Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report’s Cleveland Indians fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.

This week, we discuss the Tribe’s terrible luck with injuries, Fausto Carmona’s All-Star Game nod, and the long-awaited emergence of Matt LaPorta.

I would like to thank this week’s participants Lewie Pollis, The Coop, and Nino Colla for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we’re addressing this week.

Go Tribe!

1. First it was Grady. Then it was Asdrubal. Now it’s Shin-Soo Choo who is headed for a lengthy stint on the DL. 

Choo sustained a sprained thumb last Friday diving for a ball. What at first appeared to be a minor injury is now believed to potentially require surgery and could keep the right fielder out until September. 

Are the Tribe EVER going to catch a break? 

Do you really think Choo will be out until September, and if so, how will this impact the team’s performance? How do you think the adapted outfield of Crowe in left, Brantley in center, and Kearns in right will fare? 

One more thing: At the risk of being a harbinger of doom, who’s next? Will we lose another important roster member to the DL soon?

Samantha Bunten: As a Cleveland fan, it’s tempting to meet this question with a blank stare and mumble something like, “Catch a break?” What does THAT mean? The only thing the Tribe seems to be catching this season is the injury bug, and yes, I did also mean that as a knock on our abysmal defense. 

We lost our two best defenders in Sizemore and Cabrera, and our best hitter in Choo. That would be tough for any team to absorb, but the Tribe’s lack of depth has made the impact of the injuries even more glaring. 

As far as the outfield in its current state, Brantley has improved but still has a long way to go, Kearns has cooled off, but is certainly still doing his job, and Crowe…well…you all know how I feel about that. 

Who’s next? Well, if the pattern continues, you have to assume it will be Mitch Talbot or Chris Perez. And the shot to the head LaPorta took from Elvis Andrus on Monday was eerily ironic given LaPorta’s recent impressive improvement.

Nino Colla: Oh boy…This is just deflating to see. Not just the injury but the fact he’ll be out for the next two months? Man, just man. 

I don’t know if they are ever going to catch a break, but this is certainly annoying to continue to see year after year. Just once, even if the team isn’t going to compete, you’d like to see your best player have a good season from start to finish. 

I don’t know how it will impact the team, but it certainly isn’t going to help. They’ll have to depend on Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner, and Matt LaPorta to carry the offense, and that is a tough task for those three with the supporting parts right now. 

The outfield will be fine for now. I want to see Jordan Brown now though. If he isn’t up at some point, there is something really wrong. They have the space, and if they trade Kearns they will have no excuse not to give him a shot.

Lewie Pollis: I don’t think there’s much to say about this besides that it sucks. Though the image of Trevor Crowe having some job security makes me want to vomit.

The Coop: I can only assume your question about the Indians ever catching a break is rhetorical, because the next break any Cleveland team catches will be the first one. 

Regardless of whether or not Choo needs surgery, the most important thing is that the Indians do not rush him back. Put him on the shelf for the rest of the year if you have to, but there’s no sense in jeopardizing the future and long-term health of one of the best players on the team. 

As far as the team is concerned, anytime you lose a guy who means as much to his team as Choo means to the Tribe, there’s going to be a painful drop-off. Let’s not forget there was a reason Brantley was sent down before May. 

My only hope is he has become a better player after suffering through his early season struggles. His latest stint in Columbus might be just what he needed to regain his focus and confidence. Plus, with the Indians out of it, he should feel a lot less pressure. 

And for the record, I fully expect Fausto Carmona to incur some sort of freak injury while attending the All-Star Game, putting him on the DL for the rest of the year. Tendinitis in the elbow from holding his video camera during the Home Run Derby, perhaps?

2. On Sunday, Fausto Carmona was selected as the Indians’ representative for the 2010 All-Star Game. 

Do you think Fausto deserves to be an All-Star? Was he really the best choice to represent the Indians in the Midsummer Classic?

Who would you have chosen to represent the team? Why?

Samantha Bunten: The nod should have gone to Choo, no question. As it stands, he’s the only player on the team who by rights might belong on an All-Star roster without that “every team has to have one player on the squad” designation attached. 

Given Choo’s unfortunate injury though, I like the pick of Carmona. I’m not sure he truly has given the performance necessary to be nominated, but you have to love that a guy who was so bad that he was banished to rookie ball just one year ago has improved so much he’s now an All-Star representative. 

Nino Colla: Is Fausto an All-Star this year? I don’t really think so. I think it is awesome that he made it, and I’m glad there will be an Indian in the game after all. 

However, other pitchers in the AL got left off the roster for him being on it. Jered Weaver is one name that comes to mind, but I don’t think it was a huge travesty that Carmona did make it over a few other AL pitchers. 

Shin-Soo Choo should have been this club’s representative. It sucks he won’t get the honor and it sucks he got hurt and wouldn’t have been able to play anyway, but he deserved to at least have the honor attached to his name. Choo has the best offensive numbers in virtually every category and he deserved the nod.

Lewie Pollis: It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m not Carmona’s biggest fan, but since we can’t have Choo, I can’t really justify being angry. 

He absolutely doesn’t deserve to be an All-Star over, say, Francisco Liriano, but he’s probably the best the Indians have to offer.

I had one other possibly crazy idea that I think merits consideration: Carlos Santana. He’s been absolutely insane; his .436 wOBA would rank third in the game if he had enough at-bats to qualify. 

The main argument against him would be his lack of playing time, but given that he’s produced more in 28 games than All-Star John Buck has in a full season (1.4 to 1.3), I don’t think it’s the smallness of the sample size that matters.

The Coop: The last time I spoke on who the Indians’ All-Star representative should be, I thought it was obvious, so I didn’t name anyone. But a few other people didn’t necessarily agree with my choice of Choo, so maybe I should have clarified. 

Hands down, Shin-Soo Choo should be there. Obviously, his injury could not have happened at a worse time. But to me, there isn’t any debate on this topic. Austin Kearns? Seriously? Since when does .260 / 7 / 35 get you to the All-Star game? 

Is Fausto Carmona the next best choice? Maybe, maybe not. Sure, his stats aren’t exactly reminiscent of Nolan Ryan, but considering he’s come back from the depths of hell (Rookie Ball) to be among the team leaders in virtually every statistical category is enough for me. I hope that this opportunity increases his confidence and helps him return to his 2007 form for good. He deserves it.

3. Since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus after Russell Branyan was traded to the Mariners, Matt LaPorta has been a pleasant surprise.

With a .236 average and just four home runs on the season, LaPorta obviously still has a long way to go before he can reach the level of play he’s reportedly capable of. Still, you can’t deny LaPorta is finally looking like the guy we thought we were getting from Milwaukee way back when we sent them CC Sabathia in 2008.

Over the last week, LaPorta is hitting .360 with 3 home runs and seven RBIs. Do you think LaPorta is finally having his breakthrough? What do you think changed since his last stint in the majors at the beginning of the season?

How much do you think it will help LaPorta to have the bulk of the at-bats at first base, as opposed to having to share time with Branyan as he did before? Do you think LaPorta is finally here to stay, or is there a chance he lands back in Columbus again before the end of the season?

Samantha Bunten: As much as I’ve been glad to see LaPorta’s breakthrough, I’m more relieved than impressed. The Sabathia trade looks a little better now. 

I don’t mean to take anything away from LaPorta though—he clearly took his demotion seriously and made good use of his time back in Triple-A. 

He still strikes out too much and looks like he’s swinging for the fences on pitches where he should just be trying to make contact, but he does appear to have found his power stroke and while it still needs work, his pitch selection has definitely improved. 

I do think he’s here to stay, and I don’t think he’ll be ceding too many of the at-bats at first base except for routine days off. The pressure will be on LaPorta to perform now though; with the Branyan trade, there really isn’t anyone on the roster who can absorb some of the at-bats at first, which made it that much scarier for the Tribe when Elvis Andrus tried to kill LaPorta on Monday. 

Nino Colla: I think Matt LaPorta just got some confidence and support. Just knowing you are going to be in the lineup every day and knowing you are also going to be playing one certain position each day does a lot for the mind. 

I think this is finally Matt’s time to shine. He has regular playing time, the team is backing him and trading Branyan proves that. He’s confident, and he appears to be healthy. He’s got everything on his side right now. 

He’s not trying too hard like he was earlier in the year and things are just coming easy for him right now. I think he’s here to stay and would be shocked to see him back in Columbus at any point.

Lewie Pollis: Now that’s more like it. If nothing else, this should be a confidence boost for the Tribe. Consistent playing time at an easier position can only help LaPorta. Obviously a surge this strong won’t last, but it sure is nice to see him finally doing something.

On the other hand, there are still some things to worry about—namely, his plate discipline. He’s hacked at over 30 percent of pitches out of the strike zone this year, and hasn’t done particularly well with them, with an O-Contract rate under 62 percent. 

His strikeout rate has actually been worse since his promotion (27 percent) than it was before he got sent down (21 percent).

The Coop: By all accounts, LaPorta is finally healthy, comfortable and not worrying about re-injuring himself. If that’s all it took for him to look like the prospect the Indians thought they were getting, then that’s great. 

But I’m actually sensing a common theme here. The Indians have seemingly found guys with the right attitude. My guess is LaPorta, like Fausto Carmona, used his time in the minors to refocus and regain his confidence. You can trot out all the statistics and sabermetrics you want; there’s no way to truly measure these intangibles. 

Giving LaPorta that bulk of the playing time at first base is going to be great for him. Like Brantley and most other young Indians, the pressure should be off. Now, these guys can relax and work on becoming better players each day, so they can contribute to the long-term success of the organization. 

At this point, there would be virtually no reason to send him back to Columbus. The Indians need to find out what he can do in the big leagues, plain and simple. We all know what he can do in the minors.

4. In just one week, we will have reached the midpoint of the 2010 season. 

While we knew this would be a tough year for the Tribe, so far the team has struggled even more than we thought they would. 

Please list 5 things you think the Indians have done wrong, or have been a central cause of their struggles this season.

Samantha Bunten:

1. Unproductive players like Luis Valbuena were allowed to hang around the roster way too long before being ousted. Jhonny Peralta has been violating this one for years.

2. Horrible, horrible defense. The kind that loses games all on its own. 

3. Having to utter the phrase “Andy Marte is the best option” when asked who should be starting at third base.

4. Sizemore, Cabrera, and Choo are all on the DL, while Crowe and Peralta stubbornly refuse to hurt themselves. 

5. The complete vanishing act of the fan base. I want to get mad about this, but really, can you blame them?

Nino Colla:

1. Signing Russell Branyan was a mistake, no question.

2. Injuries to guys like Cabrera have made it a necessity to hold onto guys like Anderson Hernandez, but I’d still like to see Josh Rodriguez at some point.

3. Early season hitting woes were surprising.

4. I think Kerry Wood being out hurt the bullpen depth early.

5. Luis Valbuena and Lou Marson.

Lewie Pollis:

1. Miserable defense. Our collective -36.8 UZR is worst in the game, by a mile.

2. Giving regular playing time to Jhonny Peralta.

3. Strike some people out. The Indians staff has the lowest K/9 rate (5.6) in baseball. The difference between us and No. 29 is greater than the difference between No. 7 and No. 19.

4. Throw some strikes! Our 3.8 BB/9 rate is also the worst in the league.

5. Jhonny Peralta gets to be mentioned twice.

The Coop:

1. Lack of a true No. 1 starter (too bad the Indians can’t find a guy who can win a Cy Young Award).

2. No power hitting (unless you think one guy with double-digit HRs is good).

3. Improper use of Justin Masterson (move him to the ‘pen!).

4. Mark Shapiro still has a job (seriously, does this guy have pictures of the Dolans?).

5. Injuries (not an excuse, but definitely an explanation).

5. Despite the overall disappointment and those struggles mentioned above, things haven’t been all bad this season. 

Please list five things the Indians have done right, made a positive contribution to the team’s success, or have just pleasantly surprised you thus far this season.  

Samantha Bunten:

1. The potential of the Tribe’s young talent is still very apparent; it’s just taking a little longer to manifest than we expected.

2. Mitch Talbot—they gave us this guy for Kelly Shoppach? Mark Shapiro finally did something right!

3. Carlos Santana—The hype was legit. His contributions on the field are already making a difference. And he’s the kind of player who will increase ticket sales. 

4. I’m not sure whether Manny Acta is truly a winner yet, but he’s infinitely less frustrating than Eric Wedge. His charisma and enthusiasm (not to mention his in-game management skills) are a refreshing change from Wedge’s “manager in a coma” style.

5. Despite his early struggles, I still love Michael Brantley. Yes, I know he’s still hitting .143, but his bat will come around, and his defense is already there. 

Nino Colla:

1. Starting Pitching has been a pleasant surprise, namely Talbot and Carmona.

2.  Chris Perez has been the brightest spot in a bullpen that has had its moments of hope.

3. Sticking with Justin Masterson has been something that the Tribe deserves some props for. People wanted to oust him after the first few starts.

4. Their aggressive promotion within the minor league system has been refreshing. Bryce Stowell is in Triple-A, Alex White is in Akron, and Joe Gardner is in Kinston. Give them some credit for changing that and their draft strategy as well.

5. Carlos Santana.

Lewie Pollis:

1. Chooooooooooooooooo!

2. Letting Masterson work through his struggles.

3. Moving Sizemore out of the lead-off spot (boy, I’m really reaching here).

4. Not raising the price of Kosher dogs.

5. Playing Muse’s “Uprising” before the game.

The Coop:

1. Jake Westbrook (though pretty mediocre, his five wins are about four more than I thought he’d have).

2. They have good-character guys who have struggled but fought to make it back to the big leagues and contribute (exception: Jhonny).

3. Chris Perez (just make him the closer already).

4. Mitch Talbot (no one saw this coming).

5. Carlos Santana (dude is for real).


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