The Cleveland Indians hit the 1/6th mark of the season with a 14-13 record. They didn’t have the great April they needed to get casual fans revved up about them, but they didn’t bury themselves either.
And that can be done during the season’s first month, just ask the Minnesota Twins.
The biggest problem for the Tribe is the Chicago White Sox, who have ridden excellent pitching to take a five game lead in the AL Central.
Of course, they is a long way to go to make up that deficit.
Anyway, here is what we see as positives over the first 27 games, and also, things were are concerned about.
Nobody doubts the talent of Francisco Lindor, but right now, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a sophomore slump.
The 22-year-old is hitting .324 (814 OPS) thus far and is making a defensive gem on a nightly basis.
If you had Josh Tomlin as the staff leader in wins before the season started, you were in the minority. But the right hander sits at 5-0 with a 3.72 ERA and is showing remarkable control as usual with a 19 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio.
It seems like over the last few seasons, one starting pitcher makes a step toward elite status, and this year it is Danny Salazar following in the footsteps of Corey Kluber (2014) and Carlos Carrasco (2015).
Salazar has allowed just 18 hits in 37-2/3 innings, while striking out 43 batters. Yes, his walks are high (16), but for the most part, he has been dominating each time he takes the mound.
The Indians have been searching for a right handed power bat for years and years, and they may now have one in Mike Napoli. Yes, he strikes out a lot, on pace for close to 200 whiffs on a 500 at bat season, but he also has six homers and 20 RBI.
His history says the strikeouts will taper a bit, and he does see a lot of pitches, but he has a chance to belt more than 25 bombs this season.
The bullpen still scares us and we know that Bryan Shaw has pitched better lately. Terry Francona likes to use Zack McAllister in the 7th, Shaw in the 8th, and Cody Allen in the 9th if the starting pitcher can only give him six innings.
You can probably count the game where each has provided a clean inning in the same game on one hand.
McAllister started great, but has struggled his last few outings. Shaw was a mess early on, and Allen still seems to go through periods where he can’t throw strikes.
Maybe Tommy Hunter can provide a lift here.
Yan Gomes is also having a hard time at the plate, hitting just .176 (541 OPS). Gomes has walked just four times, compared to 22 punch outs.
He never has walked a lot, and you have to wonder if many the word is out that you don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out.
He also needs to start taking the outside pitch to right centerfield.
Jason Kipnis’ diminishing contact is also troubling. He has almost struck out as much as Napoli. His career high was 143 in ’13, but right now, he is on pace to fan over 160 times.
Our last concern is the usual veteran problem. How long of a rope does Francona give some of these guys.
Juan Uribe has an OPS of 652. Rajai Davis’ is 690, and Lonnie Chisenhall’s is 626. Under 700 isn’t very good. The team already sent out Tyler Naquin who had a 753 OPS (.315 batting average) to the minors.
When you are a contending team, which the Indians are, you can’t wait too long to replace players who aren’t producing.
Francona needs to use Jose Ramirez more, because he has been productive (783 OPS), and he needs to leave Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot. We know it is a small sample size, but Cleveland is 8-1 when Santana leads off.
He walks a lot, and has already led off two games with home runs.
Overall, the offense has made a big improvement, ranking 4th in the AL in runs scored per game, and the pitching is starting to pick it up, ranking 7th in ERA.
Again, our biggest concern is the bullpen. With some improvement over the first 27 games in that department, the Indians could have been 17-10 instead of 14-13.