MIAMI: How many fans are irritated because the Indians did not acquire an impact player before the July 31 deadline?
If you are a Tribe partisan who thinks General Manager Chris Antonetti didn’t try hard enough to make a deal, or that he went overboard to ensure that he didn’t lose his precious prospects, I think you need to think again.
This is not the kind of team that should be going all in, trading away its best minor-leaguers for a two-month rental or a No. 3 starter that the organization can control for two more years.
Despite its recent hot streak, this club is unlikely to barge its way into the World Series. The Indians have a chance to make the playoffs, but the Detroit Tigers remain the team with the strongest lineup in the Central Division and the most solid rotation, and never mind that Justin Verlander is not having a season worthy of a Cy Young Award winner.
If the Tribe qualifies for the postseason either as a wild-card entry or division champion, it probably will not be favored in any series it plays. That doesn’t mean the Indians can’t claw their way into the World Series, but it does mean they are the underdog, and deservedly so.
The popular myth of baseball’s version of the Little Engine that Could is that once a team gets into the playoffs, anything can happen. It is true that even wild cards have won the World Series, but when they do, it’s because they have been much more proficient in the latter part of the season than they were earlier. In other words, by the time the playoffs begin, they probably are the best club in baseball.
Anything can happen, and for us in Northeast Ohio, that usually has meant June swoons and jarring July slumps. The positive aspects of being a long shot seldom occur in Cleveland and aren’t likely to this year.
Consequently, while it was prudent for Antonetti to seek help at a reasonable cost in talent, it made little sense for him to trade Danny Salazar, Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin or Clint Frazier for a player who might be the difference between going to the playoffs and going home.
Moreover, the game isn’t over yet. Teams can trade for players who have cleared waivers, and these players are eligible for the postseason if they are moved before Aug. 31. That still could happen, because between now and the end of the month, several more clubs will realize they have no chance to qualify for the playoffs.
If I were Antonetti, my goal would be to find a reliever who can hold leads in the eighth or ninth inning as insurance for closer Chris Perez and new setup man Joe Smith. Surprisingly, both pitchers have been vulnerable to a degree not seen during their tenure with the Tribe.
There was no better back-end threesome in baseball than Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and seventh-inning specialist Smith, going back to 2011.
It still amazes me that Pestano is not blowing batters away, that he is laboring in Triple-A Columbus, trying to figure out why he is not the dominating pitcher he was the past two seasons.
In my mind, he not only was the most effective pitcher in the bullpen, but he also turned in the strongest performance of anyone on the roster for two consecutive years.
If he could again become the overpowering pitcher he was then, Smith could return to being in charge of the seventh inning and keep promising but inexperienced Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw away from feeling too much heat too early in their careers.
As surprised as I was to see Pestano struggle, his own words foreshadowed his season. This is what he said in spring training:
“I wasn’t very happy about the way guys were taking cuts off my fastball compared to the year before. Any time I needed to, I could put it by somebody in 2011. I felt guys were taking better hacks off me than I was used to, and that went on the entire year.
“But when you’re having success, it’s tough to look at what you need to do better. When you’re having success, you don’t want to do anything to ruin it. Then came the last six weeks, and I was scrambling for answers.”
Pestano struck out batters at the rate of 12.2 per nine innings in 2011. During the first 4½ months of 2012, he averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and that figure fell to 8.5 per nine innings the last six weeks of the season, when his overall effectiveness took a dip.
“I hadn’t really felt comfortable since spring training [of last year],” Pestano said. “I was kind of erratic off the mound. The ball didn’t have the same life as in the past. I didn’t feel like it was jumping at the plate like it used to.
“My pitches have some natural cut, and that wasn’t there as much, either. I watched tape all year trying to get back to where I was. I watched tape from behind, side to side, slowed it down to the millisecond. But I couldn’t find any mechanical errors, so I narrowed it down to my offseason prep work.”
Pestano went above and beyond the call of duty to discover what he was doing wrong. Maybe it was mechanics, maybe it was a sore elbow that eventually landed him on the disabled list this season.
Asked last week about the possibility that Pestano’s elbow still hurts, Indians manager Terry Francona said: “Vinnie says he feels really good. And he’s not getting any treatment out of the ordinary. When he came back [from the disabled list], he got a little long [in his delivery]. Was he doing something to protect his elbow, I don’t know. I don’t know if he knows.”
Pestano or someone like him obtained in a trade might be the difference between going to the postseason and waiting till next year. But you also could say that about a rejuvenated Mark Reynolds or Ubaldo Jimenez pitching at least seven innings per start.
Or every player on the Tigers being suspended for buying PEDs from Biogenesis. I’d rather pin my hopes on Pestano.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.