5-4 isn't a bad record for a road trip, considering the places where the Indians had to play. The pitching was pretty decent, with some exceptions, and offense got incrementally better. Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta, the two youngest members of the lineup, started to hit and (more importantly) hit for power; both players are now slugging above .400.
In my opinion, what's really holding the offense back is the revolving door at the top of the order. Hell, the whole lineup has been a game of musical chairs, but the whole thing starts with the leadoff hitter. Frankly, there's no one perfectly qualified for the spot right now, but I think Coco Crisp is the closest thing this team has to one. To that end, here's my "set in stone" lineup:
There's speed at the top of the order, although the on-base skills are lacking. But beggers can't be choosers. Casey Blake, second only to Travis Hafner as far as working counts is concerned, is hitting below .200, so just about anyone else there is an improvement. Well, there is Aaron Boone...
The Indians may have to make a difficult decision in the next couple of weeks. Jody Gerut, barring a setback, should be good to go in 7-10 days. He does have a couple options remaining (hat tip to reader Ron) , so the Indians can take the easy way out and simply option him to Buffalo until a spot opens up. Other candidates for demotion are Grady Sizemore and Ryan Ludwick; Grady has options remaining, while Ryan does not. There's the possibility of Aaron Boone accepting an assignment, but I think that's far-fetched. A couple readers have suggested this, but (a) I don't think the team would even ask him, and (b) there's very little chance he'd agree to go to the minors. Another option is to send down a pitcher, and go with an 11-man rotation. But I think carrying that many outfielders would mean that nobody would get consistent playing time, which is bad for all involved. These dilemmas tend to sort themselves out, but if a conveinient out doesn't present itself, a tough decision will have to be made.
The Indians' bullpen has quietly chugged along, keeping the Tribe in a lot of games. Because of the paucity of runs, the bullpen has really won a lot of games; I referenced the percentage of saves to wins last weekend, and since then, Wickman has saved game number nine. While it's nice that Wickman has that many saves, it again belies the slim margins the team has to contend with to win games. I'll stop beating that horse now.
Kevin Millwood has surprised me; not necessarily that he's pitched well, but his velocity has really gotten my attention. He could be the signing of the offseason, especially considering what some of the other free agents have been doing:
VORP, 2004 Free Agent Pitchers
Kevin Millwood 10.8
Eric Milton -3.2
Matt Clement 9.3
Jon Lieber 15.0
Carl Pavano 0.0
Pedro Martinez 14.6
Jaret Wright -9.5
Brad Radke 8.6
Russ Ortiz 1.0
Derek Lowe 11.7
Paul Byrd 0.6
Ryan Garko is mashing again after a slow April. Ryan's AAA line is now at .313/.387/.545 with a decent 19/11 SO/BB ratio. Ryan is really only a catcher or a first baseman given his physical ability, so third base is not an option. If Martinez, Hafner, or Broussard go on the DL, Ryan should be the first one called up. As of now, there's no way to fit him on the roster. Also performing well is Fernando Cabrera; he seems to be over the control problems that plagued him in Spring Training (1 BB in 13.2 IP).
JD Martin, who had been off to a great start for the Aeros, has been placed on the DL with an elbow injury, but it doesn't appear serious, according to Akron manager Torey Lovullo. Kyle Denney is on Buffalo's DL with "right ulnar neuritis." I'm no doctor, but I think that means he has some type of nerve inflammation in his right elbow. To take Kyle's place, the Bisons received the zombie formerly known as Jason Bere.
The Options page should be updated soon.