The Cleveland Indians enter today’s play, the last game before the All-Star break, with a 6-1/2 game lead in the AL Central Division.
That lead is tied for the largest in Major League Baseball, as the Cubs have the same lead over the Pirates and so do the Giants over the Dodgers.
The Tribe will not be back at Progressive Field until July 26th, as they resume the schedule with another 10 game trip to Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Baltimore. It will be their third trip of that length in a two month span.
When they return home, they will play almost two-thirds of their remaining games at home, a huge advantage for Terry Francona’s club.
And of course, at the end of July comes the trade deadline, where teams can bolster themselves, addressing weaknesses before the home stretch of the schedule.
The Indians rank third in the AL in runs per game and lead the league in ERA, so there aren’t gaping holes on the roster.
However, the biggest right now is the bullpen and the catching situation.
Most teams could use more depth in the ‘pen, and Cleveland is no exception.
Right now, Francona appears to have confidence in only Bryan Shaw (8th inning) and Cody Allen (9th inning).
Jeff Manship appears to be easing his way back into Tito’s good graces as well.
Shaw, though, is susceptible to the gopher ball (7 in 34 innings), and Allen walks too many hitters (18 in 39 innings). So, GM Mike Chernoff needs to get help there, although perhaps the answer is currently on the roster or in the organization if the skipper and Mickey Callaway would just give them some opportunities.
Dan Otero (1.31 ERA in 31 games) has been much better than expected, and maybe fireballing Austin Adams could do the job too if given a shot.
The other problem the management needs to address is the Yan Gomes issue.
Gomes is simply the worst offensive player in the sport right now, hitting .168 with a .200 on base percentage. That’s right, his OBP is at the Mendoza line.
Yes, the pitchers say they like throwing to Gomes, especially Corey Kluber, but did you know that the staff’s ERA with Chris Gimenez behind the dish is 3.47, compared to 3.70 with Gomes and 3.71 with Roberto Perez (only 4 games).
We know that Gomes is a leader on the team, one of the “core” players Francona turned the clubhouse over to a year ago, but he’s been terrible.
Yesterday, he came up with Abraham Almonte on 2nd with nobody out and while he did hit a line drive, he didn’t move the runner. When you are hitting .160, you better be able to get a bunt down.
No one definitively has said Gomes has an option left, but if he does, the smart move is to send him back to AAA when Perez is ready.
No matter how good Gomes is defensively and handling pitchers, his lack of hitting should be costing him at bats.
And if Michael Brantley can return, Francona needs to give some players some time off in the second half. The Tribe roster has been pushed hard and is running on fumes a bit with the break coming.
They also have to protect Rajai Davis, who has been a huge contributor, but is 35 years old and makes his living with his legs.
This is a much better situation than the last two years, when there were gaping holes on the squad. This team just needs some tweaks.
With the lead they have, the pitching they have, and the schedule they have, this team should be playing in October. But the organization can’t be complacent.