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Ocker on April


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A blooming after April?

By Sheldon Ocker

Beacon Journal staff writer

POSTED: 07:12 p.m. EDT, May 02, 2009


DETROIT: The Indians have persistently dug a hole for themselves the first month of the season. It's obvious that the fault lies with manager Eric Wedge, so get rid of him and the problem will disappear faster than Alex Rodriguez's good name.


In seven years on the job, Wedge has guided the Tribe to five sub-.500 Aprils and two plus-.500 Aprils. What more does anyone need to know about his competence as a leader of men?


And never mind that in Wedge's first two seasons, 2003 and 2004, the club was in serious tear-down/rebuild mode. Moreover, it really doesn't matter that the teams improved from 68-94 the first year to 80-82 the next, despite a combined April record of 16-33. Why dwell on the relative insignificance of the club's overall record? What we're talking about is April.


For that reason, why point out that in Wedge's third year, the Indians climbed to 93-69? Of far more importance is the fact he had yet another losing April.


Let's compare Wedge with a prominent predecessor. Do you think Mike Hargrove could have routinely lost the month of April and still kept his job? Hargrove, in fact, had three winning Aprils, four losing Aprils and one April that ended in a 2-2 record.


Was nobody counting Aprils during Hargrove's tenure, or did the fact he won several Central Division championships and two American League pennants tip the scales in his favor? It appears that the significance of April was lost in the frenzy of all those playoff appearances. Just goes to show how naive we were in the '90s.


If one looks carefully, there often is a correlation between losing Aprils and losing seasons. Believe it or not, clubs that have poor records the first month of the schedule continue to struggle the entire year. They're called bad teams.


Of course, some teams lose in April and still go on to bigger and better things. In addition to Wedge's 2005 team that compiled a 9-14 record in April and finished the season 24 games above .500, Hargrove struggled through a 12-13 April in 1997, went on to post an 86-75 record, then swept through two rounds of the playoffs only to lose in the World Series.


Why is it such a sin to lose in April? The thinking is that if a team gets out of the gate with a losing record, it takes so much energy to climb back to .500, nothing is left in the tank for the stretch drive.


On the other hand, a club that finds itself in April purgatory has five full months to play catch-up. Isn't that better than a team falling on its sword in June or July — even contenders usually have one bad month — and having less time to neutralize those defeats?


In the 1970s and 1980s, the sporting public didn't complain about the Tribe's performances in April. Back then, Northeast Ohio fans pretty much took for granted that their favorite team was going to lose more often than it was going to win, regardless of the month.


That changed in the '90s. The opening of Jacobs/Progressive Field coincided with a rebirth of successful baseball in Cleveland. The Indians did enough winning last decade to change fans' expectations. Now the team is supposed to win, and that means from Day 1.


Whose fault is that? Blame former owner Dick Jacobs and his general manager, John Hart, and of course, Hargrove. The same mindset among the fans continued when Larry Dolan and his son, Paul, purchased the franchise, and Mark Shapiro became GM and brought in Wedge.


The fact that there are many other months to a season doesn't seem to register with Tribe partisans. Whereas Wedge has hardly been a hoped-for harbinger of spring, he has put up numbers later in the season.


It might be difficult for some folks to get their arms around this concept, but the most important months of the schedule are the last two, when teams have to be at their most intense and competitive best to wedge their way (pardon the expression) into the postseason.


So what kind of record has Wedge compiled in August and September?


August has been his best month. Under Wedge's tutelage, the Indians have an overall record of 102-67, a winning percentage of 60, in the six Augusts that Wedge has been in charge.


In the half-dozen Septembers under Wedge, the Tribe has won 53 percent of the time (89-79), a figure that is skewed downward by a 2003 club that won only seven games the final month of the schedule Why? Several novices — Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Jody Gerut among them — were trying to establish themselves in the big leagues that year.


So let's add that up. In 12 Augusts and Septembers with Wedge at the helm, the Indians have had eight winning months, three losing months and one that ended in a .500 record.


Then again, it's probably only one man's opinion that August and September are more important than April. Obviously, an investigation of Wedge's methods and attitudes is in order. If he can win in August and September, why not in the vital month of April? Once we figure out his fatal flaw, his dismissal should be all but assured.


A guessing game


Want to figure out how many games the Indians will win in a given season?


In six of the past 10 years, the team's winning percentage in the month of May has approximated the club's final record more than any other month.


The numbers:


Percent wins in May Overall


1999 .630 .599

2000 .500 .556

2002 .464 .457

2004 .500 .494

2005 .593 .574

2006 .481 .481


Only three times in the past 30 years has the month of April been the best predictor of the Tribe's overall record.





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