Thursday, September 26, 2013

White Sox Swept As Race Nears End

There are just 4 games left of the 2013 regular season. I'm struggling to believe it, that the season is nearly over already. It's gone pretty fast for me. And the Indians have played some incredible baseball throughout. As we near the finish line, the Tribe are now so close to clinching a post-season berth through the Wild Card. 4 games left to get the job done...

With the Indians' two-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox last night, they still hold onto the second spot in the Wild Card race, 1 game behind Tampa Bay, 1 game ahead of Texas. Both the Royals and the Yankees were finally eliminated from contention last night, so it's just the three of us now, and we all know three is a crowd. As it currently stands the Indians would face off against the Rays in a one-game playoff to determine who would go on to play Boston. It's exciting times Tribe fans. 

Anyway, let's take a look at some of the talking points from this series:

Giambi Silences His Critics Once And For All

Coming into Spring Training, most Cleveland fans were unsure quite what to make of Jason Giambi and his role on the team. 42 years-old and a shell of the power hitter he used to be, his effectiveness as a player was questioned routinely, especially after he so nearly gave it all up to be manager of the Colorado Rockies just a few months before. A few among us believed the roster spot he inhabited could have been put to better use. In fact, as the season progressed, I saw calls for Giambi to be removed from the big league roster a lot. Well now, finally, the big man has proven his worth. 

After Chris Perez gave up two solo home runs in the 9th inning of Tuesday night's game to gift Chicago a late 4-3 lead, Giambi stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter with two outs, with Michael Brantley patiently stood at first base as the winning run (who promptly stole second base). As White Sox closer Addison Reed unleashed his pitch, Giambi got his bat on it perfectly, sending the ball deep into the right field stands. You could tell he knew where the ball was going as soon as it left his bat. The crowd erupted as the Indians emerged victorious 5-4, people going crazy having just witnessed another walk-off win, Cleveland's 11th walk-off this year, and Giambi's 2nd. It was a magical and symbolic moment of the Tribe's 2013 campaign. Just as you thought it couldn't get much worse (Perez's blown save), the Indians rally back and pull you back in. Giambi's mammoth walk-off 2-run shot will probably end up as one of the defining images of the 2013 regular season, such is the brilliant way it captures what this Indians team is all about.

I have to say it feels nice to see Giambi come through with such an important hit in such a crucial moment. Rightly or wrongly, there were times this season when he was criticised a lot but to Terry Francona's credit, he stuck by Giambi all year, never wavering. Speaking about Giambi's game winning homer, Nick Swisher said, "I almost started crying when he hit that ball." I'm sure a few of the diehards did too Nick, thanks to Giambi's heroics. He certainly earns the Player of the Series award this week. Fully deserved.

Ubaldo Poised For Playoffs

As the scheduled rotation currently stands, Ubaldo Jimenez is set to pitch against the Twins on Sunday 29th September, the final day of the regular season. If the Wild Card race is still alive and the Indians haven't yet sealed their post-season place, then I can't think of anyone else on the Tribe staff right now who I'd rather have out there for us.

However, should the baseball gods be kind and the Indians wrap it all up before Sunday's game, then Ubaldo will be rested in preparation for the one-game playoff on October 2nd, against Tampa Bay in all likeliness. The team and Francona are refusing to think that far ahead, and rightfully so, but it's worth discussing should events turn out this way.

If I'd said to you before the start of the season that Ubaldo Jimenez would become the best pitcher on the team and would be our first choice to start a playoff game, you would have laughed in my face. In fact, you'd probably have punched me, so ridiculous was the idea of Ubaldo being anything but a total mess.

Well folks, here we are, with October just days away Mr Jimenez has indeed established himself as the most effective pitcher on the Indians pitching staff. With all due respect to Justin Masterson, who has had a hell of a season and who I still consider our "ace" of the staff, Ubaldo has pitched far and above anyone's expectations and deserves the mantle of being our best pitcher. Especially given Masterson's recent injury, there is no doubt that right now, today, Ubaldo is number one. 

After yet another solid outing on Tuesday against the White Sox (6 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 7 strikeouts, 3 walks), let's take a quick look at Ubaldo's numbers. He currently sits with a 12-9 record with a 3.38 ERA after 176 innings pitched. But it gets better: In the month of September, Jimenez has a minuscule 1.04 ERA and an amazing 1.84 ERA since the All Star break. That puts him in the company of the elite pitchers in the game. Astounding.

So lets cross our fingers that the Tribe can ride this 6 game winning streak they're currently on and secure that playoff spot before Sunday's game. It would help if the bloody Rays and Rangers would lose some games too. Because I for one would really love to see Ubaldo on the mound for us on October 2nd, pitching for post-season glory. Make it happen Indians.

Thanks for reading.