The Cleveland Indians have won six in a row and have climbed back to the .500 mark for the season. Of course, since they are going on a 10 game trek and they have one of the worst road records in the game, that record may be short-lived.
But for the time being, things are looking good in Tribe Town, and naturally casual baseball fans are quick to infer that the team’s hot streak coincided with Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher going on the disabled list.
That leads, of course, to the conclusion that when both players are healthy, Terry Francona should keep them on the bench and leave the status quo.
Upon further review, that’s a dumb argument.
First, because Lonnie Chisenhall is hitting .361 and is currently tied for fifth on the team in RBIs and is hitting left-handers, he’s staying in the lineup everyday even when the two switch-hitters return to the active roster.
The two players who have gained time because of the injuries are Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn who are sharing the DH spot, and Mike Aviles, who has been filling in at third base with Chisenhall playing 1B.
Neither Giambi nor Raburn have been particularly productive at DH, with Giambi just 5 for 35 on the season, albeit with 2 HR, and Raburn is still in a season long funk at .207 with just 1 HR.
While Santana is hitting only .159 on the season, he does have a .327 on base percentage, compared to Giambi (.250) and Raburn (.262). That means Santana is making outs 6-7% less times than do the men currently replacing them.
Giambi can be productive if his starts can be limited to once or twice per week. His production seems to ebb when he is playing every other day, which has been the case over the past week.
Raburn hasn’t been productive at all to this point in the season.
On the other hand, Aviles has been very productive in 2014, ranking third on the Indians in runs batted in right now, and he’s batting .274 on the year, although he doesn’t walk much, and doesn’t have much power. His OPS is just 673.
That’s only 42 points behind Swisher, who by most accounts is off to a terrible start, hitting just .211. Still, his on base percentage is at .311 meaning he also makes less outs than Aviles, who sits at .297.
Francona will find time periodically for the veteran who can play 2B, SS, 3B, and LF, and most of that time will come against southpaws because the Indians lack right-handed hitting.
While the Indians have been hitting well and winning with two regulars on the shelf, there is no question they would be much better off with a productive Santana and Swisher, and you can make a very good case that even with tough starts for the pair, they have been slightly better on offense than the players who have replaced them.
Now, no one is saying Francona should put either player back into the middle of the batting order, it wouldn’t hurt if he put them in the lower half of the order until they get going again, and for Santana, he could stop the experiment at the hot corner and use him at 1B when he’s not catching, with Chisenhall going back to third.
Don’t confuse the winning as meaning Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher aren’t important to the success of the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe has been winning with solid starting pitching, excellent relief by the overworked Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen, and some timely hitting from Michael Bourn.
Getting two switch-hitters with the track record of Santana and Swisher back will only help the Tribe attack.