Royals reliever Vin Mazzaro didn’t do much relieving Monday night against the Indians as he put together a pitching line for the ages…

V. Mazzaro 2.1 11 14 14 3 2 1 3.79 22.74

Yes, that’s 2.1 innings with 11 hits and 14 earned runs. The Indians put up a 10-run fourth inning all against Mazzaro, and the Royals decided to leave him in for the entire disaster of an inning. Plus, they let him come out for the fifth where he promptly gave up another four runs. How do you leave him out there to suffer a line like this?

Now there’s something you don’t see everyday in baseball. If you’re wondering when the last time a reliever gave up 14 earned runs in a single outing, it was during WWII in 1942 when Les McCrabb gave up 14 ER in 4.0 innings of work against Boston while pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics.

Since 1919 there have only been four relievers to give up this many runs in one game:

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Les McCrabb 1942-04-16 PHA BOS L 4-19 4.0 14 14 14 2 0 2 31.50
Carl Doyle 1940-06-08 BRO CIN L 2-23 4.0 16 14 14 4 2 1 31.50
Dutch Schesler 1931-07-11 (1) PHI NYG L 5-23 8.0 22 16 14 0 1 4 15.75
Nelson Greene 1925-06-20 BRO PIT L 5-21 6.2 18 15 15 3 0 3 20.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/16/2011.

Not the kind of list you want to be a part of. And the Indians are up 19-1 at the moment and it’s only the sixth inning. The Tribe could continue to shatter some records tonight…or the Royals for that matter.

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AL CENTRAL STANDINGS (as of May 2nd)

Indians        19-8        —
Royals         15-13     4.0
Tigers          12-15     6.5
White Sox  10-19    9.5
Twins            9-18     9.5

Yes, I know…it’s early. It’s only May 1st, but the Indians winning while the Tigers, White Sox and Twins lose has become a common occurrence in this early season. It’s been so common that the Indians are threatening to run away with a huge division lead. They finished the weekend by sweeping the Tigers right out of Cleveland to move to 19-8.

So do the Indians actually have a legitimate shot at winning the title. YES.

It has just as much to do with this Indians team as it does with the way the rest of the division is playing. Did you know that the Tribe currently leads the American League in offense? Probably not, but they are first with a .272 batting average and first in runs with 141. The lineup had the potential to be solid, but I’m not sure if anyone saw this coming. Young guys like Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley are healthy and producing while Travis Hafner is having a resurgence of a year. Grady Sizemore has also returned and given the Tribe a boost with a .379/.429/.822 slash line.

The surprising part about Cleveland so far this year is its pitching. They are fourth in the AL with a 3.49 ERA. The Tribe’s worst starter to date has been their ace to start the season in Fausto Carmona, who sits with a 5.15 ERA. But they are receiving stellar pitching performances from Josh Tomlin (4-0, 2.45), Mitch Talbot (1-0, 1.46) and Justin Masterson (5-0, 2.18). Masterson was always a high prospect of the Red Sox and showed shades of brilliance last year, but looks like he may be finally putting it all together. The question for this team will be can Tomlin/Talbot put together a full, solid season and can Carmona bounce back from his early struggles.

So there’s the breakdown of why the Indians are winning, but another reason they have a real shot at the AL Central title is because the rest of the division is floundering at the moment. The Tigers are looking like just an ordinary .500 team with not enough offense, starting pitching and a sketchy bullpen. The Twins seem to have run out of some of their magic and the White Sox are in the process of burying themselves early again. When a team is struggling early, you just can’t allow yourself to get buried in April and May, but the White Sox and Twins are already nine games below .500.

Last year, the White Sox started off 24-33 (nine games down as well), they did rebound to end up with 88 wins and a battle for the pennant, but they also went on a ridiculous run where they went 26-5 in a stretch of 30-plus games in June and July. Can you rely on something like that again? I’m not so sure. I think they will eventually turn it around, but I don’t know if they can get back and compete for the division.

That leaves the Royals, who like the Indians are a surprise team so far this season. Along with the Indians, they are the only other team above .500 in the Central though they haven’t been quite as exciting as the Tribe. The Royals have a lot of young talent that will hopefully help turn the corner of baseball in Kansas City, but I just don’t see this team hanging in a division hunt down the stretch.

Coupled with this talented Indians team and how the rest of the division is playing, I think the Tribe have a great shot at challenging the division. Pundits will still go with the “it’s still early” line and think the Twins and White Sox will still battle for this division. They is definitely possible, but at some point you can’t continue to use the early line and need to start stringing together some wins and actually look like a Major League team in the process, which the Twins and White Sox have not looked like so this year.

In another life long ago, I worked in minor league baseball and was fortunate to attend a few winter meetings (Dallas in 2005 and Orlando in 2006). It’s a surreal experience for any baseball fan to suddenly be there in the midst of baseball personnel at every turn. Let me tell you what pretty much goes down as I remember it.

There’s a main hotel lobby that is the hub of everything. You stand there and look around to see famous reporters like Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal, agents like Scott Boras, managers like  Jim Leyland, front office executives and even some players. Barry Bonds made a splash was he unannounced made an appearance into the hotel in Orlando back in ’06. A friend and I would hang out in said lobby at night and rub elbows with reports and other baseball dignitaries while being an earshot of any rumor that Peter Gammons is hearing as well. MLB.com would have a remote set up in one of the hallways, which has now been joined by MLB Network. It’s truly a cool experience for fans. Anyway, just a brief recap of what I remember from ’05 and ’06. Here are some thoughts on the most recent meetings that just finished up from Orlando.

  • So much for that rough economy last year that limited teams’ spending. The Nationals are single-handedly trying to stimulate the economy themselves. Werth signs for $126MM, plus the Nats are in the hunt for Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano. Say what you want about the deals, but the Nats are suddenly willing to spend money to compete.
  • At this point I’m fairly certain Scott Boras would be able to negotiate a seven-year deal worth $22 million for me at my current job. Who thought we would see so much talk on seven-year deals to players in their 30s?
  • Here’s an intriguing thought—even though I do think Lee will eventually sign with the Yankees, what if he does decided that he loved Texas enough to accept their deal over the Yanks. How much of a blow would that be to New York? A team that has done pretty much nothing to this point in the offseason. Plus, they are still waiting to hear if Andy Pettitte is coming back, and the Red Sox just went out and made the biggest splash (or splashes) by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez via trade and signing free agent Carl Crawford and are considered the frontrunners for catcher Russell Martin. Lee signing anywhere else but New York would be a disaster for the Yankees at this point.
  • The Orioles were certainly active in deals by trading with the Twins for shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris, and picked up slugger Mark Reynolds in a trade from Arizona. That’s all great for the O’s, but if you saw this team in 2010 they need pitching. Though they did just sign Koji Uehara and just offered reliever Kevin Gregg a two-year deal so that’s a start.
  • The Royals apparently have a liking for ex-Braves. Melky and Francoeur in one week? How will the Braves recover from losing these two studs?
  • It’s really discouraging as a Pirates fan or a fan of any small market team to see the big boys go out and sign Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and other big names and then see the Buccos pull in guys like Scott Olsen, Kevin Correia and Matt Diaz. The Pirates were definitely active at the meetings, but ugh. Olsen and Correia may just be an upgrade to Zach Duke, who was dealt to Arizona for Cesar Valdez earlier this offseason.

There you have it as the winter meetings conclude for another year. The next question this offseason is who will Lee sign with and when?

Finally some real trades to discuss on Warmup Wednesday.

Let’s start with the first one that went down Wednesday afternoon—the Tigers acquired Jhonny Peralta from Cleveland for minor league pitcher Giovanni Soto (Yeah, different Soto from the Cubs catcher). Detroit has been decimated by injuries the past month and Peralta will fill in at third base in Brandon Inge‘s stead. This deal doesn’t exactly thrill me for the Tigers. Peralta is in his eighth major league season with his best year coming in 2005 when he belted 24 homers with a slash line of .292/.366/.520, but has progressively declined each year since then. Get it? Progressively declined…Progressive Field in Cleveland. Ah, forget it. Anyway, this year Peralta has just seven homers, 43 RBI and a line of .246/.308/.389. On the other hand, it’s better than throwing a rookie out there which is what the Tigers have been doing, and while Soto is enjoying a nice season at low-A ball, he’s only 19 years old and is years away from the majors. The Indians also sent cash to Detroit to most likely cover the rest of Jhonny’s contract, plus the Tigers will hold a $7.5MM option for 2011, which barring some dramatic improvement from Peralta, I don’t see the Tigers picking up. This deal doesn’t change the fact that I think the Tigers are done. Losing Zumaya and now Ordonez is just too much for this team to overcome.

The other trade on Wednesday involved the Dodgers acquiring Scott Podsednik from the Royals for two minor leaguers (Lucas May—Triple-A catcher and Elisaul Pimentel—right-handed pitcher in Low-A). Podsednik is in his 10th season and will join his sixth team of his career. Podsednik is having a nice season, hitting .309/.352/.400 with 30 steals, eight doubles, six triples and five homers. He really became the Royals only appealing trade piece once David DeJesus was lost for the season due to injury. This trade will give the Dodgers some outfield depth with Manny Ramirez on the DL, but this is another deal that isn’t going to change the NL West landscape.

So three days from the deadline, Wednesday was a nice warmup to the big deals that are sure to be just a few days away.