Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians know a little bit about struggling in April. Prior to this season, while Francona led the Indians to two playoff runs and four winning seasons (in four seasons managing), he had never had a winning opening month. His overall April record with the Tribe was 38-55. On April 16, after a loss to the Tigers, Cleveland was in last place with a 5-7 record, and were seemingly headed down that path once again. Two short weeks later, after a 12-4 win over the Seattle Mariners, the Indians finished the month of April at 14-10, and are a half-game up in first place. While it’s way too early to be talking about standings, having Francona and the Tribe get out the gates with a winning record doesn’t fair well for the rest of the American League Central.
Francona with Indians
Year April / All other months
17 10-7 / ??
16 10-11 / 84-56
15 7-14 / 74-66
14 10-17 / 75-60
13 11-13 / 75-60 https://t.co/gMZ0H79aQb
— michael bode (@mgbode_WFNY) April 23, 2017
The game gets easy to manage for Francona when he has players like Francisco Lindor on the team. Lindor, who has ripped out of the gates like a man possessed, hit his seventh April home run in the first inning, giving starter Josh Tomlin an opening-frame lead. While it would only last a half-inning, getting Tomlin any semblance of control seems to be important, especially as he works through the order multiple times. Lindor, who has been focusing on taking pitches in the zone, pulled an up-and-in gopher ball around the right field foul pole.
When Lindor followed up with a two-run double in the third, his 16th extra-base hit of the year was the most since Juan Gonzalez had 18 in 2001.
Seattle starter Chase De Jong had the appearance of one of those starters that seemingly look like they’re going to give up huge innings, then somehow meander their way out of it. In the second, De Jong gave up two singles to Abraham Almonte and Roberto Perez, and then a double by Carlos Santana, but was salvaged when Almonte was thrown out trying to steal after his hit, and a Lindor groundout ended the inning.
In the third, with the score tied 1-1, the floodgates opened. Michael Brantley had two hits in the inning, and scored two runs, leading off with a single, and ending the scoring with a two-run homer. I could try and describe everything that happened, but I’ll just let you watch the video. The inning was a lot of fun, as they capitalized on a Ben Gamel flub that turned into a triple for Abraham Almonte. They had already scored two runs in the inning, but Gamel lost Almonte’s fly ball in the sun, and the Indians took care of the rest.
When the Indians ended the third, they were up 8-1, and the game was virtually over. Seattle did get to Josh Tomlin, but the Indians kept scoring, and the game was really never in doubt after Nick Goody came into the game in the sixth inning, with the bases loaded, nobody out, and three Mariners already in. He three 11 pitches, and in those 11 pitches, he struck out Tyler Motter, and induced Carlos Ruiz into an inning ending double play. It appears as though we have another high leverage guy, doesn’t it.
The Indians head to the Motor City to face off against the Detroit Tigers, who took 2-of-3 against the Indians in Cleveland in mid-April. That last lost against the Tigers triggered a five-game win streak for the Indians, and put them on their current 9-4 run that has them on top of the division. The series is anchored by a Corey Kluber vs. Justin Verlander match-up on Tuesday, and should set the tone for May.
The (deep-thought) List
- Josh Tomlin–Alright, I get it, Tomlin looks darn right elite. When he’s fresh and challenging hitters inside, he’s downright efficient. Unfortunately, this always has a shelf-life. I’m not saying you move him from the starter role, but it’s time we define him with a limit. Let him start, and give him a guy or two to piggy-back with. Why?
- Starters Fun–We all know that starters going deep into a game is a cyclical thing. There are weeks and months when it seems like starters are going seven innings every night, and weeks where you know they aren’t going five. Right now? They are finding their way deep into games. While this is fantastic for a restful bullpen in October, it’s possible that you can “semi-plan” some relievers to supplement Tomlin. Perhaps it’s Goody and Otero, or hell, perhaps you bring up a sixth starter, and replace a bullpen arm, at least while things are going well. Or, you could just bump Tomlin to the pen.
- Roberto Perez–He should start. That is all.
- Michael Brantley–How is he elite again? How? I know it’s been 18 months since his injury-woes began, so there’s been some time, but did anyone outside of Brantley think that this is what we were going to get? Oh, I know there are some issues there with K%, but as far as the power and drive we were all worried about with the shoulder, it’s all there. Man, I love that toe-tap trigger.
- Edwin Encarnacion–While Brantley was busy with two hits in the third, Encarnacion had his own feat. He struck out twice. Sorry…sorry…couldn’t help myself.
- Indians pitching–The Indians pitching finished the month of April leading all of MLB in FIP (3.28), fWAR (4.1), strikeout rate (26.7%), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (19.2%) among other categories. The team ERA (3.97) is only No. 12 in MLB due to some unlucky BABIP (.316) and bad cluster luck alongside defensive miscues. The defense and luck should level-out, so even better days could lie ahead.