Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Erik Cassano talks Tribe
I'm sure most of you have read Erik Cassano's thoughts over at the brilliant .

With the Indians' first postseason appearance since 2001 about to happen, I sent Erik some questions via email about our favorite team's chances.

Z: Erik, despite our concerns logged on our respective blogs over the season, the Indians made the postseason. I actually think this is the most playoff-ready Indians team we have seen in our lifetime. Do you agree?

E: It's hard to top the 1995 club that led the AL in both pitching and hitting. That team had a deep, strong bullpen and the best single-season closer in Indians history. But I would venture to say that having two aces at the front of your rotation, as the current Indians do, compensates for a lot of other weaknesses. Certainly, this team has the best starting pitching of any Indians postseason team since 1954.

Z: What's your top concern about the Indians going into the Yankees series?

E: My prime concern is what is going on in the Tribe's heads. I don't know if it's New York's quick-strike offense, the marquee names, Joe Borowski's epic April 19 meltdown in the Bronx, or the mere fact that it's "The Yankees," but the Indians looked intimidated versus New York this season, and it showed on the scoreboard. Not only did they lose all six games against the Yankees, they were purely outclassed in at least half of them.

That MUST change. We can sit here and dissect pitching matchups, bullpens and lineups, but if the Indians go weak in the knees, none of that will matter, and this series will be over by the end of the weekend.

Z: Joe Borowski has been living on the edge all season. Are you concerned he could cost the Indians big?

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned. Some fans I've talked to have gone so far as to say Eric Wedge should pull Borowski out of the closer's role and replace him with Rafael Betancourt for this series. I wouldn't go that far. Borowski notched 45 saves this year and deserves the chance he's getting to close postseason games. But there is no denying the fact that he is a "guts-and-guile" closer who relies on pitching smarts and the gloves behind him far more than the caliber of the stuff he throws.

There is no way around the fact that Borowski lets runners on base. That would seem to play right into the hands of the Yankees' lineup. However, if we remember Borowski's April implosion in New York, you can bet he sure does. Borowski is a fiery competitor, and I think his April embarrassment will serve as motivation if he finds himself in a save situation in this series.

Z: Any concerns about Fausto Carmona, being he has never been on this stage before?

E: Inexperience is a double-edged sword, especially when you have been pitching the way Carmona has all year. On one hand, you've never experienced the pressure cooker of playoff baseball, so it's natural to get jittery. On the other hand, you've never experienced the pressure cooker of playoff baseball, so maybe you don't know enough to be afraid.

Carmona isn't alone. Betancourt and Rafael Perez are postseason newcomers as well. C.C. Sabathia hasn't pitched in a postseason game since his rookie year of 2001. Paul Byrd is the grizzled October veteran of the pitching staff, last reaching the postseason with the Angels in 2005. Right now, there just isn't a lot to go on with the Tribe's pitching staff and postseason play. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. We'll find out soon enough.

Z: Do you have a prediction for this series?

E: In order to win this series, the Indians are going to need to be up 2-1 after three games. On paper, their best chance is to win the first two at home with Sabathia and Carmona going on normal rest. If the Indians win the first two, Eric Wedge can start Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd in Games 3 and 4 at Yankee Stadium with a clear conscience, knowing that the security blanket of Sabathia in Game 5 at home exists if needed.

If the Indians fall behind 2-1 in the series, suddenly Byrd (who tends to get battered by the Yankees) can't go in Game 4 and Wedge is forced to start Sabathia and Carmona on short rest Monday and Tuesday to try and win the series. The last time an Indians manager tried the short-rest routine in a playoff series, it was Mike Hargrove in 1999, and the result was a disaster that contributed to his firing.

I believe that the Indians' starting pitching is strong enough to win two of the first three, allow Wedge to use Byrd as a sacrifical lamb in Game 4, and get the series back to Cleveland for a deciding game, where Sabathia can start on normal rest and pitch the Indians to the ALCS for the first time since 1998.

Indians in five.

Z: Thanks Erik.



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