Tribe Shouldn’t Trade Starting Pitching for a Bat.

A lot of discussion has gone on over the past few days about the direction the Cleveland Indians need to go in this winter.  While no one questions whether or not the Tribe needs to get more hitting, the question remains, how to do it.

The Indians finished in the top half of the American League in both runs scored (7th) and in ERA (6th), but no one who watched the team play this season has any doubt the ballclub needs another proven hitter and better defense.

One of the ways suggested to get the hitting Terry Francona’s team needs is to trade one of their pitchers, based on the outstanding work of the starting rotation over the last two months.

However, we would suggest this is not the proper move.

First, it would be a repeat of the pattern the Tribe front office used throughout the 70’s and 80’s, when they would  collect hitters and have no pitching.  Then, they would trade those hitters to get pitchers, thus creating a team with solid pitching but could not hit.

And then they would repeat the cycle all over again.

Quite frankly, beyond the five pitchers Cleveland used in the rotation at the end of the year (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and T.J. House), there isn’t a lot of depth in the system.

And of those five starters, beyond Kluber, only Bauer demonstrated effectiveness over more than the last two months in 2014.  This isn’t to say the others are flashes in the pan, it is only to show the lack of an established track record.

We have said this before and will repeat, the two areas where the Indians have some depth is in the bullpen and in the middle infield.

With youngsters on the horizon like C.C. Lee, Austin Adams, and guys coming up like Shawn Armstrong, Louis Head, and Tyler Sturdivant, and the emergence of Zack McAllister as another power arm to use in relief, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Bryan Shaw included in a deal.

Shaw has been used hard by Francona and Mickey Callaway over the past two years, and it may be prudent to sell high on the right-hander before his performance drops from the excess use.

In the middle infield, the Indians have 2B Jason Kipnis, coming off a bad year, SS Jose Ramirez, just 22-years-old, and the team’s best prospect, SS Francisco Lindor.  They also have Ronny Rodriguez and Erik Gonzales, who both finished the year at AA Akron.

Kipnis is established and if the front office wants to make room for Lindor, then Ramirez is a solid trade chip, a middle infielder who has great speed, and hit .262 playing regularly over August and September.  There are many teams around the majors who are always looking for help in the middle of the diamond.

Another possible chip could be reserve catcher Roberto Perez, who hit .271 in 85 at bats backing up Yan Gomes after Carlos Santana was shifted to first base.  Perez is just 26-years-old and probably too young to be in a back up role, so teams looking for catchers could be interested.

Besides, with Gomes getting the bulk of the time behind the plate, the Indians don’t need to look too hard to find someone to play 30-40 games in a season.

There is no question the Indians need to get a bat or two, but dealing a starting pitcher isn’t the way to do it.

KM

 

No Question About It, It’s a Big Winter for Tribe

Now that the Cleveland Indians have been officially eliminated from post-season play, it is time to look ahead to the Hot Stove League.

The Tribe will likely start with a roster that has either the Cy Young Award winner or runner-up in Corey Kluber, and a hitter who will be in the top five in the American League’s MVP voting in Michael Brantley.  So, that’s a good start.

However, their is no question the club needs at least one legitimate bat going into next season.

The AL league average for OPS in 707, and the Indians had only four players who exceeded that mark:  Brantley, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, and Lonnie Chisenhall.  You probably need to get two more guys who are better than league average.

Yes, we believe Jason Kipnis’ struggles this year are an aberration based on his past, so that would be one such bat, but can we really be confident that anyone on the current roster can step up?

We like Jose Ramirez and what we has shown since getting regular playing time, but he needs to get on base more (.291 OBP) and drive the ball a little more (.332 slugging) to be a bonafide offensive threat.

And you cannot depend on older players like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and David Murphy to bounce back either.

A lot of people we respect love the future of the Cleveland pitching staff, and although it is very promising, outside of Kluber’s two major league seasons, there isn’t another starter who has a proven big league track record.

GM Chris Antonetti needs to get another established hurler to put in the middle of the rotation and make guys like T. J. House, who performed better than expected into a nice option if someone falters or has an arm problem.

We feel the bullpen will take care of itself.  Yes, there is a lot of wear on some of the arms, but the organization seems to have some depth in this area at the minor league level.

Also, you can find relievers that other teams discarded and resurrect their careers like the Tribe did this season with Scott Atchison.

How can the Indians do this?  Well, it could start with spending more cash.

While the ownership gets credit for spending on Swisher and Bourn before the 2013 season, there isn’t really evidence of that.

The Cleveland payroll was at $78.4 million in 2012, according to thebaseballcube.com.  After adding the two high paid free agents, the payroll for 2013 was $82.5 million.

The fans were led to believe the Indians were able to spend more because of the selling of Sportstime Ohio and the new network television contract.

The payroll for 2014 was slightly less than ’13 ($82.1 million) and that’s with the Swisher and Bourn contracts escalating.  Keep in mind, the team dealt two of the four highest paid players (Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera) in late July too, although it has been reported Cleveland paid off Cabrera’s deal to get a better player (Zach Walters?) in return.

Meanwhile, small markets like Kansas City ($91 million) and Minnesota ($85 million), both division rivals, outspent the Tribe.

We have said this before and we will reiterate, we understand that the northeast Ohio market probably can’t support a $100-$110 million payroll for the Indians, but there is no reason the Tribe payroll can’t be around $90-$95 million.

That would allow them to add another solid major league player or two, and maybe more if they can find a taker for a declining player like Bourn, if the Indians would pay part of his remaining salary.

So, it terms of the comment that the ownership spent on Swisher and Bourn, quite frankly, the facts don’t really support that.

This group of Indians has a solid core of younger players, it was the second youngest team in baseball after the all-star break.  Guys like Brantley, Gomes, Santana, Chisenhall, and Kluber give Antonetti a good foundation, but you cannot stand pat like they did at the trading deadline.

The Indians can’t depend on their usual strategy of wishing and hoping.

Here’s hoping they will be bold this winter and not their usual modus operandi of being cautious.

MW

Cavs’ Circus Begins Tomorrow.

Tomorrow, perhaps the most important non-sporting sporting event in Cleveland will occur when the Cavaliers have their media day.

So, the circus that will surround them all year will start then and there.

The biggest focus for everyone will be LeBron James, who hasn’t really sat down to speak about his return to Cleveland, except through his essay in Sports Illustrated and his welcome home party in July in Akron.

To be sure, he will be asked about his future with the Cavaliers because he signed a one year deal with an option, even though he has stated publicly that he will finish out his career in wine and gold.

There will also be considerable attention on the NBA’s newest “big three”, James, recently acquired all-star Kevin Love, and the MVP of both last year’s All Star Game and the FIBA World Championship, Kyrie Irving.

To be sure, they will be compared to the Celtics recent grouping (Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce) and Miami’s famous, or infamous trio of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.  Will the Cavs group have the same success as Boston, winning a title in their first year together?

There is no question than not only do the Cavs have a core of all-star players, but they also have put together a deep roster of solid role players, something Miami didn’t have at least last season.

Besides the holdovers from last season, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova, who are all solid NBA players, GM David Gilbert also brought in Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, and James Jones, and don’t forget big man Brendan Haywood, who missed last season with a stress fracture in his foot.

The deep roster will allow James to cut back on his minutes, as our guess is all parties would like him to average around 33 minutes per game in 2014-15, compared to the 37.7 he played last season in Miami, and the 39.5 he averaged throughout his time in the NBA.

The only thing this team doesn’t have on paper is a big time shot blocker or rim protector in the new vernacular, and that could be Haywood if his feet can hold up.

And while some critics will say there aren’t a lot of lock down defenders in this group, right now James, Marion, Varejao, and Dellavedova would be considered the best defensive players, the name of the game is scoring more than your opponents, and this edition of the wine and gold should be very proficient in putting the ball in the basket.

The coolest thing about all this is the amount of focus that will be on Cleveland, Ohio this winter.  The two best teams in professional basketball might just be here and in San Antonio.  The national media has to be going crazy.  We will probably hear about how the league is in trouble because it doesn’t appear its hallmark franchises (Celtics, Lakers, Knicks) will be in the championship mix for a while.

Also, the Cavs will be embraced throughout the league too.  James was named the most popular professional athlete in the country this summer, in part because he did the right thing in many people’s eyes by reversing the wrong committed four years ago and returning to Cleveland.

As we have traveled around the country this summer, most basketball fans are genuinely happy that The King is back in northeast Ohio.

It all starts tomorrow.  And the wait to Opening Night will be excruciating.

JK

The Tribe Front Office Didn’t Believe in This Year’s Team.

Last night, the Cleveland Indians played the biggest game of the season and Terry Francona had to fill out a lineup card that included veteran Chris Gimenez at 1B and rookie Tyler Holt in right field.

We don’t think that was plan back in April.

Look, while Francona can be criticized for some in-game decisions, the reality of the situation is he has kept a flawed baseball team in the race for a post-season spot until the final week of the season.  You also have to credit his pitching coach, Mickey Callaway, for putting together a starting rotation that has been dominant throughout August and September.

It is apparent that at the end of July, when the trading deadline takes place, the front office didn’t see the dominant pitching coming.  The Indians were 53-56 and sat six games behind the second wild card team, the Toronto Blue Jays, and GM Chris Antonetti decided to deal free agents to be Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson, and basically get prospects in return.

To be fair, neither Cabrera nor Masterson were having good seasons, but in dealing those two, Antonetti didn’t address the Tribe’s weaknesses, mainly a right-handed bat and pitching help.

The inability to address the former led to Gimenez and Holt being thrust into a race for a playoff spot.

Antonetti and his boss, team president Mark Shapiro, can say anything he wants, but it is clear he didn’t have any faith that his ballclub would arrive at the last week of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs.

We wonder what Francona thinks about the lack of confidence in his players.

When the Tribe made an August surge, going 18-9 for the month, the front office brought in some reinforcements to help out when players suffered injuries.  Gimenez was brought in when Yan Gomes suffered a concussion, J. B. Shuck was eventually added in September after David Murphy and Nick Swisher went out of the lineup.

Those two have combined to go 1 for 30 while wearing a Cleveland uniform.

Meanwhile, players like Josh Willingham (Kansas City), Adam Dunn (Oakland), and John Mayberry Jr, (Toronto) were all moved during August, and while none of them have been difference makers down the stretch, they aren’t 1 for 30 either.

The point is even on July 31st, six games out isn’t enough to toss in the proverbial white towel.  Maybe Antonetti didn’t see Corey Kluber becoming arguably the American League’s best pitcher, nor did he see Carlos Carrasco turning into a right-handed version of Sandy Koufax, but you don’t know if you will ever get that type of dominant starting pitching in 2015.

That’s why you have to go for a post-season spot whenever you have the opportunity.  And that’s why the front office failed the players, the manager, and the fan base, who want to be convinced the organization wants to win.

While the rotation looks good for the future, we all know pitching isn’t the most stable commodity.  It is doubtful that Kluber will pitch this well next year, and who knows about the rest of the rotation, who really don’t have a track record in the major leagues.

And whatever you want to say about Terry Francona, there is no question that he knows how to get the most out of his players.  His belief and trust of his players offset any weaknesses he has in the in-game strategy department, and he squeezes the most out of his guys.

It’s too bad the front office didn’t understand this.  As close as they came this season, any help that would have come in could have put the Tribe back in the playoffs this fall.

MW

 

 

Failure to Add to Lead Costs Browns

After last week’s win over New Orleans, Browns’ coach Mike Pettine said his team could easily be 2-0 or 0-2.

He can now make that 3-0 or 0-3 after today’s last second loss to the Baltimore Ravens, 23-21 at First Energy Stadium.

The Browns had several chances to put this game away, but they couldn’t put any more points on the board after Miles Austin caught a 4-yard pass from Brian Hoyer with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Two plays into the fourth quarter, Tashaun Gipson intercepted a Joe Flacco pass and returned it to the Baltimore 30-yard line.  Flacco was hit by Paul Kruger as he threw the pass.

But, Isaiah Crowell lost eight yards on first down, and Hoyer couldn’t make up the yardage on the next two plays, and Billy Cudiff’s 50-yard field goal attempt hit the upright.

Lost opportunity #1

After the Ravens’ moved the ball on one play to the Cleveland 30, the defense stiffened, stuffing Flacco on 3rd and 1, and then Lorenzo Taliaferro on 4th down, giving the Browns the ball on their own 20.

On second down, Hoyer hit WR Taylor Gabriel for 70 yards to the Ravens’ 9.  The ball was under thrown, had Hoyer hit Gabriel in stride it would have been an easy touchdown.

Still, the Browns did have a first down and goal.  However, a one yard loss on a run by Terrance West, a sack of Hoyer, and a terrible illegal forward pass penalty on Hoyer (he was way over the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass), forced another field goal attempt by Cundiff, which was blocked by the Ravens.

This time, Baltimore moved it down the field in two minutes and converted a field goal by Justin Tucker to trim the Browns’ lead to 21-20 with just a little over five minutes remaining.

After the Browns got the football back, it seemed like they ignored the run a little bit, trying to run just once on the next three plays, and they had to punt.

The Browns ran the ball effectively the first two games, but tried only 29 runs today for an average of 3.1 yards per attempt.

Cleveland stopped Baltimore following Spencer Lanning’s punt, but after getting the ball back with 2:19 remaining on their own 7, they ran the ball twice, the first a Crowell 5-yard run, followed by a loss of 2 yards.

The key play of the game came with 2:09 on the clock and the Ravens’ out of timeouts.  A run that didn’t convert the third down would have resulted in the two-minute warning.

Without much to lose, Hoyer tried to throw for the first down, which if converted would have allowed Cleveland to run out the clock. But Hoyer’s throw was behind Andrew Hawkins and fell incomplete.

A perfectly thrown deep ball to Steve Smith put the Ravens’ in range for Tucker to win the game.  Joe Haden was beaten on the pass, but it is doubtful he could have covered it better. It was simply a great toss by Flacco.

Hoyer had a great game statistically, hitting 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards and the TD pitch to Austin.  However, four of his six misses came in the fourth quarter.

The run defense is troubling because for the third straight game, the opponents gashed the Browns with the run. The Ravens gained 160 yards rushing, which is way too many if Pettine and Jim O’Neil want to get after the passer.

Cleveland has no sacks today, and in order to really rush the quarterback, you have to keep the opponent in 2nd and 3rd and long situations.  If you can control the running game, that is difficult to do.

Another troubling thing is special teams, as the blocked field goal in the fourth quarter was huge.  The Browns could have forced Baltimore to score a touchdown to win, but couldn’t do it.

Heading into the bye week, those are things for the coaching staff to work on.  It will be a good test to see if they can eliminate the errors in these areas.

Until then, the poorly played fourth quarter will gnaw at the entire organization.

JD

Is Optimism on Browns Warranted?

After the Cleveland Browns actually won their home opener for the first time since 2004, fans of the team went crazy, and as usual most of them got carried away.

A week earlier, particularly after the first half of the game against the Steelers, there was a feeling of “here we go again”, and many people felt once again like they were duped by Jimmy Haslam’s team.

That’s the way it is in Cleveland concerning the Browns.

Is the optimism from the victory over the Saints merited, or are fans simply setting themselves up for another season of disappointment?

We will certainly find out on Sunday afternoon when the Ravens visit First Energy Stadium.

There are definitely things to be excited about.  For one, their seems to be a connection between the front office and the coaching staff.  Over the past few seasons, it has appeared that the head coach has been on a different page than the front office.

For example, dealing the team’s best running back and leaving the ground game in the hands of Willis McGahee, or basically punting an entire draft and then firing the coach because he didn’t win.

This year, it looks like Mike Pettine has a direction for this team and GM Ray Farmer agrees with that vision and gets players who fit what the head coach wants to do.

That’s a reason to be encouraged.

On the field, it is basic football to say you need to be able to run the ball and be able to stop the run defensively.

For the first time in a long time, it appears the Cleveland Browns have a legitimate ground game.  Yes, they’ve had success here and there throughout the years, like when Jamal Lewis had his big season in 2007 and Peyton Hillis’ 2010 campaign in which he gained over 1,000 yards.

For some reason, this season feels differently with Ben Tate, now injured, Terrence West, and Isaiah Crowell.  Perhaps it is because of reputation which preceded Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which has had a history of running successfully with the zone blocking scheme.

After two games, it looks like opponents playing the Browns need to realize it will be a long day if they can’t stop the ground game.

Conversely, the defense has struggled stopping the run in both games.  The Steelers gashed the defense for big gains, and the Saints, normally a passing team, did a very good job running the football.

That may have been because New Orleans realized the Cleveland defense was geared to stopping the aerial attack and was looking for an alternative way to move the ball.  A better test will be this Sunday, because we know the Ravens want to run, and the question will be can the Browns’ stop it and make Baltimore one-dimensional.

We will also see if Brian Hoyer can continue his winning ways.  Hoyer is now 3-1 or 4-1, depending on how you count last year’s Buffalo game, as a starter.  True, that’s not great, but for a team that usually wins four or five games per season, it is reason for hope.

A win on Sunday has to make you think that no matter what the statistics say, Hoyer can put numbers in the victory column.

If the Browns win against the Ravens and start the season 2-1, the hope for the rest of the year will be off the chart.  Let us remind you of one thing.

Pat Shurmur started his tenure with the same record.  And we all know how that turned out.

JD

Yes, Tribe Has Good Young Core, but Can’t Sit Out the Winter

Well, the Cleveland Indians kept it interesting for a little while.

They hung in the race for a post-season spot until the middle of September, but last weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers means there will not be consecutive post-season spots for the first time since 1999, and it is time to look forward to the 2015 season.

We understand that Terry Francona and the players will not make any changes to the lineup or the starting rotation until the Tribe is officially eliminated from playoff consideration, which probably won’t happen until the weekend, but we can still speculate on what needs to occur prior to spring training in February.

The Indians do have a good young core of players.  They can build on several solid position players in Michael Brantley (who will turn 28 next May), Carlos Santana (29), Yan Gomes (28), Lonnie Chisenhall (26), and we believe Jason Kipnis (28) will rebound next year based on his track record and the fact he was battling injuries this year.

They also have Jose Ramirez (23), who has impressed this year since playing everyday after the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, and of course, Francisco Lindor, one of the game’s best prospects.

The organization will likely do the service time game with Lindor, which would be a mistake if he shows in spring training that he is ready to play everyday at the big league level.  Too often, the Tribe gets off to slow starts because they don’t keep the correct players on the Opening Day roster.

The starting rotation is also very young with a lot of room to get better.  Staff ace Corey Kluber will be just 29 years old in 2015, and he is joined by Carlos Carrasco (28), Danny Salazar (25), T. J. House (25) and Trevor Bauer (24) to form a rotation with a lot of upside.

However, Francona has said in the past that when you think you have enough pitching, you go out and get some more.  Therefore, the front office cannot stand pat with the rotation and should look to bring in some reinforcements during the winter.  You have to think at least one of those guys will not perform up to this year’s standards next season.

The one area that will need to be addressed in the off-season is the bench, which was a key component of last year’s squad, but had a huge drop off in ’14.  We know Jason Giambi won’t likely be back, but GM Chris Antonetti should also look to replace Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles, both of whom haven’t produced offensively.

Raburn is under contract for 2015, so that may be a challenge, but whenever Francona has wanted to rest a regular or an injury keeps a starter out of the lineup for an extended period of time, there has been a drop off in the offense.

Perhaps David Murphy can fit in as the fourth outfielder if Antonetti comes up with another alternative in right field.

And you really can’t use young players in bench roles because they don’t know how to handle it.  It is better to find veterans who used to play everyday that can accept not doing that anymore or guys who have made a living playing in a reserve role.

It is difficult to be productive playing sporadically, and it is a challenge to find guys who can hit while getting 200-300 at bats in a season.

Yes, the Indians future does look bright, or at least it isn’t dismal.  However, Chris Antonetti can’t afford to stand pat like he did last winter.  They have to improve this club in order to avoid the wild card race and win the American League Central Division.

The bigger question is whether or not they will do just that.

KM

No Almost Win Today for Browns, They Get It Done

So many times in recent seasons, there are times the Cleveland Browns had a valiant effort on the field only to fall just short on the scoreboard.

It happened so much, former Brown Josh Cribbs once said the team almost always almost wins.

Today was different for Mike Pettine and his team as he picked up his first win as an NFL head coach with a 26 -24 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Billy Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal with :03 left on the clock.

To win the game, Brian Hoyer took his team 85 yards on 14 plays to set up the kicker, including a 28-yard pass to Andrew Hawkins to set up the final kick with 13 seconds left.

The game started with the Browns on fire, forcing a three and out on the Saints’ first series and basically shutting down New Orleans throughout the first quarter allowing Cleveland to take a 10-0 lead.

But Drew Brees figured with the amount of emphasis the Browns were putting on the passing game, it might be time to start running, and the Saints did that successfully all day, gaining 174 yards on the ground, getting 6.4 yards per carry.

After the success Pittsburgh had in week one on the ground, the defense better get this under control or they will see a steady diet of opponents just beating them with the run.

John Hughes missed today’s game once again and he plays the run very well, but it is doubtful one player makes that much of a difference.

After the opening stanza, the Saints moved the ball seemingly at will with the only hiccups being a Brees’ interception being returned for a touchdown by Tashaun Gipson, which gave Cleveland a 16-3 lead because the extra point was botched.  It looked for a long time like that might come back to haunt the Browns as well.

The main reason for that was the inability to stop Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham, who 10 throws for 118 yards and a TD.  The Browns simply had no answer for him.

In the fourth quarter, with Cleveland needing a stop on their own 31 yard line, Karlos Dansby made the key play of the game defensively as he sacked Brees, forcing the Saints out of field goal range.

The ensuing punt was the last snap made by New Orleans for the rest of the game.

Cleveland used a balanced attack throughout the game and the rookie running backs continue to shine as Terrance West gained 68 yards and Isaiah Crowell picked up 54 more with West getting a touchdown.

Hawkins was once again Hoyer’s favorite target, grabbing six throws for 70 yards including the decisive offensive play of the game.  And TE Gary Barnidge took up the slack for Jordan Cameron, catching 4 balls for 41 yards.

And also kudos to Hoyer, who is quieting any calls for Johnny Manziel thus far, completing 24 of 40 for 204 yards and leading the winning drive, which again started from his own four.

He may not be pretty, but he’s also 4-1 as the Browns’ starting quarterback.  And there shouldn’t any more talk about Manziel being the starter when the Browns come back from their bye week.

Defensively, Dansby is showing more and more how vital his leadership is with eight tackles including the huge sack on the Saints’ last offensive play.  And Paul Kruger had another sack, his second straight game with one after struggling last year.

Whatever happened at halftime at Heinz Field, the Cleveland Browns look like a different football team.  Not just different from the first half of the Steelers’ game, but different from the last five years.

Next week’s game against the Ravens is another chance to show the progress this football team has made.

JD

 

Tribe Has Four Hitters Having Good Years. Why Are They Struggling?

This weekend is the biggest weekend of the season for the Cleveland Indians.

Win two out of three against the Detroit Tigers in Motown and the Tribe keeps their slim playoff hopes alive.  If they lose two out of three, then those hopes will be dashed and the last two weeks of the campaign should be used to evaluate young players.

While the offense exploded for eight runs in the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader sweep of the Twins, the second game was back to the same attack, in which getting runs seems to be like getting blood from a stone.

It seems that if the starting pitching can’t hold the opposition to one or no runs, the Indians don’t have a chance to win.

When looking at the statistics, it is clear that the Indians have a very strange offense.

We feel having an OPS of over 800 stamps a player as very good offensively.  Currently, Terry Francona can write down the names of four players who fit that criteria in the lineup everyday:  Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Carlos Santana.

That would seem to be a good start having a solid offense.

For example, the Angels lead the American League in runs scored and have only three batters (Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun) with OPS over 800.  The Tigers are second in the AL in scoring and also have three hitters over that figure:  Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez.

So why is the Cleveland offense sputtering?

Mostly because the other five players which make up the rest of the batting order for the Indians are having terrible offensive seasons.  The only two players with figures near the league average of 709 are Michael Bourn and David Murphy, and there is no one in the category of a solid offensive player, which would be an OPS around the 750 range.

By contrast, the Angels have four hitters with OPS in the 750 range–Josh Hamilton, Chris Iannetta, C. J. Cron, and Howie Kendrick.  The Tigers have two in Rajai Davis and Torii Hunter.  Surprisingly, Ian Kinsler’s figure is virtually the same as Murphy.

That’s why they have more consistent offenses than the Indians.

As currently constituted, the Indians have a lineup with four very good offensive players and five mediocre offensive players.  That isn’t a good formula for scoring runs.

Francona tries to group his four big bats together in the batting order, but for some reason he has been sticking Jason Kipnis right in the middle of the foursome and that isn’t helping the situation.

He should move Gomes up to the 5th spot followed by Chisenhall with Kipnis dropping to 7th.  Perhaps that will generate some more runs.

With Bourn and Murphy being the best of the rest of the hitters, and rookie SS Jose Ramirez contributing a bit at the plate, that leaves two spots for Francona to try to use the best match up to generate the offense.

Kipnis is taking one spot, leaving DH, the one spot on the team were the only skill necessary is hitting as a huge gaping hole.

Our preference would be to just put Jesus Aguilar in their and let him play everyday to see if he can get something going.  He has the best minor league track record among the rest of the roster.  However, because he’s a rookie, the skipper seems hesitant to put him in there and leave him alone.

What this means is the Tribe misses Nick Swisher a little more than people realize.  And it’s definitely an area that needs addressing over the off-season.

MW

Lack of Home Runs Killing Tribe Attack

In yesterday’s 12-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, four visiting batters (Kole Calhoun, David Freese, Albert Pujols, and Howie Kendrick) all hit home runs.

In the home dugout, Terry Francona had to be jealous.

Why?

Because that kind of power hasn’t been seen for the Indians in a month.  In fact, no Tribe player besides Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall have went deep since Zach Walters’ two run shot in the 10th inning on August 26th at Chicago.

And former Oriole manager Earl Weaver would cringe at this statistic:  No Indians’ player has hit a three run homer since Santana went deep off of former Tribe pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez on August 16th.

No wonder Francona’s team has trouble scoring runs.

Without power, offenses are dependent on scoring by getting multiple base hits in an inning or a mixture of walks and hits.  That may work if you have a lot of hitters batting in the .270 range.

Once again, the Indians do not.

Among the regulars, only Michael Brantley, Chisenhall, and Yan Gomes have batting averages over .280.  So, even if you get a couple of men on base, you are likely dependent on someone hitting around .250, meaning they get a hit one out of every four times up, to come up with a big hit.

The lack of offense puts a lot of pressure on a pitching staff.

Somehow, Cleveland remains in the top half of the American League in runs scored, currently ranking 7th in the junior circuit.  This is despite the team scoring more than four runs just once since the calendar turned to September.

Someone has to step up and soon if the Indians are to stay relevant in the wild card race, and their presence in that situation is a day-to-day proposition to be sure.  All it would take is consecutive losses to a team like the Indians are facing tonight, Minnesota, and any chance of making the playoffs will be doused.

And they need to have the ability to score without piecing together several hits and/or walks, and to score with one swing of the bat.

The Tribe has played eight games this month and have received no homers from Brantley (last one:  August 16th vs. Baltimore), Gomes (last HR:  August 18th), and Jason Kipnis (last HR:  July 31st) in that period.

Note that these guys are usually hitting in the middle of the Cleveland batting order, anywhere from 3rd to 6th.  And this isn’t to denigrate the years that Brantley and Gomes are having, as both are among the most productive hitters in the game at their position.

The point is that no one has stepped up and helped out, most notably Kipnis, who is suffering through a horrible season.

Walters filled the void for awhile, hitting six bombs, but recently has shown his true Russell Branyan tendencies by striking out at an incredible rate (28 times in 76 at bats).

Chisenhall has mixed in a couple of home runs, but Michael Bourn and Jose Ramirez aren’t known for power, and David Murphy is just coming off an oblique strain.

The other players getting playing time from Francona aren’t long ball threats either, guys like Tyler Holt and newly acquired J.B. Shuck.

This might be the most convincing argument to giving minor league slugger Jesus Aguilar an extended shot in the lineup.  He’s a threat to hit one out.

There is no question the Cleveland Indians need to start scoring if they want to remain in the race.  However, without the threat of the home run, it will be a very difficult task, indeed.

KM