Time For Tribe Front Office To Recover From “Slump”

Perhaps the executive branches of professional sports teams have hot streaks and cold spells just like players.  If you agree with that premise, then the front office and management of the Cleveland Indians is in a bit of a slump.

It started in the off season, when the team predictably lost two relievers, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith in free agency.  However, president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff didn’t really address the losses in the winter.

Sure, they brought in a collection of guys on minor league contracts, but no one with a proven track record.  Because of Andrew Miller’s injury, this has resulted in having the statistically worst bullpen in baseball.

Miller being out has caused Terry Francona to have no bridge to Cody Allen for much of the season.  Only in the last month have Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez, released by the Yankee organization, stepped up to give the Tribe some relief in the 7th and 8th innings.

Worse, the bullpen situation, or lack of it, have caused Francona to extend his starters, and Corey Kluber is already having some knee issues.  Hopefully, that’s the extent of the effect as the season continues.

Austin Jackson was also a free agent not pursued by the Indians after a season where he hit .318 overall, and torched left-handers to the tune of a .352 batting average and 1.013 OPS.

Look, we agree that Jackson was unlikely to produce the same way in 2018, but the issue was the front office wound up picking up Rajai Davis to take his spot with the team.  Unfortunately, Davis has never been outstanding vs. lefties, a career 759 OPS against southpaws, and this year that figure has dropped to 523.

Spring training also caused some curious decisions, most notably not making Yandy Diaz more versatile.  Diaz played 21 games in LF and nine games in RF last season in Columbus, but in the spring, they focused him at third base, a position he was never going to play in Cleveland with Jose Ramirez there.

Diaz has little to prove at the AAA level after hitting .350 there last season, and this season has a .415 on base percentage in Columbus.  The Tribe could use some outfield help, and they could also use someone at the bottom of the order who doesn’t make outs.

It doesn’t seem like the organization has any plans for Diaz, despite hitting .263 last year and getting a lot of time down the stretch last season.

These aren’t second guesses, either.  Most fans of the team wondering aloud during the winter and throughout spring training just what was the front office doing.  Most felt because of the weak AL Central, the brass had until the end of July to fix things.

Well, that date is drawing near, and the fear is there are too many holes on this roster to fix them all within two weeks.

But the front office has a chance to redeem itself after the slump that has continued since the end of last season.  The time to strike is now.

The bullpen is the glaring need and we do not believe it will be fixed simply with Andrew Miller’s return.  Hopefully, Ramirez and Perez keep pitching well, but holdovers Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, and Tyler Olson aren’t inspiring any confidence.

The offense could be solved by simply bringing up Francisco Mejia (who was recalled yesterday) and perhaps Diaz as well and putting them into the lineup.  On the other hand, neither are proven at the big league level, and the Indians need to correct the current top heaviness in the batting order.

If the front office pulls off a couple of solid moves that work within the next two weeks, no one will remember the past eight months.  However, they can’t just ignore the issues this team has despite a big division lead.

MW

 

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Tribe Cruising In Division Race, Trailing In Expectation At Halfway Mark

The Cleveland Indians hit the halfway point in the season a very puzzling team to be sure.  They finished the first half of the season 44-37, on a pace to win 88 games, far below what was projected coming into the campaign.

Their offense, although somewhat top heavy with Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, and Jose Ramirez, is still productive enough to rank 4th in the American League in runs scored (2nd last year), and the pitching staff has overcome a bad bullpen to still be 6th in the AL in ERA.

We will say this, the Indians under Terry Francona have been a second half team more often than not, and hopefully that trend will continue.

To date, here are the 27 game splits record wise in 2018:

Games 1-27:  15-12
Games 28-54:  14-13
Games 55-81:  15-12

They haven’t put together streaks where they played exceptional, nor have they been dreadful.  The last week or so of play illustrates the point.

Cleveland finished a nine game homestand on a seven game winning streak.  They followed that up by losing four of five on the subsequent road trip.

The great play within the division is both good and alarming.  On one hand, you have to play well within the division to win it, and the Tribe has done that, going 20-12 vs. the other Central Division teams, and that includes a lackluster 3-6 vs. Minnesota.

However, that means the Tribe is a pedestrian 24-25 vs. everyone else.  Keep in mind, the AL Central is the worst in baseball.  So, when the Indians venture out of the division, they are a below .500 baseball team.

Part of the problem is the bullpen, which has been without Andrew Miller most of the year, and recently has been buoyed a bit by the emergence of Neil Ramirez (2.25 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 16 innings) and veteran lefty Oliver Perez (allowed one run and has 11 Ks in 10 frames).

Outside of this duo, and Cody Allen, the relief corps has been dreadful.  The Indians still rank 14th (just ahead of Kansas City) in bullpen ERA, and is 5th in the AL in allowing home runs out of the ‘pen.

Zack McAllister and Dan Otero have each allowed seven dingers this year, while Cody Allen has allowed five, and Nick Goody and Josh Tomlin (in 15 relief innings) has allowed four.

Many times, as we saw the last two days in Oakland, the bullpen eliminate any opportunity for a comeback win by the offense, by giving up the long ball.

As for the bats, we have always said we try to be more patient than most, but the front office’s faith in Jason Kipnis has born fruit.  Kipnis has his average up to .217 after hitting .266 in June.  But, should he stay at 2B?

You see, centerfield for Cleveland has been a vortex of suck all season.

Bradley Zimmer had a 611 OPS, Greg Allen won the job while Zimmer was on the DL, and promptly went 1 for 33 after Zimmer was sent to the minor leagues.

Tyler Naquin inherited the gig from Allen, and hit .162 with four RBI in June.

Perhaps the Indians should go back to their playoff lineup from last season, and put Kipnis back in center, with Jose Ramirez shifting back to 2B, and call up Yandy Diaz to play third?

Just a thought.

And then we have Brandon Guyer.  Guyer is still a solid hitter vs. southpaws, hitting .246 with an 832 OPS.  However, when Guyer came over at the deadline in 2016, he hit .216 vs. right handers (628 OPS).  Not great, but passable.

Last year, though injury plagued to be fair, those numbers dropped to a .204 batting average and a 577 OPS.

This year, he is 1 for 39 against righties.  Keep in mind, rookie PITCHER Shane Bieber is 1 for 3 vs. right-handers.

There has to be another alternative.

The second half of the season starts in Oakland today, and here’s hoping Francona and the front office find solutions to the problems.  Again, the Central Division isn’t really in jeopardy.  It would be a shock if the Tribe didn’t win the division.

But they are playing against their own expectations, so they need to get better.

MW

 

 

 

Tribe Sequel: Bullpen From Hell, Part Deux

Many baseball people believe you really can’t evaluate a baseball team until 40 games have been played, a quarter of the baseball season.

If that is true of the Indians’ front office, they would see a team that has a lot of potholes that need to be filled and the quicker, the better.

Chief among the holes is the bullpen, which according to ERA, is the worst in baseball.  It says something about the volatility of relief pitching that just two years ago, in 2016, the Tribe bully carried the team to the World Series.

To date, of the 185 runs given up by Cleveland pitching this season, 76 have scored in the 7th inning or later.  In Tuesday night’s debacle against the Tigers, five more were added to the total, all scoring in a disastrous seventh inning.

Really, no one is pitching well in relief, other than Cody Allen, and even he melted down in New York less than two weeks ago.

Andrew Miller just returned from the disabled list and still isn’t sharp, giving up the lead in two of this last three appearances.

Miller’s injury caused a major upheaval in the ‘pen, and it appears because of it, Terry Francona started handling his relievers like it was the post-season.

He started extending the starters, with several throwing more pitches than the normally threw in a game.

For example, last season, Carlos Carrasco threw more than 110 pitches in a game just three times.  In 2018, he has already done it four times.  It’s only May.

Mike Clevinger never reached the 110 pitch threshold in 2017, but to date this season, he’s done it three times.

How will this affect the starting pitchers as the season goes on?  It’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

The front office didn’t fill the holes created by the departures of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith in the off-season, and that has caused a tremendous void.

The skipper tried Zach McAllister in Shaw’s seventh inning role to start the season, but the veteran has put up a 7.47 ERA and has allowed five home runs in just 15-2/3 innings.  Somehow, he remains on the roster despite never being trusted to pitch in high leverage situations.

Dan Otero, a reliable reliever over the last two seasons (ERAs of 1.53 and 2.85), has the same ERA as McAllister in the same number of innings.

Another holdover from a year ago, Nick Goody, is on the disabled list, but before he went out, he allowed four dingers in 11-2/3 innings, and had a 6.94 ERA.

Right now, the most recent good outings by relievers not named Allen, were by Oliver Drake, who just came over from Milwaukee in a trade, and Neil Ramirez, a veteran signed in the off-season on a minor league free agent, and just brought up from Columbus.

It is such a dire situation, that we would call on either of them if the Indians have a lead this weekend in Houston.  Guys like Otero, McAllister, and southpaw Tyler Olson would have regain trust by having a series of good outings.

The good news is bullpen arms should be plentiful at the trade deadline.  Unfortunately, the Tribe will have to give up assets that could have been used elsewhere to acquire them.

Right now, it’s a wet blanket on the entire squad.

MW

 

Bullpen Dragging Down The Tribe

It has been said that nothing can make a good baseball team look bad than a bad bullpen, and the Cleveland Indians are experiencing that right now.

Since April 24th, a span of a dozen games, Tribe pitchers have allowed 10 runs or more in 1/3rd of those contests.  Conversely, they have held opposing teams to four runs or less just three times, and in two of those three, the other team scored four.

Yes, Carlos Carrasco has had two hiccups his last two times out and Josh Tomlin is giving up home runs at an incredible rate, but Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger have been solid, but the relief pitching has been dragging down the team.

Since Andrew Miller went down with his leg injury, the Indians have already made four moves in the ‘pen, and one of those, lefty Jeff Beliveau, was called up, got a save against Texas, and has already been designated for assignment.

Look at these performances, but you might want to shield your eyes–

April 28th vs. Seattle:  Yes, Carrasco didn’t have a good day, allowing five runs in three innings, but it was 5-1 in the 4th before Zack McAllister allowed a five spot in the 4th.  Game over.

April 30th vs. Texas:  Trevor Bauer allowed a game tying homer in the 7th (he threw 122 pitches).  That tied the game at 2-2!  Tyler Olson and Cody Allen allowed three over the next two innings, but luckily the Cleveland bats were working in a 7-5 victory.

May 1st vs. Texas:  Clevinger entered the 7th trailing 2-0 in what turned out to be an 8-6 loss in 11 innings.  Beliveau gave up a two run shot in the 7th, and then Nick Goody allowed two more bombs in the 11th.

May 3rd vs. Toronto (game 1):  Carrasco didn’t pitch well, allowing six runs in 5-1/3 innings, but the relief corps gave up seven more in the 11 inning loss.  Olson allowed the game winning grand slam after having two outs and nobody on to start the inning.

Certainly, losing Bryan Shaw was a huge loss, as he was frequently the bridge between the starters and the duo of Miller and Allen at the end of games.

Goody is now on the disabled list with an elbow issue, and he has struggled since spring training, perhaps because of the injury.

McAllister has proven once again he can’t be trusted in high leverage situations.  And it’s not just long balls anymore, he has allowed 18 hits (four of them HRs) in 12 innings.

Using Olson in a more expanded role isn’t working either.  Left handed hitters are 2 for 23 against him, but righties are hitting .381 (8 for 21).  Hence, the valuableness of Miller.

And today, the Tribe added Oliver Drake in a cash transaction with the Brewers.  Drake is a swing and miss guy (115 strikeouts in 102-1/3 innings), and his numbers are skewed this year by a game against the Reds in which he allowed six runs in an inning.

Early in the year, when it was cold and the starters were going seven innings, it was easy for Terry Francona, just use Miller and Allen and the game is over.

Now it is time for others to step up, and it is up to the front office to find people who can get outs consistently.  Because not only is the bullpen hurting the team, it is also putting too great of a burden on the starters, which could be a problem as the season goes on.

Yes, the AL Central Division is weak, but this situation needs to be fixed, and the sooner, the better.

MW

Second Golden Age For Tribe Fans Is Now

With today being Opening Day, many fans of the Cleveland Indians remember wistfully the Tribe teams of the 1990’s, when Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field just opened, and the Indians were built around a powerful offense.

We all know the names:  Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Hall of Famer Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel.  They ruled the American League Central Division and went to two World Series, although they lost in both 1995 and 1997.

Now, Tribe fans are experiencing a second golden age for the franchise, with five consecutive winning seasons under the tutelage of Terry Francona.  They’ve won two division titles, a wild card spot, and won the American League pennant in 2016.

Yet somehow, it feels like this group of Indians doesn’t get the respect around the city that the guys who played in the 90’s get.

We heard a radio talk show expressing surprise that Francisco Lindor was one of the favorites in Las Vegas to win the American League MVP.

It wouldn’t be a shock around the nation.  Lindor is one of baseball’s best players, with two top ten finishes in the MVP voting before he turned 24 years old.  He’s a gold glove winner and a silver slugger winner in less than three full seasons in the big leagues.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating.  If the young shortstop plays ten seasons in a Cleveland uniform, he will be regarded as the greatest position player in Indians’ history.

Tribe fans also get to watch another of the young, exciting players in the sport in Jose Ramirez, who by the way, finished third in the AL MVP race last season.

The switch-hitter has been overlooked because he wasn’t the highly regarded prospect like Lindor, but over the last two seasons, he has batted .315 with 40 home runs, 159 runs batted in, and has 141 extra base hits.

All that while being moved around between second base and third base.

Those two give the franchise a solid base for excellence over the next several seasons.

Unlike those 90’s teams, this group has one of the major league’s best pitching staffs, led by Corey Kluber, who is the only Cleveland pitcher in history to win multiple Cy Young Awards.

A third such award puts Kluber among the all time great hurlers in the game’s history, and without question he is one of the four best starting pitchers right now in the sport.

We also get to witness a great bullpen, led by Cody Allen, and perhaps baseball’s best relief pitcher in Andrew Miller.  Miller and Kluber had the Tribe on the precipice of a world title in ’16.

Since being acquired from New York at the trade deadline that season, he has pitched 91-2/3 innings, striking out 141 and allowing just 45 hits.

We haven’t even mentioned Michael Brantley, who was in the top three of the MVP voting in 2014, Jason Kipnis, a two time all star, and Carlos Carrasco, who was 4th in the Cy Young voting last season.

Oh, and don’t forget Francona, who is probably headed to Cooperstown as a manager with two world titles in Boston, and a third appearance with the Tribe.

As someone who watched this team with great interest from 1965-1994, a horrible stretch of mostly losing baseball, it was great to see a fairly quick turnaround after the original Jacobs Field group disbanded.

The Indians are back as one of baseball’s best teams.  Now, about that World Series title drought…

MW

 

 

 

The Tribe Will Continue To Dominate Central in 2018

If you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, it seems funny to hear this, but since the three division format was adopted by Major League Baseball in 1994, the Cleveland Indians, yes, the team that plays right here in downtown, has dominated the division.

The Tribe won its 9th division title a year ago, and we believe they will add a 10th in 2018.

Here is a list of AL Central Division crowns since ’94:

Cleveland      9
Minnesota    6
Chicago         4
Detroit          4
Kansas City  1

However, the only Central Division teams that have won the World Series are the White Sox in 2005 and the Royals in 2015.

Here is another tidbit about the Indians’ success since Progressive Field (nee Jacobs Field) opened in ’94.  Only the behemoth AL franchises, the Yankees and Red Sox, have made more post-season appearances than Cleveland’s 10 (they were the wild card in 2013).

And the Tribe’s 10 appearances isn’t too far behind the Red Sox’ 12.

Terry Francona’s squad won 102 games a year ago, and you can make a very good argument that they underachieved.   Their Pythagorean won-loss record had them at 108 wins.

Surely, winning 100 games is a tremendous feat and we would not predict that happening again, but the Indians did win the division by 17 games, and have pretty much the same cast of characters returning.

You would think some kind of regression could be coming for the team’s stars, but then you remember the two best position players on the roster are Francisco Lindor, who won’t be 25 until after the ’18 season concludes, and Jose Ramirez, who will play most of the campaign at 25 years old.

If the peak of a baseball player’s career is between ages 27-29, it is scary to think those two should still be getting better.

Add in perhaps the sports best starting rotation, led by two time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, and none of the top four starters are older than 32 years old, and you can see why optimism reigns for baseball fans in northeast Ohio.

Kluber won the award, but the Tribe’s #2 starter, Carlos Carrasco, finished fourth in the voting.  Pretty good, eh?

Francona also has two of the best relievers in the sport at his disposal in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.  Miller’s numbers are incredible, he allowed just 31 hits in 62-2/3 innings last year while striking out 95 batters, as Tito used him in the highest leverage situations.

Allen fanned 92 in 67 innings as the closer.  So, when Cleveland has a lead late in a game, they usually keep it.

We also believe Jason Kipnis will bounce back from a injury plagued 2017 season where he played only 90 games.  He will look more like the player who belted 23 homers and had an 811 OPS in ’17.

Yes, the team did lose Carlos Santana and replaced him with Yonder Alonso, who has had just one season of power hitting under his belt in the bigs, and that worries us.

But the Tribe could be in a position to add two bats without making a trade this season in Yandy Diaz, who hit .350 in AAA last year and had a .352 on base percentage with the Tribe in 156 at bats, and Francisco Mejia, who will be getting some time in the OF at Columbus this summer.

Mejia could very well wind up being part of the Tribe’s “Big Three” with Lindor and Ramirez.

Many have said the “window” for the Tribe is closing because Miller and Allen are free agents following this season.  We don’t believe that because of the presence of Lindor, Ramirez, Kluber, etc.

The Indians teams from 1994-2001 are well remembered here, but this current run for the Tribe, the Tito Era is you will, has now spanned for five seasons, and could rival the former group in longevity.

So, sit back and enjoy.  This group could bring “The Land” its first World Series title in 70 years.

MW

 

 

Tribe’s Window: How Wide Is It?

The Cleveland Indians have done very well recently.  In the last two seasons, they made it to the World Series before losing in game seven, and won the second most games in franchise history.

In the latter season, they had a 22 game winning streak.

Since Terry Francona came aboard as manager, the Tribe has reeled off five consecutive winning seasons, and qualified for the post-season three times.

Yet, all people talk about is the team’s “window”.  How long will this run of good play last?  That’s what we do in northeast Ohio, if we have good fortune, we wonder when it will disappear.

Some people feel the window is closing after this season, since the dynamic bullpen duo of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller will likely not be back with the Tribe in 2019 due to free agency.

Others point to the 2020 season as the last season of contention because Carlos Carrasco can leave via free agency, and the following year, the Indians could lose Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar.

We think the window is open through the 2021 campaign, meaning there are four more seasons of contention.  Why 2021?  That is when Francisco Lindor would be eligible to cash in via free agency.

We still hope the front office will pony up and keep Lindor in Cleveland, because, as we have said many times before, if the shortstop could play ten years in a Tribe uniform, he would be considered the greatest position player in franchise history.

The Indians have been very good as piecing together a good bullpen, so although Allen and Miller are among the game’s premier relievers, we have faith in the front office to fortify the bullpen before the beginning of next season.

Losing Carrasco would hurt, but in ’21, Cleveland will still have Kluber, Bauer, and Salazar, as well as Mike Clevinger, which would be a solid rotation for any team, assuming they all stay healthy.

Losing Lindor would be a crippling blow considering all he means to the franchise.  Although he’s played just two plus seasons, he is the team’s leader, and the along with Francona and Kluber, the faces of the franchise.

It was curious to see how much the roster has changed since the wild card team of 2013.  The only regulars still in prominent roles with the Tribe are Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Yan Gomes.

Corey Kluber, who was 11-5 in less than 150 innings, and Cody Allen were the only pitchers currently on the team who had an important role, although Salazar was called up late and started the post-season contest.

The point is the window can be extended if the farm system can continue to produce everyday players.

Since ’13, Lindor and Jose Ramirez have arrived and both are among the best players in the sport, and Yandy Diaz could make an impact as soon as this year.

Bradley Zimmer could join Lindor and Ramirez as big time players, and Francisco Mejia has the potential to be an elite hitter in the major leagues.

Mejia just joined the organization in 2013, hitting .305 in the Arizona Rookie League.  Zimmer wasn’t even drafted until the following year.

The point is this team is very talented, and continues to produce solid players who will be under club control for several more years.

Enjoy this season, but it is not the end of the road for the organization.  There still a few years left of contention to reach the playoffs.

MW

 

 

Tribe Bullpen Will Need Revamping

One of the strengths of the Cleveland Indians the past several years has been their bullpen, but right now it could have a revamped look in 2018.

Sure, the back end of the relief corps is still anchored by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, which means the 8th and 9th innings are taken care of.

The problem right now is the bridge between the starting pitchers and that dynamic duo for the last two innings.

Terry Francona has lost one of his main guys in rubberarmed Bryan Shaw, and another reliever who came aboard at the trade deadline a year ago, Joe Smith, will also not be back.

On a lesser note, Shawn Armstrong, who was kind of the swing guy between the big leagues and AAA a year ago, was traded to Seattle.

Francona said at the end of last season that it may take two pitchers to take the place of Shaw, who appeared in an American League leading 79 games in ’17, and has led the AL in games pitched in three of the last four seasons.

It is hard to see the replacements for Shaw and Smith on the current roster.

Nick Goody, picked up in a minor deal with the Yankees about a year ago, is probably the next hurler on Tito’s pecking order.  Goody was 1-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 54-2/3 innings in 2017.  He did strikeout 72 hitters last year, so he has swing and miss stuff.

Dan Otero is a guy Francona leans on early in games, so perhaps he could used in the 6th and 7th innings.  The righty was 3-0 with a 2.85 ERA in ’17, but he is more of a sinkerballer with only 38 whiffs in 60 innings.

Zack McAllister is another option, but Francona seems to be hesitant to use him in high leverage situations because he’s basically a one pitch pitcher.

Perhaps Danny Salazar, with his electric stuff and durability issues, can be moved to the bullpen, but no one knows how his arm will react to this change in roles, and can he be effective over the long haul.

There doesn’t seem to be any in the minor leagues ready to step in and contribute either, but then again, no one saw Goody as a legitimate option heading into spring training.

We are sure the front office is looking at either a deal or free agent options for the ‘pen too.

Since the current management team has been in place, the Tribe has found guys like Scott Atchison, Otero, and Goody in free agency or in minor deals, and they have provided great help in relief.

We mentioned former Indians’ farmhand Hector Rondon previously as an option. He had closer experience with the Cubs.

However, until the replacements have success when the games count for real in April, you have to wonder about them.

And you have to wonder if and when they gain Tito’s trust.  The skipper has a clear pecking order in his bullpen with certain guys pitching when the Tribe has a late lead, and the rest being relegated to pitching when the Indians are behind.

Based on the performance of the front office over the past five seasons, we have trust they will find arms to replace Shaw and Smith.

But there will certainly be a different dynamic in the Cleveland bullpen next season.  New relief toys for Terry Francona.

MW

 

 

Tribe Gets Through August Challenge With Flying Colors.

The Cleveland Indians entered the month of August facing a stern test.

The schedule was full of post-season contenders, with home and home series with the Red Sox and Yankees, an 11 game trip to Tampa, Minneapolis, and Kansas City, and a couple of game vs. Colorado.

They started the month 10 games over .500, and they ended it 20 over the break even mark thanks to a 19-9 month.

What is more remarkable is Terry Francona’s squad had several important players missing time with injuries.

Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Andrew Miller all missed most of this important stretch of games with injuries.  And yet, the Tribe rolled on.

They did it first and foremost with incredible pitching, mostly from the starting rotation.

After allowing 12 runs to the Red Sox on August 1st, in what should be the Major League Baseball game of the year, gave up more than four runs in a game just five times the rest of the month.

Three of those games came consecutively in home series vs. Boston, and Cleveland won the last of those games, a 13-6 win over Sox ace Chris Sale, a day after the Tribe went through a two game stretch where the offense couldn’t buy a hit.

The staff had a streak of 30 straight scoreless innings, which ironically ended with ace Corey Kluber on the mound.

Despite all the injuries, the offense pitched in too, scoring five or more runs in half of the 28 games.

The hitting was revitalized with the addition of Jay Bruce, acquired from the Mets.  Upon arrival, Bruce hit in his first 11 starts, contributing four home runs and 13 runs batted in.

The injuries to Brantley and Chisenhall necessitated the deal, and give the front office and ownership a gold star for seeing the club needed a boost.

Depth in the farm system paid dividends with Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez, and Yandy Diaz contributing to the Indians’ success.

Among the position players, these are the standouts–

Carlos Santana:  997 OPS, 7 HR, 15 RBI
Edwin Encarnacion:  Batted just .220 for the month, but belted 10 homers
Francisco Lindor:  9 HR, 17 RBI
Diaz:  8 for 20, 5 RBI

Pitching wise, there are more exceptional statistics–

Kluber:  5-1, 1.96 ERA, .146 batting average against
Trevor Bauer:  5-0, 2.31 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 39 innings
Ryan Merritt:  2-0, 1.15 ERA
Joe Smith:  9 appearances, 8 of them scoreless
Tyler Olson:  8-2/3 scoreless innings

What does this period of great play mean for Francona’s club?

When Brantley, Chisenhall, and Kipnis come back, it could be a lethal batting order, one that has Chisenhall and maybe Santana hitting as low as seven and eight in the lineup.

It also buys more time for Miller to rest his knee.  It wouldn’t bother me if the lefty wasn’t held out until September 15th, giving him two weeks to get ready for what seems like an inevitable post-season berth.

Same with Brantley.  He hasn’t started baseball activities yet, but as long as he can get two weeks of play under his belt, he should be ready for the playoffs.

Will this mean another World Series berth for the Indians?  We can’t say that, baseball is not that kind of sport.  However, as usual, a Terry Francona led team is playing better ball in the second half of the season.

They passed their toughest test of the season with ease, and the magic number (right now 24) countdown can start right now.

MW

 

 

 

Tribe Starters Picking Up Slack For Tired Pen

The vaunted starting pitching the Cleveland Indians were purported to have coming into the season has finally made an appearance over the last couple of weeks.

When Andrew Miller went down with patella tendonitis at the beginning of the month, the rotation was in kind of a slump.  Mike Clevinger had been knocked around in three straight appearances, and Carlos Carrasco coughed up a five run lead his teammates staked him against Boston’s Chris Sale.

In reality, the rotation had battled injuries for most of the year.

Ace Corey Kluber missed most of May with a lower back issue, and Danny Salazar missed about six weeks with shoulder issues, after having not pitched well for five or six starts before he went on the disabled list.

Trevor Bauer was as inconsistent as ever, and that put a toll on the bullpen, which manifested itself with Miller’s injury and even Bryan Shaw started showing signs of the heavy workload he has carried for four seasons.

Suddenly, when Miller wasn’t available, the starters picked up the slack.

It started with Kluber throwing a complete game in a 5-1 win over the Yankees, and that was followed by Bauer going eight vs. The Bronx Bombers in a 7-2 triumph.

Outside of an 8-1 loss to the Yanks in a game skewed by Abraham Almonte losing what should have been an inning ended flyball in the sun, Tribe pitchers haven’t allowed more than four runs in any of their last 11 games.

Obviously, Kluber is the constant, again showing why he is among the four or five best starting pitchers in the sport, throwing a second complete game against the Rockies, and winning against the Rays last Sunday.

Salazar looks like the guy who made the All Star team a year ago, allowing just four earned runs in 25-1/3 innings in his four starts since coming off the DL.

Carrasco is capable of being dominating and held the rotation together while Kluber was out.

But, he was just okay over the last few weeks, but had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning of his last start against Tampa, and along with Bauer has been the only constants in the rotation, making every start.

Bauer has been the wild card.  Since becoming basically a fastball/curveball pitcher (which occurred in his May 30th start vs. Oakland), he has been much more consistent.

In his last 14 starts, the right-hander has pitched to a 3.74 ERA and in 77 innings, has struck out 85 batters, while walking 29.

That makes for a very nice middle of the rotation starting pitcher.

Clevinger was skipped for a turn because of off-days and he responded with seven shutout frames against the Rays on Saturday.

The strong starting pitching was needed because of Miller’s absence.  Terry Francona didn’t have the Miller “crutch” to help him in the 6th or 7th innings of tight games.

It also gave Tyler Olson an opportunity, and he looks like he can be a worthy fill in for Boone Logan as the southpaw Tito can go to earlier in games to get a key left-handed hitter out.

We don’t expect everyone to keep this up through the end of the season, but if the Tribe continues to get length from its rotation, the burden on the relief corps will be eased and they should be rested if and when the Indians start post-season play.

And we all remember what a key that was a year ago.

MW