June 23, 2010
On the Beat
Manny Acta has had plenty of practice trying to find the positives amongst the negatives during his major-league managerial career. He spent 2 ½ seasons with the Nationals, compiling a 158-282 record before being fired last season at the All-Star break. Things aren't going much better in his first season with the Indians, as they are 26-43.
Not only are the Indians losing games at a rapid rate, but they are also missing the top two hitters in their batting order. Center fielder Grady Sizemore is out for the season after undergoing microfracture knee surgery last month, and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has been out since May 18 with a broken left forearm and is not expected back until the end of July.
"It's difficult to lose two players of that caliber and we're not the same team," Acta admitted. "When you're a mid-market franchise like we are, you just aren't able to replace those kinds of players. You don’t have that kind of depth."
Still, Acta refuses to give up on this season. He firmly believes the Indians are on their way back to being a contending team again after going from losing to the Red Sox in seven games in the 2007 American League Championship Series to losing 97 games last season, resulting in Eric Wedge being fired after seven years as manager.
"There are a lot of things to feel good about here," Acta said. "Our record isn't as good as we hoped it would be and that's disappointing. If you look at the big picture, though, look at the organization as a whole, there are good things happening."
The best thing that has happened to the Indians lately has been calling catcher Carlos Santana up from Triple-A Columbus on June 11. Santana has lived up to the hype of not only being considered the Indians' top prospect but one of top prospects in all of baseball, as he has hit .355/.487/.710 in his first 39 plate appearances to go with a .429 TAv.
Acta has not been hesitant to throw Santana into the fray, as the 24-year-old switch hitter has been batting third in the order. The Indians' injuries and lack of power has something to do with that, but it also says a lot about how much confidence the organization has in Santana. The most impressive part about Santana's start is that he faced the gamut of pitchers, from Nationals flame-throwing rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg to Mets changeup master Johan Santana and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
"Everything that people said about him offensively is there," Acta said. "I think he's handled everything that's been thrown at him very well. He really hangs in there against everybody and hasn't looked overmatched at all. If Cabrera and Sizemore weren't hurt, we'd probably be hitting him lower in the order but not much lower, probably fifth instead of third. He's got some special qualities. He's not just a hacker. He takes pitches and he doesn't feel for the ball on his swing. He's pretty confident in his ability."
Acta was asked if Santana would be hitting third if the Indians were only one game out in the American League Central rather than 13
"He's going to be hitting third for us when we are in position to be one game out," Acta said. "He is a very big part of our future."
The Indians will continue to look to the future, as they have three starting pitchers 26 or younger in Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, and Mitch Talbot, a closer-in-waiting in 24-year-old Chris Perez, and a young middle-infield combination of second baseman Luis Valbuena and shortstop Jason Donald. Acta also talks excitedly about many of the Indians' prospects in the upper levels of the farm system, including first baseman Beau Mills, second baseman Jason Kipnis, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, outfielder Nick Weglarz, right-handed starters Carlos Carrasco and Hector Rondon, and left-hander Nick Hagadone. Furthermore, Acta believes two players who were in the Indians' Opening Day lineup before being sent to Columbus, first baseman/outfielder Matt LaPorta and outfielder Michael Brantley, will eventually return to the majors and play big roles.
The present isn't looking so good for the Indians, though. They are 11th in the AL in runs scored (4.22 a game), 12th in runs allowed (5.09 a game), and last among the league's 14 teams with a .677 defensive efficiency.
"We're going through so tough times, but I'm not down about it at all," Acta said. "We have a good group of guys on this team and I'm working for some great people. It makes it easy to stay positive."
Winning usually solves all problems, and that is the case with the White Sox. As reported in this space last Wednesday, manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Ken Williams were able to smooth things over after a June 8 shouting match between the two reportedly almost turned into a physical confrontation. A week later, Guillen and Williams are still in détente, as the White Sox are on a seven-game winning streak to move over .500 at 35-34 and have won 11 of their last 12.
"I don't have anything against Kenny—a lot of miscommunication, misunderstanding, a lot of disagreements, but that's part of my job, that's part of our job," Guillen said. "I think to me that thing is way behind. I got a lot of things to worry about. I got 25 (players), plus three kids and a wife. That's 29 people I have to worry about."
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said last weekend that Williams never came to him and asked to fire Guillen. Yet Reinsdorf felt the situation had to be resolved in order to prevent potential chaos.
"They both agreed, and as far as I know, they are back to normal," Reinsdorf said.
Of course, ask anyone associated with the White Sox what normal is and they just laugh. With Williams and Guillen running the show, the dull moments are few and far between.
"We continue to work, we talk a lot better, we communicate a lot better with the team," Guillen said. "It's nicer to come to work that way because it's not easy when you have the negativity and other stuff. Maybe because we won a couple games the last two weeks, it makes things better, but I think if we want to make this work, I have to do my job, he has to do his job. We got to communicate about the ballclub, do what we're supposed to do. As a friendship, hopefully it gets better. It's not 100 percent better, but it's getting there. How long is it going to take? Hopefully quick enough, but it doesn't bother me. The only thing that bothers me about this is to make the players (not) get involved."
While Williams and Guillen have a hard time agreeing on many things, the one thing they have been able to do in unison is shield the players from much of the controversy. In fact, the White Sox' players might be the least-quoted in the major leagues, as Guillen gives the media plenty of material on a daily basis and Williams isn't shy about giving his opinions to the press. Left-handed reliever Matt Thornton believes Guillen's ability to focus on trying to keep the White Sox afloat is the reason why they have climbed within 4 ½ games of the Twins in the AL Central.
"Ozzie kept trying different situations, different lineups, different things out there, and never quit," Thornton said. "But he never quit on us in 2007, and that was one of the worst situations I've been a part of. This team is way too talented, everyone has been saying it for two months, we were way too talented to be where we were. You're starting to see that talent rise to the top and get on a roll here."
It has generally been assumed if the Williams-Guillen relationship ever reaches its breaking point that Reinsdorf would side with his manager, who is immensely popular with White Sox fans. Reinsdorf, though, said Williams would be the one staying is a split becomes necessary.
"Well, that's my history," Reinsdorf said. "The biggest mistake I ever made, but I would make it again, is I let Hawk (former GM Ken Harrelson) fire Tony La Russa. I would hope Kenny would never come to that conclusion. But you can't make a general manager have a manager he doesn't want."
One of the moves Jeff Moorad considered after assuming control of the Padres last season was moving in the fences at Petco Park. In fact, when Moorad was interviewing candidates last October to replace Kevin Towers as GM, one of his questions was what they thought of changing the dimensions of the major leagues' most pitcher-friendly venue.
One of those candidates, then-Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer, was opposed to the move. He wound up getting the job.
"I told (Moorad) I'd move them back if I were going to move them," Hoyer said.
Power hitters cost lots of money, and that is in short supply with the Padres. Their $37 million payroll was the second-lowest in the major leagues behind the Pirates' $34 million.
Yet Hoyer has been able to build an outstanding pitching staff and defense on the cheap. The Padres lead the majors in runs allowed (3.32 a game), and their .723 defensive efficiency is second in the National League and third in the majors. That has helped the Padres get off to a surprising 41-29 start and a 1 ½-game lead over the Giants in the NL West.
"Pitching is going to be the future of this franchise given this ballpark," Hoyer said. "And I love the ballpark."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: If the White Sox stay in the AL Central race, they are likely to pursue a left-handed power hitter at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline with Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott and Astros first baseman Lance Berkman the likely targets. … The White Sox are also hopeful that left-hander Chris Sale, their first-round draft pick this year, will be ready to help the major-league bullpen by August. … Even if the sale of the club is not approved before July 31, the Rangers plan to be aggressive at the trade deadline, with their main targets being Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt and Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee. The Rangers also plan to make a splash in free agency in the upcoming offseason. … The Braves, Red Sox, and Giants all have interest in Royals center fielder David DeJesus. The Red Sox are also eyeing Royals utility player Willie Bloomquist.… The Rockies and Yankees have interest in Orioles utility infielder Ty Wigginton.
Three series to watch (all times Eastern):