Aaarrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhhhh! A fitting cry as, after another horrific loss by the Cleveland Indians (8-1 as they were swept by the Colorado Rockies), I feel like Charlie Brown in the mid-air moments past when he was once again convinced to attempt to pitch to Peppermint Patty only to have her rocket a line drive at him causing his clothes to inexplicably jet away from his body. The quietness of the moment suspended in air is ruined by the anticipation of his back meeting the mound with considerable force. Who said rooting for the defending American League champions would be fun, right?
The Indians have as much talent as any team in baseball, I tell myself before each game. The peripheral statistics of the starters show they have had some bad luck, so it goes. The Tribe have so much hitting talent that the struggles to cluster contact together is bound to swing to the other side of that pendulum, right? The Indians are still over .500, and the AL Central is still trash, I nervously utter. The cool sense of being rational gears me up for another game, another series where the Tribe will finally flip the switch into the contending team we all know them to be.
Then, I tune in just to see the same mistakes and lifelessness take hold of my favorite professional baseball team.1 The recent four losses in five game stretch has been particularly brutal with scores of 4-0, 12-5, 11-3, and 8-1. Yuck. Mike Clevinger and Trevor Bauer decided to stage a game of one-up on who can have the least amount of control. The bats decided that it is a get-away day or a night game or a day game, and it would be best not to get nicked up by a baseball. Perhaps Charlie Donovan instituted a series of fines for good plays or a bonus for the guy voted Least Valuable Player.
Since May 8, The Tribe only has a series win against the Oakland Athletics (worst team in AL) and a three-game sweep against the Houston Astros (best team in baseball) on the positive side of the ledger of a 12-15 record. The Indians have lost a series to the Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals (twice), and were just swept by the Rockies (two-game series). Only the Twins and Rockies are above .500 in that group. And, don’t even try to sell me any malarkey about those records being meaningless this time of year as they fit well within the confines of expectations for the other teams. Does any reasonable mind in baseball think the Reds have the best MLB team in Ohio? Or that the Twins should sit atop the AL Central? Yeah, I didn’t think so.2
Don’t go blaming injuries. Jason Kipnis has been back as has Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Lonnie Chisenhall showed up in Denver after a brief DL trip. Even Austin Jackson is a regular in the lineup again. So, take your whining about Danny Salazar’s shoulder soreness or Edwin Encarnacion’s hip discomfort elsewhere (EE has a negative fWAR so far this season anyway). Unless, you are worried about the long-term ramifications if the team is not just resting them. What’s that you say? I forgot Abraham Almonte (.221/.323/.337, 82 OPS+)? Ha. Him sitting on the DL is helping the team on offense and defense much in the same way that we were all relieved the Rays decided to not DFA Michael Martinez on Wednesday (just in case Terry Francona gets that itch again). And heck, compared to most other teams, the Tribe has been fortunate with only minor maladies. Just ask the New York Mets.
Stop telling me that the starting pitching is going to regress back to the mean. I get it that the starters eighth best FIP means more than the 24th best ERA. Such knowledge doesn’t undo the damage of the runs scored against them thus far. I know the bullpen has the highest WAR per inning of any team in MLB even including the dominant pens of the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, while pitching less innings to put less wear and tear on them. I understand it can be fun to watch the Indians be the best strikeout inducers in all of baseball (26% strikeout rate).
OK, being a league average hitting ballclub (98 wRC+) with plenty of players who could warm up over the summer months is not the worst spot to be in. I’ll admit it is fun that Jose Bautista (.234/.340/.416, 104 OPS+, home run every 25 PA) turned down $18 million a year from the Tribe this past offseason just to have our in-house guy, Chisenhall (.274/.343/.579, 138 OPS+, home run every 16 PA), out-perform him across the board. Zimmer has also been a pleasant surprise. You know, until he gets optioned down to Columbus for a few weeks to protect against Super-2 status. Oh? That helps the Indians long-term? Have you not been listening about how I want everything fixed now?
And sure, a team with Francisco Lindor, Yan Gomes, Jose Ramirez, and Bradley Zimmer patrolling the field is not likely to wind up ranked 25th in defensive rating as they sit now. Some early errors are tilting things against them, which should even out over time. However, even the league average DRS score right now comes with a huge caveat as the Indians are -9 (24 overall) at plays they should make. Above average arms and our catchers nailing runners is the only thing saving the overall score.
I think I need to just step away from watching the Indians for awhile. Just reset my fandom and come back fresh. Wait, Kluber is on the schedule Friday night against the Chicago White Sox? Nevermind, forget everything I said. Game on. Go Tribe!
- Sorry Indians, but the 10-U Indians are my favorite ballclub at the moment. We didn’t win a championship either but the growth and development is something we can all be proud of. In seven-to-eight years, feel free to draft some of these kids. You won’t be disappointed in their character. [↩]
- Fangraphs has now moved the Detroit Tigers playoff odds ahead of the Indians in the AL Central. Double yuck. [↩]