The 2011 baseball season which started with all sorts of good feelings for the Cleveland Indians, is reaching a critical point.
Going into tonight’s game against Texas, the Tribe has fallen back to four games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central Division, which they once led by seven games way back in the month of May.
After the two games against the Rangers, the Indians come home for a six game homestand which starts against the Tigers, the first of twelve times the two teams will play against each other through the end of the season.
It would be a good time for Cleveland to start playing well, if indeed they can recapture some of the magic that fueled the 30-15 start.
In actuality, they have played pretty well on this current trip, beating Boston twice, and losing the other three games on the sojourn on their opponents last at bat. They could just as easily be 5-0 on the road.
However, the bullpen, which has been considered the strength of the team is showing signs of cracking, perhaps from overuse.
In Boston, only Carlos Carrasco could get through seven innings as a starter, with the other three pitchers going no more than six (Tomlin, Huff, and Masterson). That puts a toll on the relievers, particularly with Manny Acta being hesitant to use two hurlers out of the bullpen, Chad Durbin and Frank Herrmann.
Add to that, the current struggles of closer Chris Perez, who has blown his last two save opportunities, including last night after getting the first two outs with a 7-5 lead (Note: Michael Young’s homer would only have gone out in the Texas wind tunnel). On the other hand, Perez has only had three save opportunities since the All Star break.
The offense has perked up on the road trip after struggling mightily on last week’s home stand.
The story of this ballclub is if one of the team’s three constant hitters (Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner, and Michael Brantley) is slumping, the entire offense struggles. No one else has emerged on a consistent basis.
As of late, Carlos Santana is starting to pick it up, and is now second on the team in homers and RBI’s, although his batting average continues to hover around the .230 mark.
And as Boston showed, the Tribe’s left-handed dominant lineup is susceptible to southpaw relievers. There is no right-handed hitting option to counter the situational lefties, as Austin Kearns and his .204 batting average is still on the roster.
After tomorrow night’s series finale against the Rangers, the Indians only have three games remaining against the AL’s three best teams (New York, Boston, Texas). Most of the schedule consists of AL Central foes, with five games against Seattle and four more against Oakland, all at home, mixed in.
Unfortunately, the Tigers are also done with those teams as well, although they do have one more west coast trip remaining, a four game trip to Oakland in September.
It comes down to this. There are 52 games left on the schedule for the Cleveland Indians. If they want to make the American League playoffs by winning the Central Division, they do not need help. They have plenty of games remaining against their main competitors.
If they play well, they can win. But it will take a total team effort: hitting, pitching, and defense. There can be no breakdowns.