Tribe Improving As Season Goes On

The Cleveland Indians have entered the home stretch of the Major League Baseball schedule, and are getting better as the season continues.

If you read the blog on a regular basis, we like to break down the schedule in 27 games increments, representing 1/6th of the season.

To date, the Tribe’s records in these sections are as follows:

First 27 games:  15-12
Games 28-54:     13-14
Games 55-81:     16-11
Games 82-108:   15-12
Games 109-135: 20-7

As is the norm, Terry Francona’s teams seem to get better as the season rolls on.  Remember in 2013, Tito’s first season in Cleveland when the team went 21-6 in September to earn a berth in the wild card game?

In 2014, the Indians were below .500 after 81 games, but went 46-35 in the second half and were in the playoff race until the final weekend of the season.

A year later, Cleveland was again below .500 in the first half (38-43), but again went 43-37 in the second half after restructuring the roster by trading Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, and bringing up top prospect Francisco Lindor.

Last year, was an anomaly, as the Tribe went 49-32 in the first 81 games, and “slipped” to 45-35 in the last 81, but the season culminated in a classic World Series, losing in extra innings in Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs.

This season, the Indians have done well in each 27 game split, the worst record in that span being a game under the break even mark.

However, in the last third of the 2017 campaign, Francona’s crew has gone into hyper drive, going 20-7, and currently riding a 12 game winning streak.

Last season’s club record 14 game span without a loss is in jeopardy.  The previous record of 13 consecutive wins was set in 1951, lasting 55 seasons.  The new record might be erased in one year.

The last team to have winning streaks of 12 or more games in back-to-back seasons were the 1970-71 Baltimore Orioles, teams which both reached the World Series, part of three straight berths in the Fall Classic (1969-71).

Offensively, the Tribe has been led by their pair of under 25 year old stars, INF Jose Ramirez and Lindor.

If you want reasons to feel good about the future of this organization, you can point to the two best position players being 24 (Ramirez) and 23 (Lindor).

The former leads the American League in extra base hits, while the latter just set a club record for home runs by a shortstop with 26 dingers.

And with injuries to stalwarts Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall, Francona received contributions from young players like Yandy Diaz and Gio Urshela.

Veteran Austin Jackson, who we didn’t want to make the club out of spring training, has also been huge, hitting .318 with an 875 OPS.

As much as the offense has produced, the hot streak has been keyed by the starting pitching.  Corey Kluber is having a season that could earn him his second Cy Young Award, despite missing several weeks with a sore back.

Danny Salazar has been in and out of the rotation, but Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger have picked up the slack.  Bauer is tied for the league lead in wins, and Clevinger is 8-5 with a 3.50 ERA.

And we haven’t mentioned the steady Carlos Carrasco, who is 13-6 with a 3.67 ERA and should reach the 200 strikeout mark on the year.

The Tribe is finishing the season strong.  And when they get Andrew Miller back, assuming he will be healthy, they may get even stronger.

MW

 

 

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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

 

 

Tribe At Halfway Point…First Place To Stay?

The Major League Baseball All-Star is considered the midway point of the season, and that will occur a week from today in Miami, with five members of the Cleveland Indians participating.

However, the real halfway point of the campaign happened on Sunday, when the Tribe won the series against the Detroit Tigers with an 11-8 win, thus ended the first half at 44-37, a pace that would get them 88 wins in 2017.

The Indians seem to be getting it together though, as the last 27 games have produced a 16-11 mark, compared to the first 1/6th of the year in which the Indians were 15-12 and the second sixth of the season produced a 13-14 record.

The Tribe figured to half solid pitching this season, and that has come to fruition with Cleveland ranking second in the American League in ERA, trailing only Boston.

The starting pitching stabilized with the return of AL pitcher of the month Corey Kluber, who made his 2nd All-Star Game, and Carlos Carrasco could’ve been selected as well, with his 9-3 record and 3.50 ERA.

Trevor Bauer has started to be solid each time out and youngster Mike Clevinger has delivered more often than not.

The fifth spot is a concern right now, with Josh Tomlin struggling at 4-9 and the worst ERA in baseball, and Danny Salazar currently in the minor leagues rehabbing a shoulder problem.

It would not be surprised to see president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff look for another solid starter prior to the trade deadline at the end of this month.

The inability of the starters to provide innings has caused the bullpen to spring a couple of weeks over the last 27 games.  Andrew Miller was being overused and Francona recognized that and started using him just an inning at a time.

Cody Allen is also going through a period where he hasn’t been unhittable and leads the relief corps in allowing home runs.

Overall, when Tito goes to his ‘pen, the results have been outstanding.  As long as the usage is kept under control, that should be the team’s strength.

The offense had a bit of a surge because of the hot hitting for a trio of Tribe batters: Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

Ramirez continues to show his 2016 season is no fluke, making his first All Star Game.  The switch hitter is at .325 with 15 homers and a 963 OPS. He has been scolding since the first of June.

Encarnacion showed why he is one of the best power hitters in the AL over the last five years, and is now on pace for 34 HR and 90 RBI.

Chisenhall has had hot streaks like this before, but he is tied for the team lead in RBIs (with Carlos Santana) at 46 despite being in a platoon role, and has a 963 OPS.

However, the offense still needs Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor to get going.

Santana only has 10 home runs and a 732 OPS, Kipnis still hasn’t hit his stride after dealing with a shoulder issue in spring training, hitting only .229 with a .284 on base percentage, which makes you wonder why Francona leads him off.

Lindor is showing signs he is human, batting just .229 since May 1st.  He’s become pull happy, which he acknowledges, and we actually saw Detroit putting the shortstop basically behind second base when he was batting left-handed.

If those three get going, the Indians will have as formidable attack as any team in baseball.

Terry Francona feels his club reached a turning point on this recent stretch where Cleveland played 20 games in 20 days.  If this is true, the Indians are heading for a second straight division title.

MW

 

Tribe Bats Going Now, Starting Pitching???

After losing the second game of the midweek series against the Los Angeles Dodgers a few days ago, the Cleveland Indians looked nothing like a good baseball team.

They were struggling to score runs and mental mistakes were occurring on a regular basis.  That night, rookie Erik Gonzalez cost the Tribe three runs because he didn’t have his foot on the base in the middle of a sure double play.

It was just another in a recent patch of poor play, and we aren’t talking about physical errors.

Since then, the bats seem to have come alive, mostly because of three hitters who are scolding hot right now, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

However, there is still one area of the team that has to break through and soon, and that is the starting pitching.

Terry Francona needs to get some length out of the starters.  The result of this not improving?  Either the bullpen, which has performed well for the most part, will be fried by the time August hits, or the Indians will not be able to outscore their opponents consistently.

Overall, Cleveland ranks fourth in the American League in team ERA, but most of that work has been done by the bullpen, one of the best, if not the team in the sport.

Outside of Corey Kluber, who is giving Francona over six innings per start, most Tribe pitchers are having problems getting through six frames when they take the hill.

Carlos Carrasco averages over six innings as well, but recently has been having some issues with a pulled muscle in his chest, and when he loses his stuff recently, he loses it very quickly.

Danny Salazar was supposed to be the #3 starter, but he isn’t on the roster currently, due to soreness in his shoulder, and a total lack of confidence.

Trevor Bauer prides himself on his endurance, but he is averaging just over five innings per start, as his pitch count gets to the 100 mark about then.  He must be more economical with his pitches.

Josh Tomlin has allowed 21 more hits than innings tossed thus far in the season, and more often than not, he has struggled to get hitters out.  You wonder how much patience Francona will have this summer.

In yesterday’s doubleheader sweep over Minnesota, the Indians got just four innings from their starter in each game, although Mike Clevinger’s short start was due to the rain.

The Tribe has played 66 games to date, and workhouse Bryan Shaw (no surprise) has been in half of them.  The concerning thing is Andrew Miller has made 30 appearances, throwing 34-2/3 innings, which is far too many.

Here are the innings pitched by starting pitchers over the last 10 games–4, 4, 6-1/3, 5, 7, 5-2/3, 5-1/3, 2-2/3, 6, 3-1/3.  That’s an average of under five innings per start.

Kluber and Carrasco contributed 24-2/3 frames in their four starts, more than half of the total for the 10 game stretch.

That’s why Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff will probably need to find a starting pitcher for at the trade deadline.  They need another starter who can give the skipper innings.

We saw the bullpen leak some oil in the Dodger series, probably because of the heavy workload they’ve had over the last two weeks.  Even Miller, who is usually unhittable, showed he was human in back-to-back appearances vs. Los Angeles.

The biggest thing about the rotation is that was supposed to be the Indians’ strength coming into the season.  To date, they haven’t performed like expected, which is probably why the Indians don’t have the same record as the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox in the AL.

Improvement is needed from within or via a trade, because the burden on the relievers has to be lessened.

MW

 

Tribe’s Starters Need To Step Up

Last season, the Cleveland Indians went to the seventh game of the World Series despite missing two of its starting pitchers (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) for the entirety of the post-season.

It was a handicap because the starting rotation was considered the strength of Terry Francona’s ballclub.

So far in 2017, that simply hasn’t been the case.

Last night’s start by Danny Salazar just highlighted the issue once again.

The right-hander had early inning issues once again, giving up a three run homer to Jose Bautista after the hitters handed him a 2-0 first inning lead.

Then, after the Indians went up 7-3 with a five run third, Salazar couldn’t finish the bottom of the inning, giving up two more tallies before departing.

With Corey Kluber on the disabled list with a bad back and Trevor Bauer’s struggles being well chronicled, Salazar needs to pitch well to take the burden off the bullpen.

The statistics show the starting pitchers haven’t been that bad on the season thus far.  In the first 33 games in 2017, Cleveland pitchers have compiled 16 quality starts, a percentage that ranks in the middle of the pack in the American League (7th).

However, those numbers are skewed by the dominance of Carlos Carrasco, easily the Tribe’s best starter this year with a 1.86 ERA.

Carrasco has six of those quality starts (out of seven appearances), meaning in the other 26 starts, Indian hurlers have put together just 10 starts of six innings, allowing just three runs.

Kluber has three of those 10, and he’s not pitching right now.

Outside of Carrasco, the other four starters have an ERA of over 5.00.  Josh Tomlin and Bauer both have figures over 7.00.

Some of the issues can be from playing in a lot of hitter havens to start the 2017 season.  Cleveland has played a dozen games in Texas, Arizona, Chicago, and Toronto, all pretty good places to hit.

However, as a pitching staff, the team ERA is better on the road than it is at Progressive Field.

Each of the struggling pitchers seem to have different issues.

Salazar is striking people out (53 K’s in 36-1/3 innings), but has had problems with control, a team leading 18 walks, and putting hitters away.  He winds up throwing a ton of pitches because of the latter.

He’s also had issues in the first and second innings.

Tomlin doesn’t have control issues, but he’s allowed 41 hits in 30-1/3 frames.  Surprisingly, he’s allowed the least home runs among the rotation, and we say that considering his history.

To be fair, since two horrible starts to begin the season, he’s been pretty good in his last four starts (24 IP, 11 ER).

And Bauer was discussed earlier this week.  He has tremendous stuff, but has had extreme consistency issues in 2017.  He needs to start being able to keep his team in a game through five innings to give them a chance to win.

We know that if the rotation straightens itself out and goes two times through it, the Indians could have a 10 game winning streak.  That’s how good they can be at their best.

That the ballclub is 18-15 without them being special is a tribute to how good the Tribe and their bullpen is this season.

MW

 

 

 

Tribe Injuries Cause Fans Angst

With the Cleveland Indians winning the American League championship in 2016, expectations in northeast Ohio are as high as can be.

With these expectations come the worry that sports fans in this area are famous for.  That angst popped up for Tribe fans at the end of last week when both 2B Jason Kipnis and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco were reported to be injured.

Kipnis is dealing with pain in his shoulder area and will sit for two weeks before trying to play again.  Skipper Terry Francona said this will put Kipnis on the disabled list for the season opener in Texas.

Compounding the concern on Kipnis is Michael Brantley’s injury.  Brantley suffered a torn labrum diving for a flyball in September 2015, and missed virtually all of 2016 with the problem and later developed tricep tendonitis.

So, of course, since Brantley missed most of last year, fans and media alike extrapolate that Kipnis will miss a significant amount of time.

Now, we don’t know the Kipnis’ ailment is minor, but Francona did say Kipnis could DH right now, and could play second too, but the team is taking a precaution.  Obviously, it is better for Kipnis to miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season rather than miss a month later.

What is puzzling is the Tribe’s solution to the problem.  To most, the obvious move is to put Jose Ramirez back to his natural position, and use someone else (Giovanny Urshela, Yandy Diaz, etc.) at the hot corner.

However, it seems Tito wants to keep Ramirez at third, and play a combination of Erik Gonzalez, Michael Martinez and others at second.

We understand Francona loves Martinez and values his glove, but the guy is arguably the worst hitter in the majors (his career OPS is 507), so you can’t put him in the lineup on a regular basis.

We would love to see Diaz get the first shot.  He’s been a .300 hitter in the minors (854 OPS in ’16) and reports out of Goodyear say he seems like he’s one of those guys who could fall out of bad and hit a line drive.

Urshela has a very good glove, but didn’t hit (608 OPS) in his brief shot in 2015.  However, he was called up before spending a full season in AAA, and remember, he wasn’t regarded as a top ten prospect in the organization.

Carrasco’s elbow showed some swelling after a lackluster start on Wednesday, and Francona said he will miss a start.

If he has to miss some time, Mike Clevinger should be the choice to replace him, although in the beginning of the year with off days, his absence could be minimized.

Clevinger started some games a year ago, and made the post-season roster, and the front office has slotted him for the “sixth” starter role anyway.  It just may be those spot starts come in April instead of the middle of summer.

Carrasco’s elbow didn’t show any structural damage, so hopefully it’s just some inflammation and he will be fine with some rest.

While no team wants injuries, and the Indians are no exception, having players miss some time early in the year, when the schedule has some off days, is better than being out later in the year, as the Indians found out when Carrasco and Danny Salazar missed time in the playoffs.

Fans should try to relax a little and hopefully the injuries to Kipnis and Carrasco won’t result in a lot of time being missed.

Remember though, the Indians overcame Brantley’s injury a year ago to win the AL Central Division, and the starting rotation’s hurts didn’t stop them from making the World Series.

MW

 

 

Spring Training Is Here!

People who aren’t baseball fans just don’t get it.  We heard a few times on talk radio this week that hosts didn’t understand why baseball people get so excited over camps opening, when the regular season is still six weeks away.

It’s pretty simple.  First of all, baseball is the one sport that occurs pretty much every day.  To be a hard core supporter of the grand ol’ game is to make a daily commitment, 162 games played over 180 days.

Since it is played each day for the most part, it is missed when it isn’t here.  So Tribe fans, still dealing with a heart breaking loss in game 7 of the World Series, haven’t been able to lick their wounds with action on the field since November 2nd.

Second, it’s an early sign of spring, the promise of warmer weather to come, looking forward to warm, summer nights at Progressive Field.

We don’t believe any other sport can offer the regeneration of warm weather to follow.

And Tribe fans are even looking forward more to the beginning of spring training this year because of last year’s success, but also because of the tremendous off-season Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff had, signing perhaps the most prominent free agent this winter in 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion.

They also added to an already strong bullpen by inking lefty Boone Logan as a free agent.  They did have to say goodbye to two large contributors to last year’s success in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, but overall it appears the Indians are stronger than they were when they ended the season.

Baseball fans will be awaiting the first pictures from Goodyear, Arizona, particularly pics of the newest Indians, seeing Encarnacion in Tribe togs for the first time.

We also want to see how our old favorites look in camp, even through many of them were just in town for Tribe Fest at the end of January.

And we are all very anxious to see reports on those players recovering from injuries, mostly Michael Brantley, who missed virtually the entire regular season with shoulder issues.

Brantley’s recovery would be huge, adding another solid bat to an everyday lineup that finished 2nd in the American League in runs scored in 2016.

We will also be interested in the progress of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, two stalwarts of the starting rotation, who missed most of  the post-season fun with injuries.  Neither should be a problem long term, but until they are on the mound in exhibition games getting hitters out, you can’t be sure.

It is also fun to follow the progress of the top prospects in the organization, to get your first look at catcher Francisco Mejia and outfielder Greg Allen, both of whom should get some “A” game at-bats.

And we will get a newer look at OF Bradley Zimmer, who will likely start the season in Columbus, and should be on track to make his big league debut this summer.

Those are just some of the reasons why baseball fans look forward to hearing “Pitchers and catchers report”.  It’s the beginning of eight months of a commitment to the sport.

It’s a sign that winter will soon be over…baseball is back!

MW

 

Tribe’s Strength Is Failing Them

At the All Star break, the Cleveland Indians were sitting in first place with a 52-36 record and considered a favorite for the American League pennant because of their dominant starting pitching.

Two of the rotation members, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar made the AL roster for the Midsummer Classic, and a case could be made for Josh Tomlin (9-2, 3.51 ERA) as well.

Carlos Carrasco wasn’t considered because he missed a good chunk of the first half with a hamstring injury and Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.30 ERA) was pitching as well as he ever had in the big league tenure.

Collectively, Tribe starters had a 3.70 ERA at that point.  Surely, it would be difficult to beat them in a short series.

My, how things have changed.

The Indians still lead the Central Division by 4-1/2 games over the Tigers and 5 over the surging defending champion Royals, but the starting rotation, considered the strength of the team by nearly everyone, experts and fans alike, is leaking oil.  Badly.

Since the break, the Cleveland rotation has an ERA of 4.92, and this isn’t a ten or fifteen game stretch we are talking about.  This span has now lasted 40 games, or a quarter of the major league schedule.

And if you remove Kluber’s sterling second half (5-0, 1.84 ERA) out of the mix, the remainder of the starting pitchers have a 5.87 ERA in the second half.  If this continues, Terry Francona’s team will have a problem getting into the post-season, let alone making it all the way to the Fall Classic.

Here is how the rest of the rotation has fared since Kluber was the winning pitcher in San Diego to give the AL home field advantage in the World Series:

Bauer         2-3     5.20 ERA      45 innings
Tomlin      2-6     7.29 ERA      45-2/3 innings
Carrasco   4-4     4.25 ERA      55 inningsSalazar      1-2   10.70 ERA      17-2/3 innings

Salazar was disabled for two weeks with some discomfort in his elbow, and in his two starts since has lasted a total of five innings.  Today’s start versus Texas is a huge start for him, the manager, and the pitching coach.

Francona didn’t use Mike Clevinger last night because he knew he needed him today in case the right-hander could only give him two or three innings.

Carrasco has been the next best pitcher after Kluber, but he has had starts where he dominates early, and then starts getting hit hard.

Bauer has been a mystery for most of his big league time, but looked to have figured it out in the first half.  In the last month or so, he has started walking hitters again, and has been prone to the gopher ball.  He did out duel Max Scherzer in Washington though.

When he has been good, he’s been very good.  On the other hand…

Tomlin has been awful, with a 7.29 ERA over 45 frames.  In many of the games he has started, he’s given the Tribe no chance to win.  He has been especially bad against the better teams in the AL, and gives up dingers at an incredible rate.

Early in the year, most were solo shots, which is fine, but lately, they have been three run blasts and grand slams.  Those are killers.

Can these guys get it back?

Carrasco and Bauer’s issue seems to be consistency.  They are good some days, but horrible others.  That seems fixable.

Is Salazar healthy?  If so, he’s a dynamic third starter in the playoffs (assuming the Indians make it), capable of dominating opponents.  If not, that’s a huge chasm to fill.

Tomlin has always been a back of the rotation guy anyway, albeit a solid one.  He’s probably not going to start in the post-season anyway.  But the Tribe needs another capable starter from here on out in the regular season.

Another failure Tuesday night vs. Minnesota could force Francona and Callaway to make a change.

Right now, this should be the biggest concern for any fan of the Indians.  The team’s perceived strength as little as six weeks ago, has turned into a humongous question mark.

KM

Carrasco’s Loss A Tough Blow, Not A Death Blow

It was a bittersweet weekend for the Tribe in Detroit.  They swept the Tigers in Michigan for the first time since 2008, but they lost perhaps their best starter, Carlos Carrasco, to a hamstring injury.

Carrasco will miss approximately 4-6 weeks, and already doomsayers are sending a death knoll for the 2016 Tribe.

If there is one area the Indians have shown they have a little depth in their organization, it’s starting pitching.

Heck, the Tribe didn’t even have to go to Columbus to find a replacement for Carrasco, they simply went to the bullpen to find someone who has starting experience, and won 11 games at the major league level a year ago.

We are talking, of course, about Trevor Bauer, who at the tender age of 25, has made 64 big league starts.

Yes, we know about the right-hander’s consistency issues, he seems just a capable of pitching seven strong innings as being knocked out in the fourth.  However, he pitched just eight innings less than the man he replaces in the rotation.

Bauer’s problem has been throwing strikes on a regular basis, but in a lot of ways, he is much like Carrasco was before he blew out his elbow in 2011.

“Cookie” was 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA when he was injured at 24-years-old.  Bauer’s numbers last season when he was 24?  Try 11-12 with a 4.55 ERA.

This is Bauer’s second chance to be a starter.  If he takes advantage of it, the rotation will be even stronger when Carrasco returns to the mound.

We believe Bauer will continue to improve and will be better than he was last season.  He won’t be on Carrasco’s level, though.

If Bauer struggles, don’t forget two pitchers now toiling at Columbus, who could help out.  Mike Clevinger is the organization’s best pitching prospect, and has mostly been very good at the AAA level.

And you can’t ignore lefty T.J. House, who missed most of last season, but came up big down the stretch in 2014.  He is capable of providing solid outings in his arm is sound.

You also cannot forget that starting pitchers only go every fifth day.  Let’s say Carrasco missed the full six weeks, and the Indians would play every day (they don’t) in that stretch, a total of 42 games.

In that scenario, the righty misses eight starts.  Heck, the Tribe has already missed Michael Brantley, their best position player for 16 games and they survived.

Also, this injury would be more devastating to Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway if this were the post-season.

Our opinion is that you get to the playoffs by scoring runs.  It is difficult to qualify for the post-season if you can’t put runs up on the board.  However, pitching is preeminent once October baseball begins.

So, if the Tribe’s offense continues to get better and improves upon last year, they will be able to overcome the loss of a starting pitcher, even a very good one like Carlos Carrasco for a month and a half.

And if the Indians can make the post-season tournament, Carrasco’s arm will have less miles on it than other starting pitchers, and that could be an advantage.

We aren’t minimizing the loss.  Carrasco is one of the best starting pitchers in the American League.

But this is something that good teams overcome.  We still think the Tribe will be just fine.

MW

 

Will Tribe’s Strengths Override Weaknesses

We remember reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and his essays about the Montreal Expos, a talented team that just couldn’t get over the hump and win the division.

If we recall correctly, James’ theory was that even though the Expos had some great players like Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Tim Wallach, and Warren Cromartie, all near the top at their positions in the major leagues, the team was weighed down by the spots where they didn’t have great players.

The Cleveland Indians remind me of those Expo teams right now.

The Tribe has some of the best players in the game at their respective positions:  Michael Brantley and Francisco Lindor were both ranked by MLB Network’s Shredder as the best left fielder and shortstop, respectively.

And Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes are among the best second basemen and catchers in baseball too.

In fact, the network had five Indians among the game’s Top 100 Players Right Now:  Brantley, Corey Kluber, Kipnis, Lindor, and Carlos Carrasco.

That’s a good place to start for any team.  The hope is the weaknesses at the other positions don’t drag the Indians’ win-loss record down.

Without Brantley, it is well documented that Terry Francona has a lot of question marks to deal with in his outfield.  Since Abraham Almonte was suspended, and he isn’t a great answer to any question either, the starting OF looks like Lonnie Chisenhall in RF, Rajai Davis somewhere, and the other spot is wide open.

And outside of prospect Tyler Naquin, the upside for Joey Butler, Shane Robinson, Robbie Grossman, and/or Collin Cowgill isn’t exactly awe inspiring either.

At the infield corners, the Tribe is going with veterans on the wrong side of 30 years old in Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe.  Both have been productive recently, so it’s not exactly a huge risk, but neither is it etched in stone that these two will be productive.

The bedrock of this team is it’s outstanding starting pitching.  But the question that most national pundits have is did the front office get enough offense to take real advantage of arguably the best rotation in the American League.

Look, because of their arms, the Tribe is going to be in most games barring an injury or two.  Kluber, Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer give you a chance to win every night, and Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin aren’t bad either.

However, we’ve seen what the Indians record over the years is when scoring three or fewer runs per game, even with this pitching staff:

2015  18-61
2014  25-56
2013  17-53
2012  16-63

In the last four years, the trend has been an offense scoring three runs or less in about half the Tribe’s games.

Imagine how good this ballclub would be with a consistent and more potent batting attack?

They would be the team to beat in the American League, and perhaps all of baseball.

The front office is also fortunate they don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for that rotation right now.  Kluber, Carrasco and Tomlin are under affordable contracts, and the rest of the hurlers are under club control.

The story of this season is will the weaknesses in the outfield and the possible age on the corner infield outweigh all of the good things the franchise has going for it.

Or can the talented players on the Cleveland roster make up for the weaknesses.

KM