw a pitch for the Indians this year (be thankful the Braves are paying Lowe $2 for every $3 he earns this year).

The Indians were 50-66 from May 25 on last year, and finished 80-82, which was still far better than they deserved — they were outscored by 56 runs for the season.

The abyss of mediocrity awaits again this year, especially with Grady Sizemore already hurt. Their young talent — infielders Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall and catcher Carlos Santana — is potentially the best part of the team.

But their outfield, minus Sizemore, lacks power (can Shelly Duncan really keep it up?), and after Justin Masterson, their pitching is average.

In fact, the Indians are so worried about the Roberto Hernandez Heredia/Fausto Carmona legal situation, they went out and signed Kevin Slowey. At 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA in 2011, he might be the only pitcher in the American League who can make the Indians yearn for Hernandez Heredia.

The Indians have the look of a .500 team, and following them will be like playing centerfield in a big outfield. There’s a lot of room in every direction.

Team song: Randy Newman: Burn On

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