Tribe Has More Wrong Than Just The Bullpen Right Now

As the Cleveland Indians hover around the .500 mark this season, there are other reasons besides the bullpen for the inconsistent start.

Four of the five starters have been outstanding, with only Josh Tomlin struggling, but Terry Francona has, because of injuries and manipulating off days, limited Tomlin to just six starts, showing that the organization has lost a little faith in The Little Cowboy.

The offense ranks 6th in the American League in runs scored, but that is a tad misleading.  Cleveland has scored three runs or less in 16 of their 44 contests to date, which is 36.4%.  The Tribe is 5-11 in those games, which again is a tribute to the starting pitchers.

What it means is the hitting has been inconsistent, and it has been carried by three remarkable performances.

The trio of Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, and Francisco Lindor might just be the best one-third of a lineup in baseball right now.  And if only one of the three is hitting in a specified game, the Indians have problems scoring.

The switch-hitting Ramirez, still just 25 years old, can now be considered one of baseball’s elite players.  We remember the talk in 2016, saying he was having a career year, which almost no one has at 23.

Ramirez is 5th in the league in OPS (1.007) and also ranks in the top five in home runs and doubles.  He is also third in the AL in WAR, behind Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.

Lindor, another switch-hitter and just 24 years old, is 8th in OPS (953), is tied with Ramirez for 5th in doubles and is in the top ten in HRs.  And he leads the junior circuit in defensive WAR too.

Brantley, 31, is the wily veteran of this threesome, but he appears to be recovered from the physical problems of the past two seasons, hitting .333 (4th in the league) and his OPS of 942 ranks 9th.

And in this age of the swing and miss, Brantley has struck out just 11 times, and has the second lowest whiff rate (behind Andrelton Simmons and just ahead of Ramirez) in the AL.

The problem with the offense is everyone else, save for Yan Gomes, who has to date had a real good year (.264, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 807 OPS).

While many have pointed to Jason Kipnis’ disappointing season (.174 batting average, 522 OPS), we would put Yonder Alonso in that category as well.

The veteran has a 708 OPS, and worse just a .280 on base percentage.  The offense misses the walks provided by Carlos Santana (.363 OBP) greatly.  He has also hit just .163 vs. lefties, which means the team should, and has, started playing Erik Gonzalez at first against southpaws.

Francona is not getting much out of his bench/platoon guys either, save for Gonzalez (978 OPS in 36 at bats).

Brandon Guyer is hitting only .150 total, just .229 vs. lefties, who he has hit .278 lifetime, and is just 1 for 32 vs. right-handers.

Rajai Davis is batting just .213 with a 514 OPS, and it appears his only offensive value is as a pinch-runner.

Roberto Perez is batting just .132 (484 OPS), so when he is in there, and he is still a very good pitch framer and defensive catcher, he’s a liability at the plate.

And Greg Allen, who has been pressed into service with the injuries to Lonnie Chisenhall, and then Tyler Naquin, has a .200 batting average, and hasn’t walked to date, with 12 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances.

Perhaps veteran Melky Cabrera can help when he is brought up, but he’s a defensive liability. He did have a 746 OPS last year with the White Sox and Royals.  And maybe Yandy Diaz can help too.

Otherwise, there isn’t much Francona can do.  These guys do have track records, but it is tough for the offense to generate runs with just three big bats.  A team needs production up and down the order.

If that doesn’t happen, Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff may have to get a bat as well as some bullpen arms before the July 31st trading deadline.

MW

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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

 

Tribe Offense Needs A Boost Too.

With a recent surge last week, the Cleveland Indians moved up greatly in the offensive statistics for the American League.

After scoring more than 10 runs in three consecutive contests last week, they moved from near the bottom of the AL in scoring per game to 7th, where they are right now.

Still, it seems like the offense has sputtered more often than not.  The Tribe has scored three runs or less in 13 of their 34 games, which is slightly over 38% of the time.

When the Indians do score, they tally more frequently in the 8th inning (12 games) and next would be the 1st and the 4th innings (11 times), when the top of the order would most frequently hit.

One of the problems with the Tribe offense is right now it is filled with players who aren’t near the league average in OPS.

We consider above offensive players in baseball to be able to have an on base percentage of over .350 and a slugging percentage of over .450, which would be an OPS of 800 or more.

Outside of seldom used Erik Gonzalez (983 OPS in just 29 at bats), Terry Francona can only write three names in his lineup that meet that criteria:  Jose Ramirez (376/562/937), Michael Brantley (350/521/871), and Francisco Lindor (350/517/867).

The only other Cleveland player with significant at bats and an on base average over .350 is Tyler Naquin at .356, and that is more the result of a .316 batting average.  He has only walked three times in 73 plate appearances.

As for slugging over .450?  The only Tribesman doing that other than the previously mentioned trio is Yan Gomes at .451.

Those five players are the only Indians having OPS better than the league average of 732.

This means most rallies usually end because guys having below average offensive seasons thus far come up and make outs.

Edwin Encarnacion has a strikeout to walk ratio of 4:1 (40 Ks/10 BB).  Yonder Alonso has a career walk rate of 9.5%, this season, he is at 7.7%, meaning he is making outs more frequently.

The former should improve those numbers as the weather gets warmer, and the latter should correct itself as the season goes as well.

A growing problem is continuing to use Jason Kipnis in the #2 hole, breaking up the team’s three hottest hitters at leadoff (Lindor), #3 (Ramirez), and in the cleanup spot (Brantley).

Kipnis has hit is some tough luck, but he has an on base percentage of .252 and has just a .272 slugging percentage.

The other problem spot is CF.  Bradley Zimmer has played very good defense, but his OPS is just 645, and since he’s only getting on base at a 29.4% rate, he can’t use his great speed.

Neither can the other option, Rajai Davis, who has an OBP (.262), greater than his slugging percentage of .250.

It is going to difficult to continue to justify Davis’ roster spot with that kind of production. And remember, Melky Cabrera could be up here soon.

And we said earlier this year that we would not be surprised if Zimmer was sent back to AAA to get more seasoning at some point.

If the offense is going to get going, they are going to need more than three to five players contributing to the attack.

However, until then, a change in the batting order is needed.  Why not try Ramirez at the top, followed by Brantley and Lindor, then Encarnacion and Alonso?

Drop Kipnis down until he gets it going.

Really though, players just have to start hitting.  It may be just that simple.

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

Tribe Winning, But Holes Are Springing Up.

The Cleveland Indians completed 1/6th of their season last night with a 15-12 record, putting them on a pace for 90 wins.  However, since they reside in the American League Central Division, they still have a three game lead over the Detroit Tigers.

Terry Francona’s team hasn’t had very smooth sailing thus far.  The offense, which ranked second in the AL in runs scored a year ago, is third from the bottom this season, ahead of just Baltimore and Kansas City.

What is crazy is the Tribe is 5th in the league in home runs, but because they are dead last in on base percentage, they have had issues putting together big innings, and have pretty much been a feast or famine, home run or nothing, attack.

Right now, only two batters, Michael Brantley and Jose Ramirez, are having very good offensive seasons.  We aren’t worried about players like Francisco Lindor and to a lesser extent, Edwin Encarnacion, whose only worry is his age.

We know Jason Kipnis has had some hard hit outs, but his 473 OPS is worrisome because of his off year in 2017.  Yonder Alonso looks like his new approach at the plate (launch angle) continues to work (8 HR, 21 RBI already), but Bradley Zimmer, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer and Roberto Perez have really struggled with a bat in their hands.

The biggest concern here is Davis, because he is 37 years old, and with just two seasons since 2009 with an OPS over 700, isn’t a real good offensive player anyway.  The Indians have to get better production against southpaws.

The other growing problem is the bullpen, even when Andrew Miller is healthy.

Here is how we breakdown the relief corps–

Totally reliable:  Cody Allen, Miller
Comfortable with them in the game:  Dan Otero, Tyler Olson
Nervous as hell:  Nick Goody, Zack McAllister, Matt Belisle

We know Francona has a pecking order for his ‘pen, using Allen and Miller usually only with the lead, and it appears Olson has worked his way into that situation too.

Otero has kind of been the long man, if the team has one, but he’s got the best track record of the non-totally reliable guys, so we wouldn’t be surprised if he starts gettinsome 7th inning work with the lead.

Clearly, the front office needs to fortify this area of the team, and soon, because it is affecting Tito’s managing.

He’s staying with starters longer, letting pitch counts climb and it’s just May 1st. He also brought Allen into a game he was trailing last night.

Josh Tomlin is another concern.  As phenomenal as the top four starters have been, Tomlin has been that bad, giving up a whopping 10 homers in just 18-2/3 innings.

In three of his four starts, he hasn’t really given the Indians a chance to win, giving up a big inning early in games.

Right now, there aren’t any real alternatives, but if Adam Plutko pitches well in Thursday’s doubleheader against Toronto, Tomlin could have a problem staying in the rotation.

Francona and the front office may have to patch things together with the fifth starter and the bullpen until the trade deadline at the end of July.  But they can’t overuse the rotation, as good as they have been.

It’s still relatively early, but not early enough that you can’t observe some trends.  Having two pitchers who are relatively unusable isn’t good.

On the other hand, it gives the front office something to work on.

MW

 

 

Tribe Isn’t Walking, And They Aren’t Scoring

The Cleveland Indians had one of baseball’s best offenses a year ago, finishing third in the American League in runs scored.

They were second in the AL in on base percentage, slugging percentage, and walks taken, and ranked eighth in the Junior Circuit in home runs.

Although it is very early this season, the Tribe is 12th in the American League in runs scored.  While certainly the cold weather has been a factor, Detroit and Minnesota have both scored more runs per game than Terry Francona’s club, and they have played in pretty much the same climate.

One area in which the Indians have slipped greatly so far this year is in patience at the plate, as they are currently second last in the AL in walks taken.

While some people may point at the absence of walk-master Carlos Santana in the batting order for the drop off, we would point out than Santana’s replacement, Yonder Alonso, is third on the team in walks, behind Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis.

The lack of walks is a big reason the Cleveland offense has been largely dependent on the long ball for scoring.  If you can convert three or four outs into walks during a game, particularly after a base hit, you have a rally going.  And the more rallies a team has, the better chance of getting that hit which scores a run and keeps pressure on the opposing pitcher.

Look at Francisco Lindor, for example.  Last year, he walked 60 times, striking out in 93 at bats.  This year, he has fanned 21 times, second on the squad, and walked just six times.

Edwin Encarnacion is another case in point.  Yes, the slugger struck out 133 times a year ago, but he balanced that by taking 104 bases on balls.  This season, he has walked just six times while striking out a team leading 24 times.

Platoon outfielder Austin Jackson joined the patience at the plate club last year for the Indians, drawing 33 walks in 318 plate appearances, one for every 9.6 at bats.  His replacement, Rajai Davis, has walked just twice in 35 times at the dish.

And while Michael Brantley doesn’t strikeout a lot, he did draw a walk every 12.1 plate appearances a year ago, compared to just one walk in 48 times up this year.

Add in the two youngsters on the Tribe, OFs Bradley Zimmer, who has fanned 19 times vs. just two walks, and Tyler Naquin, who has drawn just two bases on balls against 11 whiffs, and that isn’t helping the offense keep the line moving.

Conversely, the Indians’ leader in walks is Jose Ramirez with 13 (6 strikeouts), and the switch-hitting All Star is hot after a slow start, and is looking like the Ramirez from 2017.

That Cleveland is 5-6 when they score three runs or less is a tribute to the tremendous job the pitching staff, led by the starters, have done.

No doubt it is early, and a few weeks from now, the lack of walks could very well have corrected itself.  We are sure that hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo is stressing patience at the plate, and it will come to fruition soon.

Instead of being aggressive at the plate, maybe the Indians need to be more selective.  Drawing walks will start extending innings and will lead to putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

MW

 

 

Looking At The Tribe’s Catching

The Cleveland Indians’ best prospect, and quite frankly, one of baseball’s best prospects is catcher Francisco Mejia.

Because of his presence at Class AAA Columbus, it seems like every time either Yan Gomes or Roberto Perez have a few hitless games in a row, fans are yelling for Mejia to be called up and inserted into the lineup.

Those people do not understand what the Tribe organization values in a catcher, nor do they realize Gomes and Perez aren’t the offensive zeroes they are viewed as.

If you understand baseball at all, you would know the Indians value defense first behind the plate, and that includes pitch framing and handling one of the premier pitching staffs in the sport.

We feel Perez is the better player and should get a higher percentage of the playing time, but the way Terry Francona handles the duo keeps them fresh at a very physically taxing position.

Last season, Gomes had the higher OPS at 708 (Perez was 664), but the pair combined for 22 HR and 94 RBI, not bad for two guys who combined to hit under .230 combined.

We like Perez better because he has a better eye at the plate.  Even though he strikes out a lot (71 Ks in 217 at bats), he also works counts better and walked 26 times, five less than Gomes, even though the latter had 135 more plate appearances.

Perez also guided Indians’ pitchers to a better ERA at 3.22, compared to Gomes’ 3.36, both excellent figures.

Both catchers are excellent against the running game, throwing out over 40% of the runners trying to steal against Cleveland pitchers.

Both are also very good in blocking pitches, as the duo had just 9 passed balls last season, and the team ranked second to Boston in the fewest number of wild pitches.

Watching Tribe games makes you appreciate Gomes and Perez when you see Cleveland baserunners advance on pitches in the dirt.

By the way, this season, Tribe catchers have combined for 3 HR and 6 RBI, and both hit game winning home runs this week.

Getting back to Mejia, quite frankly we do not want him to continue catching anyway.  He’s not a big guy at 5’10” and 180 pounds, and most scouts feel his bat is elite.  Why subject him to the wear and tear that the position takes on these guys.

Outside of his season at Lake County as a 19 year old, where he hit .243 with 9 homers, the lowest batting average the switch-hitter has had was .282 when he was 18 at Mahoning Valley.

He doesn’t strike out a lot, and the front office sees his value as a hitter, because they are investigating a position change for the youngster, who won’t turn 23 until after the season ends.

Even if they weren’t thinking about moving Mejia from behind the plate, the way the organization thinks about the spot would keep him in the minors.  He’s not ready to handle a big league pitching staff, especially one as accomplished as the Tribe’s, just yet.

And don’t forget Eric Haase, just 25 years old, who emerged last year in Akron to hit 27 dingers.  He’s also at Columbus this season.

The Indians don’t have a guy who is going to start behind the plate for the American League in the All Star Game, but they are very happy with the quality they have at the position.

As for Mejia, he could wind up joining with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez to form a switch hitting middle of the order which would be the envy of baseball.

MW

 

Things To Keep An Eye On For Tribe After A Week.

The Cleveland Indians will be home tomorrow afternoon for their home opener, weather permitting.  It will be cold, but it will still be warmer than the Tribe bats were on the first trip on the season, as Terry Francona’s crew lost four of six to Seattle and Los Angeles.

To those who are prone to panic at this about the Indians, it is just six games, and we don’t start evaluating the team until 27 games, or 1/6th of the season is played.

However, that doesn’t mean some of the things we were concerned about as the off-season unfolded, and during spring training haven’t raised their ugly heads.

The old saying that you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone certainly applies to Bryan Shaw.  Yes, the right-hander had some hiccups, and seemed to give up more than his share of key gopher balls, but for the most part, he was very reliable.

The bullpen misses him.

In two of the four Cleveland losses, the relief corps gave up tie breaking home runs, one by Dan Otero, and the other by the pitcher who has a history of allowing long balls in high leverage situations, Zack McAllister.

In addition, last Sunday after Otero allowed the tie breaker, Tyler Olson allowed another two run shot, meaning the ‘pen has already allowed four homers in six games (McAllister served up another in the blowout on Tuesday).

We are not concerned about the production from the top of the batting order because Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez have established track records, and they will hit.

And it appears that Michael Brantley will be activated for the home opener, and if he can stay healthy, it will give the lineup another solid bat.

We can be a little worried about Bradley Zimmer though.  It’s not the centerfielder’s .143 batting average (3 for 21) that is a concern.  Heck, a 3 for 3 day on Friday would bring him to .250.

It’s the lack of contact which is worrying.  The second year major leaguer has struck out in 11 of those 21 at bats, an alarming rate, and completelybo unacceptable for someone who can run like Zimmer.

Zimmer should be trying to bunt for hits two or three times per week, taking advantage of his speed, and helping him to make contact.  We would also add that he hasn’t drawn a walk through six games either.

In addition to Zimmer’s strikeout woes, Yan Gomes is having them as well, fanning in eight of 14 at bats.  The catcher has struggling with strike zone judgment before after winning a Silver Slugger Award in 2014.

In ’15, his strikeout to walk ratio was was 104:13, the following year, it was 69:9.  Last season, it improved a bit to 99:31, and so did the rest of his offensive numbers.

A patient Gomes is a more productive Gomes.  He has to understand this and have some degree of plate discipline.

This duo must be better for the Tribe to have a lineup with some length.

If we didn’t already have questions about these players coming into the season, we wouldn’t have them now.  The season has a long, long way to go, and numbers are particularly volatile now.

But these were question marks coming in.  It doesn’t make a question the long term future for the Indians, but they are things to keep an eye on.

A baseball man once said you should ignore what you see in April and September.  For Zack McAllister, Bradley Zimmer, and Yan Gomes, we hope he was right.

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