Manny Acta has pointed out a deficiency in the Cleveland Indians, whether he wanted to or not. The Tribe has been so hot, it's easy to look at the team as if everything is perfect, but if you don't constantly improve, you fall behind. It's important for any team to analyze their weaknesses and attempt to make them strengths. The Indians number one problem this season is the bullpen. This may seem to be untrue to the casual fan, because overall the bullpen performance has been fantastic, but that is mostly because of Manny Acta's strategy with pitchers. The Indians have had 11 close wins this season (wins with a three run lead or less). Of those wins, Chris Perez has pitched every single one and Tony Sipp has pitched in 8 of them. Perez has an ERA of 2.81 and Sipp has an ERA of 1.62, so the bullpen looks good from the back end. The next two most used pitchers in close wins are Rafael Perez and Vinnie Pestano. R. Perez has pitched in 6 of the 11 close wins with a 0.68 ERA and Pestano has pitched in 5 with a 1.84 ERA. Pestano was not used as a close game relief pitcher until the 19th game of the season, so he has a few less games played than he would if he had been in that role the whole season. Joe Smith has also been in this role less time then the rest of the team, but since he has come off the DL, there have been 8 close wins and he has pitched in 3 of them. Smith has a 3.38 ERA.
On the other side of the dichotomy, Justin Germano, Frank Herrmannn and Chad Durbin have been on the team the whole season and played in a total of 3 close wins combined, for a total of 2.2 innings pitched. Germano has an ERA of 5.00, Herrmann 8.31, and Durbin 6.75. Acta has obviously been afraid to use these pitchers in close situations, shown even more by the fact that 2 of those innings pitched came in an extra inning game. This would not be a problem for a team that was expected to lose 90 games, because there would be plenty of games where you just need someone to pitch, without a chance at winning, but this Indians team is in first place and winning almost every game.
Six of the eleven close games have been in the last nine games played, really taxing the Indians bullpen. Chris Perez has pitched in 7 of the last 10, Vinnie Pestano 6 of the last 10, and Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp have each pitched in 5 of the last 9 games. On the other hand Justin Germano has pitched in 2 of the last 14 games, Chad Durbin 2 of the last 9 and Frank Herrmannn hasn't pitched since April 12th, although he's been available to pitch in 4 games since then. Obviously this bullpen needs help, either from within or without.
Its probably too early to make a trade, since its impossible to tell right now which teams will be competing in October and which teams won't, so the answer will probably have to come from within. Frank Herrmann has been sent back to AAA Columbus, so the only pitchers that need to/could be replaced are Justin Germano and Chad Durbin. My suggestion for a replacement for Germano would be a pitcher familiar to the Tribe already this season, Jeanmar Gomez. Gomez was called up as a starter when Mitch Talbot was injurred and was sent back down when Carlos Carrasco came back from injury. Gomez didn't really impress as a starter, but when he was forced to pitch a game in relief when Carrasco was originally injurred, he performed very well. Gomez pitched 3 innings and only allowed 3 hits and was charged with one run that came in after he was relieved. Gomez is the best longman the Indians have in the system right now as the only three Clippers starters worthy of a shot in the pros right now are him, Alex White and Zach McAllister. White and Gomez have already had chances in the pros and looking at past precedents the Indians will not be willing to take McAllister from a starting role in the minors to make him a reliever in the pros.
For Chad Durbin's spot there are a lot more options. Carlton Smith, Zach Putnam and Jensen Lewis are the three top short relievers for the Clippers this season and all are ready for a shot at the Majors. Putnam has been the most impressive of the three, sporting a 2.41 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP while racking up 4 of the teams 12 saves. Zach has pitched in 18.2 innings, striking out 16 and only walking 4. Jensen Lewis is another familiar name to Indians fans, as he has been up and down through the Tribe's farm system for the last few years. There was even a time prior between closers when Jensen was named the closer on the pro team. Lewis has pitched 14.2 innings with a 3.68 ERA. Jensen looks to be having some control problems (8 walks and a 1.91 WHIP), but I'm sure he could find himself back on the Indians roster, as he has always been an above average reliever for the Indians. Carlton Smith has the best ERA of all Clipper relievers with a 2.35, has not allowed a home run this season and has a K/BB ratio of 18/5. Smith has only pitched 15.1 innings this year, but he has done his time in the minors, pitching in the Indians system since 2005 and deserves a shot at the pros sometime within the next two seasons.
At some point the Indians front office will have to admit that this team is better than they thought it would be and make some changes, eliminating the weakest players from the roster. The only two pitchers that are unworthy of a spot on this team are Germano and Durbin and hopefully they will be replaced soon, so at some point Tony Sipp and the Perez's can take a day off without worry.