The Cleveland Indians rang in the month of June on a somber note. Following a 10 – 0 win over the Baltimore Orioles on May 19th, the Tribe proceeded to lose ten of their next 14 games ultimately bottoming out 11 and a half games back of the Minnesota Twins on June 2nd – a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Chicago White Sox. Following that game their run differential sat at a deficient -14 on the season, they were below .500 and tied for second in the Central with the White Sox.
The news then got worse as Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with a then-undisclosed blood condition on June 6th. With Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger already on the shelf, the situation was shaping up to be a nightmare scenario. Trade rumors began to swirl immediately afterward and the Tribe season appeared to be spiraling out of control as they neared the midway point.
But then something happened. It wasn’t an abrupt change, but a gradual shift in course. The Tribe took two of three against the Twins and then against the Yankees scoring 37 runs in six games. The Tribe began chipping away ever so slowly at the Twins lead, sweeping Detroit twice and winning a series against Kansas City. The offense began putting up runs on a consistent basis. Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, and Aaron Civale helped to pick up the depleted starting rotation. The tide started to turn and you could feel it happening. The group that was pressing in April and May seemed to have adjusted to hitting rock bottom. That or they began gelling as a unit and as a team, perhaps rallying behind their ailing ace. Either way, the results have been compelling and an inspiration – the course of the season has been corrected.
As simple as it sounds, the Tribe just flat out got better – on both sides of the ball. They appear to have literally flipped a switch from mediocre baseball in May to become a top-five team over the course of these past five weeks. The date of June 2nd is arbitrarily set as the (hopefully) seasons low water mark of 11 and a half games back of Minnesota and last time the Tribe dips below .500.
The table above paints a picture of the stark contrast in the previous two months. The Tribe is 4th in the league in run differential since June 2nd putting up nearly 5.6 runs per game against 4.1 allowed. They have posted numbers well into the top third in almost every major statistical category after sitting middle of the pack for May. Over the course of 29 games, the Tribe put up a 21 – 8 record which was best in the American League picking up six against Minnesota in the process. Something about this team is starting to come together – June was a boon.
On the offensive side of the ball, the key differentiation has been the play of Jason Kipnis and Jake Bauers. Through April and May, the Tribe struggled with at least two spots in the lineup hitting well below league average. Kipnis’ and Bauers’ production gave the Tribe a full lineup for the first stretch of the season. The results speak for themselves. Improved production from Santana, Luplow, and Perez only helped matters. But it appears that for the first time this unit has been operating on all cylinders.
The result of the past five weeks has been a paradigm shift in what 2019 truly is in reference to the current window of contention. At rock bottom, the team was a seller destined to move Brad Hand and Trevor Bauer for near ready pieces to assist another go in 2020. The July 7th team is now on the cusp of not only a playoff birth, but a division title is now within reach. On June 3rd, Cleveland’s playoff odds were at 27% and the odds of a divisional title at 4%. Those numbers are now 53% and 12.8%. With a series against Minnesota to start the second half, the Tribe is poised to set the tone for the rest of 2019. Following that series, they have 14 straight against Detroit, Kansas City, Toronto, and Kansas City. There is a very real opportunity to not only edge closer to Minnesota before the trade deadline, but to actually overtake them.
Baseball is a funny game. Just when everything seems to be shaping up for one outcome, the landscape changes and a different course is charted. With a return of Kluber and Clevinger looming (technically Clev is back, but…) the Tribe is poised to continue their reshaping of the 2019 season. From a terrible May to a torrid June, our Indians have proven once again that you shouldn’t write them off too soon.