Indians

Remaining calm as the Indians sputter

animal_house_kevin_bacon_520

animal_house_kevin_bacon_520

Every morning as I sit in my office, whether I am diligently working or taking a quick minute to come up for air, a colleague of mine strolls into my office with his pleated pants and desperate look of disdain. “So…is it time to panic?” he asks, hands raised in a questioning manner as he waits for my reaction.

The conversation then turns to whatever hot button item there may be. Typically, it revolves around the Cleveland Browns not having upgraded the quarterback position. Lately, however, he has been provided copious amounts of ammunition in the form of the Cleveland Indians. He didn’t pay many visits when the Wahoos were ripping through the first three weeks of May as there is little to complain about when the wins pile up. Once the Boston series started, however, the discussions have morphed into a daily occurrence.

The bullpen is struggling. Chris Perez has a shoulder injury. Vinnie Pestano’s velocity has been suspect. Asdrubal Cabrera has a quadriceps injury. Perez being the subject of an ongoing investigation, one in which no charges have been filed and no arrest has been made. Had it bit Matt Albers who was on the receiving end of an illegal package, would the panic button be glowing? Doubtful. Regardless, while this co-worker of mine may not be entirely representative of the Cleveland fan base as a whole, it is not far-fetched to believe that he is alone in this world where we merely wait for the bottom to fall out of anything that resembles a fruit-bearing ideal.

It is not a secret that the Cleveland Indians are not playing very well right now. Since winning 18 of 22 games just one month ago, they have gone 4-12. That said, these struggles should come as little surprise. Yes, no one—Indians fan or not—saw the bullpen imploding the way it did, specifically in Boston. But the Red Sox series aside, the Tribe is in the midst of the toughest stretch of their schedule for the season. Just as much as the early part of May may have been laced with mirage and luck, this stretch is one post-season contender after another. Certainly, if the Indians were to make the playoffs, these are the caliber of teams which would be faced on a nightly basis. But to conflate this scenario with a stretch of play in May and early June?

Many want to point to the history books and show how the Cleveland Indians—the crew under Manny Acta—started out hot out of the gate only to collapse after the All-Star break. Interestingly, few want to point to the fact that the teams under Eric Wedge started out miserably, only to pick it up when it was just too late. Either way, neither comparisons hold much water given the current, more-balanced make-up of this Indians roster. Terry Francona is an experienced, winning manager. Gone are the platoons; inserted are a slew of capable veterans. Gone is the inability to go from first-to-third on a hit; here is the ability to steal second base despite having been picked off. All past comparisons are irrelevant. Sure, the starting pitching is suspect, but Ubaldo Jiménez is coming off of his best start as a member of the Tribe, Zach McAllister has largely been solid, Justin Masterson (despite his last outing) could be heading to an All-Star game, and Scott Kazmir’s fastball velocity averaged out at 93 and 92 miles-per-hour, respectively, over his last two starts.

Though Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees was an afternoon game, thus giving my co-worker plenty of time to waltz into the confines of my workspace with an “I-told-you-so” grin firmly plastered to his face, odds are that I will have to have the conversation once again. The idea of “panicking” may be relative, after all. If my this individual had hopes—read: delousions— that the Indians would win 18 of every 22 games they played, incinerating any school of thought that mandated spending to win, then yes…he may want to panic, assuming that makes him feel better. That said, the Indians, despite their rough stretch of late, stand just two games back of the Detroit Tigers for the top of the AL Central. If they can get through the next three series—in Detroit, in Texas and then back home against the Washington Nationals—with their head above .500 water, just as Jon stated in his most-recent podcast with Craig, things should be just fine. Sure, injuries can creep up as they always do. Charges may wind up being filed against Perez. Jiménez may revert pack to the player who thought entirely too much about his mechanics and allowed home runs galore. But trading in cynicism, especially that based on nothing but speculation and pessimism, is not going to do anyone any favors.

Baseball is a marathon. Streaks happen. The Indians obviously need to snap out of their current skid, and very soon given the intra-division match-up on the horizon. But as it stands right now? Panic if you want. I’ll be here, letting things unfold, knowing that the team of my rooting interest still has the 12th-best run differential in baseball, and are just two games out of the top spot in their division.

  • Harv 21

    I come back to a few things:

    – They no longer need to rely on Jack Hannahan or Santana to carry them. Or Kipnis. They have Bourn and Swisher who meet their yearly stats consistently, and Stubbs and Reynolds who can re-heat at any time. And Brantley is better.

    – A bullpen can be reshuffled and rebuilt on the fly. Young arms can get confidence in a hurry. Francona is a manager who can do that.

    – If the rotation can stabilize to average they will be in the middle of a hunt for a playoff spot. If not, they’ll sink slowly away, regardless of how hot the offense gets. If right now you showed me the end-year stats for our 2, 3 and 4 starters I think I’d be able to pretty accurately predict whether we got there, regardless of offensive output. 2, 3 and 4 is where the rubber meets the road for this team.

  • ToxicToast

    The mere 2 game deficit in the standings speaks to Detroit’s level of play right now too. This was probably the perfect time for a slump. The Tribe are perfectly capable of winning 2 games this weekend.

  • CB Everett

    Scott, his pleated pants (ill-fitting too I suspect) are apropos for his Office Space-like panic. Next time just tell him the Bobs are looking for him.

  • MrCleaveland

    Make it stop. If we’re not scoring 6-plus runs, we make winning look so hard to do.

    But we’re very fortunate to be only 2 games out, so there’s still hope. No need to bury us yet.

  • CB Everett

    I tell myself those same things. And I do like our lineup’s balance better. One thing I can’t shake (and I know it’s early) but Swisher has been a pretty big disappointment especially w driving in runs. Some bad luck, injuries etc but his productivity hasn’t been felt in a meningful way.

  • mgbode

    “If the rotation can stabilize to average”

    upticked just for this statement. it is the statement of our seasonal hopes.

  • mgbode

    yes, let’s take a moment to focus on what is wrong with Detroit rather than what is wrong with the Tribe:

    (1) Austin Jackson has been hurt – he was their most important defensive player and 2nd/3rd most important offensive player(tossup him or Fielder) last year. This is huge.

    (2) Their defense has been even worse than last year. A-Jax plays a big part, but so does Torii Hunter not having the positive impact they expected.

    (3) Johnny Peralta has been better than expected, but…
    He’s on “the list” from Bosch. So, even if not suspended, he (and the Tigers) will have that hanging over their heads all season.

    (4) Dirks, Avila gave unexpected okay performances last year. They have been terrible this year. V-Mart’s addition to this group of “helpers” has not helped as he has been Detroit’s worst player this year.

    (5) their bullpen struggled early (it’s actually been pretty decent lately) and they are anchored by a closer who is known to completely lose his confidence pretty quickly and was left unsigned by MLB until the season actually started (Valverde). ticking time bomb.

    (6) And, finally, the big one: Verlander has been disappointing. 1.356WHIP, 3.70 ERA. His SO:BB ratio is good, but he is just not the same dominating guy he has been in past years. And, given the rest of their staff, I have a theory as to why:

    Detroit has gone sabremetric mad. They seem to believe in the FIP/xFIP more than any other team and are willing to gamble that if they can get their pitchers to focus on those areas, then they will be better off in the long run. Perhaps they are correct. However, the early results appear to be that they are doing everything they can to avoid walks. And, that batters are taking advantage of this knowledge to obtain a much higher BABIP against them knowing they are scared of throwing a 4th ball. Just take a look at their starters BB rates, BABIP and how their ERA compares to their FIP. It is nearly identical across the board to the varying degrees of goodness per pitcher.

    I hope they continue to go the route they are traveling because I think they are wrong 🙂 They seem to be proving that you need common sense when applying stats.

  • Pleats are the worst.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Thanks I feel much better as I sit on my throne in my “office!” But please remind me of all of these things in another month when the Tigers start their customary second half surge.

    Btw is this Brian Kenney moonlighting? WHIP, ERA, FIP/xFIP, BABIP and on and on and on and on.

  • mgbode

    you mean when A-Jax is healthy, V-Mart starts hitting, and they abandon this silly infatuation with avoiding walks at all costs?

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Doesn’t Miggy get enough walks for the whole team to share them?

  • Harv 21

    They just signed Boobie. Feel better? 🙂

  • mgbode

    pitcher walks, not hitter walks. see point (6)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Least he’s good for something, bat boy!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    All of those will help unfortunately.

  • ToxicToast

    Swisher has had some tough luck with sharply hit balls, but we’re still getting production that’s on par with his career numbers. He’s a good run-producer but not an elite one. I’d be all for Santana moving back to the 4th spot in the near future.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    It usually helps me to remember that each game counts for only 0.617% of the season, which means the Tribe are just 1.234% behind Detroit for the division lead.

    When I see people worrying that the team’s 2 games back during a cool streak, and that it might be “over”, I realize that there’s a certain age group of fans that grew up believing that great baseball teams must win 100+ games every year, or it doesn’t count (for the record…I came of age in the 90s too).

    Those 90s teams were fantastic! In reality, THIS is what most successful seasons look like at some point. A couple games back mid season with a finishing win total in the low to mid 90s….playoffs.

  • mgbode

    and, the Indians have only won 100games in a season twice in their entire history (’54 & ’95).

    we had teams in the mid-90s make the playoffs with 86 (’97) & 89 (’98) wins. yes, the AL Central was terrible then too.

  • Guest

    12th-best huh? When do we start the parade?

  • Jaker

    ALL IS NOT WELL KEVIN BACON

  • Jim

    These things are all true and being “in the middle of a hunt for a playoff spot” is much better than the alternative, but this recent stretch of games against playoff caliber teams shows that even if this team manages to sneak into the playoffs (which is going to be no small feat), it will be a quick exit.