Tribe Still Surviving at the Quarter Pole

Tonight, the Cleveland Indians will play their 40th game of the season, which obviously means the campaign is one-quarter over.

Suddenly, it’s not early anymore, but there is still plenty of season remaining.

The Tribe sits at 18-21 on the season, and with the jumbled American League, they are still in the thick of it for a post-season spot, although the Tigers seem to be running away (again!) with the Central Division.

Eleven of the 15 teams in the AL sit within three games of the .500 mark, an incredible number considering the number of games played so far. Only Oakland and Detroit are more than three games over the break-even mark.

Cleveland’s pitching is holding its own, ranking in the top half of the league (7th) in ERA, despite the struggles of their #1 starter, Justin Masterson, and having to sit down the closer that started the season, John Axford.

Masterson hasn’t pitched poorly (2-2, 4.31 ERA), but he certainly hasn’t pitched as well as he did last season. He’s had several outings thus far where he has been dominating early, only to lose it completely.

Yesterday was one of those games, with the big right-hander retiring the first nine Blue Jays, but then giving up five runs in the next 2-1/3 innings.

Axford has struck out 16 hitters in 15-2/3 innings, but he’s walked 13 and allowed three home runs. Putting hitters on via walk and giving up bombs isn’t a way for a closer to stay a closer for long.

The bigger issue for Terry Francona’s club is the offense, which sits at 12th in the league in runs scored, 13th in batting average, and 12th in OPS. All of those ranks are in the bottom third of the AL.

While no one outside of Michael Brantley has been consistently good so far, the biggest culprits for the offensive ineptitude would be Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, and Ryan Raburn.

Thank goodness, Santana has continued to draw walks (he’s second in the AL with 32), because otherwise he would be a total disaster. He’s hitting just .152 for the season with 4 HR and 11 RBI. His OPS is under 600 (597) for the season.

Francona is a very patient manager, but it will be tough to keep the switch-hitter in the clean up spot much longer.

As bad as Santana’s OPS is with his batting average at .152, Swisher’s isn’t much better at 618.

The Tribe’s big free agent acquisition a year ago, the first baseman is languishing at .204, 2 HR, and 15 RBI. That’s a pace to hit less than 10 dingers and knock in about 60 runs for the season.

The weird stat though, is that those RBIs ranked third on the team, behind Brantley and David Murphy. That’s how much everyone else as struggled as well.

Swisher has been terrible vs. lefties, hitting just .156 against southpaws. The Tribe has struggled against left-handed starters all season, and this is just one reason.

Another reason is the production of Raburn, hitting just .176 with a 433 OPS. He did a great job of hitting southpaws last season, one of the reasons for the team’s success vs. lefties. He batted .308 and slugged over .600 in 2013.
This year, Raburn’s just 7 for 40 against those pitchers and has just two extra base hits on the season. It’s reminiscent of his horrible 2012 season, which led to his release by the Tigers.

He’s pretty much only been used against left-handers this season, whereas last year, he got more at-bats against righties. Maybe he just needs some more playing time to get going.

Despite all that has gone wrong with the offense, including the injury to all-star Jason Kipnis, it really is remarkable the Indians aren’t buried in terms of contention.

Still, the bats have to pick up over the long haul or the burden on the starting pitching and bullpen will be too much for the staff to handle over the last 75% of the season.

MW

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