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.