Cheers to the Indians for clinching a playoff berth and zooming to the best record in the majors. Jeers to Joe Borowski for blowing his last two save opportunities, the second of which resulted in a loss that would have clinched home field advantage in the first round. No, seriously though, Borowski has been nothing short of terrific for this team, one whose season depended on having a solid bullpen. Borowski was signed to be a setup man. When Keith Foulke retired suddenly, all Borowski did was step in and save 43 games...and counting. His grade for the season? A-
And here's the rest of Nate's regular season report card:
The Dolans - The owners infamously don't spend much, it's true, but they must be given credit for letting GM Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge run the team their way, win or lose. Grade: B
Shapiro - He's the architect of this team, and he has found away around not having a Yankee sized budget to work with. His offseason was lackluster, but he did make the midseason Kenny Lofton deal that gave the team and the fans a spark. Grade: B+
Wedge - When this team wasn't hitting, he kept his cool. When the losses were piling up, he kept his clubhouse upbeat. He seems to have learned a lot in the past two seasons, which were disappointing for different reasons. This year, he's made the right moves. Grade: A
Grady Sizemore - He has a great on base percentage, and he's a graceful center fielder, but what the hell is up with all the strikeouts? His numbers are down from a year ago, but he is still a difference maker. Almost every game he will do something positive, and he's a joy to watch on the basepaths. He'll finish with about 80 RBI, which is huge. Grade: B+
Kenny Lofton - His arrival gave the team a big, veteran boost. He is still a favorite at Jacobs Field, where he gets the loudes applause of any player. Grade: A
Franklin Gutierrez - Inserting him into the lineup in place of Trot Nixon made a huge difference. He can hit and field, both of which Nixon can no longer seem to do. Grade: B+
Jason Michaels, David Dellucci and Trot Nixon - Why bunch them together? Because they're all great clubhouse guys who can't play. I'm not sure why we signed all these backup outfielders, and they sure haven't provided much on the field, but they are, to a man, professionals. Grade: D
Travis Hafner - A huge disappointment and the DH somehow manages nearly 100 RBI. The discussion of the Tribe's offensive futility starts right here. I still think Pronk has something physically wrong, but for all his struggles, he's managed to be relatively productive. Grade: C-
Ryan Garko - Now is my time to be smug. I said at the end of last year that this guy was our everyday first baseman. He's a born hitter who does nothing in the field to embarrass himself, which was the fear. I love Garko because: a) he hits and hits, b) he looks like he's having the time of his life playing baseball for a living, and c) he looks like a 1950s boxer. Grade: A-
Josh Barfield - I was elated by the offseason aquisition of Barfield. I thought Shapiro had really pulled off a coup. Turns out I was wrong. Barfield can pick it at second, but at the plate he looks like he's swinging a limp noodle for a bat. I still think he's got talent, but the sophomore jinx got him for sure. Grade: D.
Asdrubal Cabrera - I said it before, and I will say it again: Cabrera will never play in the minors again. He is already the best fielder on the team at any position, and he can handle a bat. He was tossed right into the middle of a pennant race and, like Lofton, provided a spark. He will be the shortstop of this club very, very soon. Grade: A
Jhonny Peralta - Sigh. What could be... If only he laid off the low and away pitch. If only he went to the opposite field more, where his true power is. Still it's hard to argue with 20+ homers and 70+ RBI at the shortstop position, where, incidentally, he has a great arm and no range whatever. Grade: B-
Casey Blake - Another consummate pro who fields whatever position he is asked to play and does not hit with runners in scoring position. Still, his impact is positive, and he'll come up with a big hit now and then. Grade: B
Chris Gomez - I admit I didn't even realize Gomez was still in the league. He has been a huge upgrade over Mike Rouse as a utility guy. He hits and fields well, which is all you can ask for. Grade: A
Victor Martinez - 111 RBI say it all. Great hitter who VASTLY improved his throwing this year. He relishes his role as the leader of a team with great chemistry. Indians co-MVP. Grade: A+
Kelly Shoppach - He has a power arm and he has even driven in a few runs. Really he is a superb backup who will be a starter someday, somewhere in the league. Grade: A-
C.C. Sabathia - Along with Victor, he is the MVP of this team. Sometime last year, C.C. decided he was going to be the ace of this staff. Since then he has been pretty much unhittable. Great arm with an attitude to match. Grade: A+
Fausto Carmona - From 1-10 last year to 19-9 this year. When he failed so crashingly as a closer last year, I had him pegged for a headcase with a great arm. Well, I'm an idiot. Fausto is a born starter, and he makes hitters look bad. Grade: A+
Paul Byrd - In spite of recent struggles, Byrd has been very, very solid. He never walks a batter and never gives in, even when the bases are littered. Has been as good this year as he was bad last year. Grade: B
Jake Westbrook - I've always been a Westbrook fan. I love how he works fast and goes right after guys. His injuries this year really set him back, but he has rounded into shape. In the playoffs he is my number 3 starter. Grade: C+
Aaron Laffey - He's held down the number 5 spot in the rotation, but he doens't inspire awe. Ideally Cliff Lee or Jeremy Sowers are starters, not Laffey. Grade: C
Lee and Sowers - What happened to these guys? Grade: F
Aaron Fultz - He has pitched well enough in non-pressure situations. Overall he's been a reliable lefty out of the pen, but clearly Wedge doesn't trust him with the game on the line. Mostly he's come as advertised, which is average. Grade: C
Tom Mastny - It seems a decade ago that Mastny was a sort of last ditch closer, though it was but a year ago. Now he's a long relief righty that has been mediocre. Grade: C
Jensen Lewis - I like Lewis' arm. He throws hard and all his stuff moves and his effectiveness of late has gained the trust of Wedge. He could certainly have a future on this club if he keeps it up. Grade: B
Rafael Perez - He has been a lights-out southpaw. That he didn't make the club out of spring training shows how flaky bullpens are. Unhittable this year against batters from both sides of hte plate. Grade: A+
Rafael Betancourt - He's the MVP of the bullpen. Betancourt has always been a proficient reliever with a big arm. This year he has been the glue of the pitching staff. Now he's as focused and as nasty as I've ever seen him. His immutable presence on the mound is impressive, but I loved his emotional reaction after closing out the playoff clinching game against Oakland. Grade: A+
Roberto Hernandez, Jason Stanford and Fernando Cabrera (what an arm, but alas...) - Yuck. Grade: F
This week McBone mourns the loss of Ted Stepien, who, along with Art Modell, represents the absolute nadir of Cleveland sports ownership. Stepien, who very nearly cost the city our basketball team, died September 1oth at the age of 82. During his tenure as owner, the Cavaliers compiled a record of 66 - 180. By trading high draft picks for crap players, Stepien robbed the team of all talent, but was visionary enough to pipe polka into the Richfield Coliseum.
That the kick was blocked is irrelevant. The game against the Raiders should never have come down to a field goal. Somehow, the Browns didn't show up to a game against a horrible team that would have put them above .500 for the first time in what seems like 45 years.
Good luck against Baltimore.
Nate's unreasonable prediction of the week.
An Indian will actually be awarded a postseason honor (Sabathia. Cy Young).