If you'd told me before this season began that the Indians would rank second in the majors in bullpen ERA, I would have responded that that would give them a pretty good shot at a division title, or at least a long run at one. Add to that the fact that Cleveland is receiving excellent work from three starters (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Kevin Millwood), and I would have pretty much guaranteed postseason play for this team.
However, two things could not have been foreseen: the dominance (at least recordwise) of the Chicago White Sox and the mysterious disappearance of the Indians' offense. In 2004 Cleveland ranked fifth in the majors in OPS, fourth in OBP, and fifth in runs scored. This year those numbers are 26th, 29th, and 29th. There's no fathoming what brought about this change. The Tribe are fielding basically the same offense as they ran out last year, and injuries haven't been a big problem. There shouldn't be any reason for good hitters like Ben Broussard (.261/.312/.463), Victor Martinez (.207/.271/.338), and Casey Blake (.195/.278/.355) to be this awful, but awful they have been. The Indians' two big additions have been hurt (Juan Gonzalez) and worse than hurt (Aaron Boone, .181/.235/.314). If it wasn't for Travis Hafner, who started slow but has picked it up (.849 OPS, although only seven homers) and the surprising play of Coco Crisp (seven homers and an .821 OPS), you'd think the Jacobs Field batting cages had been invaded by body snatchers.
The Rockies will face Jake Westbook, who has an ugly record and ERA but some decent peripherals, in the first game. C.C. Sabathia, the team's young ace and a fun guy to watch pitch, takes the ball in game two. Jason Davis, bumped up to the rotation while Millwood recovers from a strained groin, will go in Thursday's contest. Colorado counters with Jeff Francis, Joe Kennedy, and Jamey Wright in that order.
I'd like to finish with some sort of coherent analysis of the Indians' bullpen, but one eludes me. As odd as it is that the Cleveland offense has vanished, the stellar performance of their relief pitchers is bizarre on an entirely different level. How can Arthur Rhodes, who singlehandedly cost Oakland a playoff berth last year, have a 1.07 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP? How could David Riske have walked only six guys in thirty innings? Who is Matt Miller? Says here he played for the Rockies (4 games in 2003) but since when does a right-handed sidearmer hold lefties to a .158 BAA? A bunch of random guys like Bobby Howry, Bob Wickman, and Rafael Betancourt are all having good years. In fact, the only guy in the Indians' pen who isn't having a good year is Davis, who's now starting. This does not make sense. I think I'm going to go have a little lie down now.