Indians

Quick catching up on the Tribe: Between Innings

Hey y’all. Hope you enjoyed the Cleveland Cavaliers postseason run even if it ultimately fell three wins short of the overall prize. There are 28 NBA teams who wish they could have the level of talent and depth that is housed on the North coast, so there’s that. While you were next door at The Q, the Cleveland Indians started their 2017 season.

I wish I could tell you that you missed an amazing start awakening the echoes of the 1990s Tribe teams; except with dominant pitching too. I cannot. You have missed a frustrating season where the team has not been able to all get hot at the same time, causing small ebbs and flows. The Tribe has not been more than four games over .500 (27-23 on May 30) or two games under .500 (5-7 on April 16) the entire season. They have swept the best team in MLB, the Houston Astros, and lost series to the dregs such as the Cincinnati Reds. Neither the ups nor the downs have been that drastic though; more of a general malaise.

Wednesday’s game was a nice demonstration of the season. Starting pitcher Corey Kluber did well enough to limit the good offensive team of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Throwing seven innings of two-run ball, while registering strikeout number 1000 of your career will win the game on most nights (10 strikeouts on the night). The offense started slowly but had started to come around and left Kluber with a no decision. No one would have expected ace reliever Andrew Miller to be charged with four runs (two of which were due to the after-effects of Erik Gonzalez missing second base on a potential double play), but the small mistakes and poor timing doomed the Tribe on the night. And, so it goes.

The 2017 Cleveland Indians have been demonstrably worse on offense, base running, defense, and starting pitching compared to the 2016 version of the team. The bullpen has been amazing. Those relievers are the main reason the team is even .500 now (31-31), but the last two nights they are also a huge reason the team lost. The starting pitchers FIP (3.96, No. 6 in MLB) says there are better days ahead than the current results of their ERA (4.81, No. 22 in MLB) just like the offense overall batting line (.245/.319/.419, 98 sOPS+) shows the hitting with runners in scoring position (.223/.304/.386, 79 sOPS+) should improve too. Until it does though, frustrations continue to mount for the fans and players alike.

This will be the quick version of the bandwagon guide. As per usual, you can look up the numbers, so the focus will be on the overall direction and narratives.

Starting pitching
Corey Kluber (4.15 ERA, 3.25 FIP) and Carlos Carrasco (3.36 ERA, 3.55 FIP) have not been their dominant selves, but both pitchers appear to be ready for the long haul of the season after some small injuries early on. If the Tribe is going to make it to October baseball, then they will need these two men to anchor what has been a surprisingly shaky rotation.

Danny Salazar might not even deserve to be in this section, which might surprise those of you who have not been watching. This time last year, Salazar was the AL Cy Young Award favorite. He has not been able to shake a variety of arm issues that have plagued him since. He began 2017 in the rotation, but he has been since moved to a bullpen role (last pitched on June 3). The future 2017 contributions of Salazar as a starter are in question.

Salazar’s issues make Trevor Bauer even more important. Bauer has been Bauer. There are starts where he appears to be the pitcher we all want him to be. Then, there are starts where he appears to have no control over his arsenal. Mike Clevinger, who has been called up to replace Salazar in the rotation, should get a mention here too. He is mini-Bauer in that he has the same upside, and the same issues. With either of these guys, if they aren’t walking batters, then you are in for a nice outing. Not bad end of the rotation arms with great upside for the future (both are still young), but tough to rely on inconsistent guys as middle of the rotation starters as the Tribe now has to do.

Tomlin continues to be the utmost professional and a reliable pitcher to be the fifth starter. He cannot be asked to be much more, and he, like Bauer, is now being paired with Ryan Merritt (call him Southpaw Tomlin) in the rotation. The wedding registry phenom is being called up to start a game of a double-header this weekend.

Lineup

Francisco Lindor started the season by adding power to his overall excellence and appeared to be reaching a new level that would make him a legitimate candidate for the AL MVP Award, even before Mike Trout was injured. Instead, pitchers have found holes in his new power swing, and Lindor has been scuffling for weeks now as he is in the longest prolonged slump of his MLB career. Worse yet, those defensive jaw-dropping moments have been harder to find. After a couple early season errors, Lindor has been just fine on defense, but the highlight-worthiness of his plays has gone down. Breaking out of his overall slump might be the key to turning the entire season around.

Jose Ramirez has been the most consistent player for the Tribe on offense. If you are questioning why he would be hitting sixth in the batting order if that is true, then you are not alone. He is joined by Michael Brantley on the consistency basis as he has been almost the player we all remember from before his shoulder injury. It is good to have Dr. Smooth back in the lineup. You might have been wondering what it would have been like if Brantley could have played the 2016 season with his shoulder injury but in a slightly reduced capacity. Well, wonder no more as Jason Kipnis suffered a shoulder injury, started the season late, and has been brutal outside a short stretch in May. Gonzalez showed last night why we probably want Kipnis starting anyway.

Over at first, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana have been splitting duties. Neither player is known for their defense, so the expectation is that they make it up with their bat. Well… WFNY has written about Encarnacion’s slow start a bunch this week. He seems to be turning things around. Carlos Santana, on the other hand, appears to want to remain in Cleveland. He is a free agent following the season, and his poor bat is driving down his price by the game. There is some irony in Santana struggling in his walk year.

Is there any more good news? Oh yeah. Yan Gomes looked even worse than he had to start the 2017 season. But, mid-April came around and Gomes rediscovered his batting prowess. The defense is still there, and he has given the offense a needed boost. Roberto Perez, who was expected to challenge for time, has continued his struggles with the bat, but he has been his usual great self on defense.

The rest of the team has been a rotation in the outfield depending on what actual healthy bodies are available. Lonnie Chisenhall and Bradley Zimmer have been pleasant surprises, though in limited samples and within platoons. Abraham Almonte was terrible and is now injured. Austin Jackson appeared serviceable when he can stay healthy enough to play. Daniel Robertson is a name you should know as the veteran Francona currently enjoys employing. Tyler Naquin was sent back to Columbus (and is now hurt), and Brandon Guyer is injured too.

Did I forget anyone? Oh, the glorious Yandy Diaz showed in his limited time that he can smash MLB pitching, but that those balls go straight into the ground and right at defenders. If he can figure out how to get some elevation by barreling the ball, then he might have potential at some point in the near future.1

Bullpen

Pay no attention to the last two night’s of Andrew Miller. Before surrendering six earned runs in two appearances, he had given up one run in 27. Cody Allen has also been excellent with those two combining for ridiculous strikeout rates. Bryan Shaw can still be worrisome on occasions, but he has been a rock most of the season. Those three, along with Boone Logan against left-handed hitting, have locked down many games over the last few innings.

Nick Goody is the Tribe’s random reliever dominating. His 1.09 ERA and 3.17 FIP has been needed from a team who has had to go to their relievers early in games with the starters giving up more runs than expected. As such, Zach McAllister figuring out how to be a steady guy has also been key.

The rest of the bullpen, well, you don’t want to see. Dan Otero’s numbers haven’t been horrible, nor have they (or he) been all that good. Shawn Armstrong and Kyle Crockett have both gotten rocked in limited time.

Last Word

So, we sit here, parse the numbers, look at the players, and realize that the talent level exceeds the production and win totals. The most fortunate component is that the Indians play in the AL Central Division where the Minnesota Twins are a mere two games ahead of them at first place in the standings. There is a switch to be flipped even if it feels like we’re sitting in a gigantic dark room and have no idea which wall the switch is on (let alone what might be in the way to get to the wall). Then again, it almost worked for the Cavs.

  1. Oh, Michael Martinez was DFA’d and picked up by the Tampa Bay Rays. []