Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crunch Time

Pay close attention to the next two games, Tribe fans.

In our opinion, the next two starts (each) by David Huff and Jeremy Sowers will be the major determining factor in Shapiro's decision to buy pitching, or sell for prospects. If these two can continue improving, as they have in their last few starts, the Tribe will have 4 quality starters in their rotation, as well as Westbrook, Laffey, and Scott Lewis all set to return around the end of the month. If they are only able to give 5 4-5 innings per start, the pressure on the bullpen will likely be too much, and the Tribe will find themselves in sell mode as they approach the break.

Both Huff and Sowers have made major strides in the pasat month. In his first two starts, Huff's pitches (particularly his fastball) showed little life or deception, and he had trouble getting them past the batter for strikes. In his four starts since, he has added a couple MPH to his fastball, and more movement to his breaking pitches. Sowers, for the last two seasons, has had a chronic problem getting through the opposing lineup the second time around. This season, he's made great strides in that area, and has finally been able to keep his heat in the low 90s with control.

The key to their success is going to be their efficiency.

Sowers has given up only 5 runs in his last 4 appearances (counting a may 25th appearance when he pitches 5 innings of relief, after Carmona lasted only 1 inning). The flipside is that he only lasted an average of 5.1 innings in those appearances, and had to pitch an average of 83.25 pitches to get that far (if you remove his may 25th appearance, when he was pulled after 57 pitches, it looks a lot worse).

Similarly, Huff has given up only 10 runs in his last four outings, and though he did go 7.1 innings in his last start, it took him 112 pitches to get that far, and he looked pretty shaky at the end.

If these two young starters can pitch consistently, then the Tribe will likely be 3 relief arms away from a solid staff (even before last night's debacle, it should have been obvious to most that Herges, Aquino, and Vizcaino are not playoff-caliber arms). That's not even taking into account the inevitable return of Betancourt. Sowers can possibly fill one of those spots, and Rich Rundles, Vinnie Chulk, and Tony Sipp are waiting in the wings at Huntington Park. The bullpen is fixable. If Huff and Sowers fail to improve, however, there will be simply too many holes for a middle-market team like the Tribe to fill, without mortgaging a large part of their future away.

Keep your eyes on the ball.

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