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 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

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

 

 

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 Needs Bullpen Help To Ease Miller’s Workload

Terry Francona likes to say when you think you have too much pitching, you go out and get more.

That holds true today, because even though the Indians lead the American League in team ERA, team president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff are probably looking for more arms before tomorrow’s trading deadline.

The return of Danny Salazar to form should ease the need for another starting pitcher, and eventually, either Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, or Mike Clevinger will go to the bullpen, but another top notch bullpen arm would help the Indians going forward.

It is pretty obvious that when the Tribe has the lead, Francona has confidence in just three guys, closer Cody Allen, rubber armed Bryan Shaw, and the ultimate relief weapon, Andrew Miller.

Two games this week demonstrated this.

Thursday, with Miller and Shaw unavailable due to usage over the past few days, the skipper went with Trevor Bauer for eight innings and over 110 pitches rather than bring someone out of the group that includes Zack McAllister, Nick Goody, and Dan Otero.

And Bauer was pitching in a 2-1 game.

Bauer thrives on throwing so the pitch count wasn’t the issue it might be for others, but it is hard to imagine Tito staying with his starting into the 8th had Miller or Shaw been available.

The next night, Cleveland had a 9-2 lead after six when Salazar was removed from the game.  The Tribe won it, 9-3, but McAllister (7th), Goody (8th), and Shawn Armstrong (9th) all had difficulty recording outs, and the latter two ended the inning in bases loaded situations.

Look, the Indians have post-season aspirations, and they currently lead the AL Central by three games, the concern is keeping the primary relievers fresh for September and October, and that’s why they could use an extra arm in the ‘pen that Francona will trust.

Shaw leads the AL in games pitched with 49.  This isn’t a shock, as he routinely is in the top five in the league in appearances.  He is blessed with that kind of arm, and in spite of the social media critics when he fails, which isn’t often, he gets the job done.

Allen has made just 42 appearances and usually pitches one inning. He has the traditional closer role, and does it quite well.  He has only 19 saves, because the Indians win a lot of games in blowout fashion.

The concern is Miller, and Francona is always talking about reducing his work load, but then he can’t help himself.  The guy is that good.

He has been in 45 games, pitching 53-1/3 innings, ranking 5th in the AL in innings for relievers.

Last night, he threw almost 30 pitches, and our guess is he will tell Tito he can go today, but with a tough schedule coming up this week (at Boston for three, New York at home for four), he should get the day off.

That’s why the Indians needs another arm out there, to lessen Miller’s load.

With Boone Logan likely out for the year, the Indians need another southpaw.  They also need a reliever that can get right-handed and left-handed hitters out.

That would also allow Francona to shorten games even more, particularly in the post-season.

We believe getting another reliever is the primary goal of the front office before tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM.

It could make all the difference going forward for the Cleveland Indians.

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 Seems Stuck In Mud Thus Far.

The Cleveland Indians reached the 1/3rd point of the season yesterday, and they continue to be spinning their wheels to this point.

The Tribe went 15-12 during the first 27 games (1/6th of the campaign), and slipped to 13-14 over the last 27.

That isn’t what anyone was thinking when the Indians broke spring training with a road sweep of the Texas Rangers.

You could blame the below .500 record on the absence of Corey Kluber who basically missed the entire month of May with a bad back.  Not having one of the game’s best pitchers doesn’t help any team.

However, Terry Francona’s team just hasn’t been able to put everything together.  The only consistent part of the ballclub is the back of the bullpen, which has been spectacular.

Other than the trio of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw, there isn’t one thing for Tito to hang his hat on a regular basis.

The offense has been up and down more than an elevator in a high rise.  After winding up 2nd in the AL in runs scored last year, Cleveland ranks third from the bottom in 2017.

In 26 of the 54 games played to date, the Indians have scored three runs or less, and they are 7-19 in those games.  When you are scoring three or less in basically half the time you take the field, it is difficult to put together a sustained period of winning.

On the other hand, the Tribe has scored 8+ runs a dozen times.  So, as you can plainly see, it really is feast or famine for the Cleveland bats.

This team also doesn’t have a come from behind victory that fuels a winning streak from time to time.  The only walk-off win this year came in the home opener, way back in early April.

Last year, once the Indians got the first walk off, they followed it with a bunch of them, so there is hope in that regard.

The loss of Kluber hurt because of his reliability and high level of consistency.  Carlos Carrasco has been good, but he had issue with a chest muscle over the last month.

Danny Salazar has been moved to the bullpen for the time being, mostly because he’s has a problem giving Francona at least five innings.

Without Kluber, the most consistent starters have been the two youngest in the rotation–Mike Clevinger and the much maligned Trevor Bauer.

That can’t give Tito and the front office a warm and fuzzy feeling.

On the other hand, perhaps Kluber’s return will steady the rotation, and things will improve greatly over the next 27 contests.

The defense and baserunning also seem to have gone backwards to date.  We talked about improving on the bases last week, but the defense, particularly in the outfield has been a concern.

It has improved since Bradley Zimmer was called up, but one thing to keep an eye on is Michael Brantley’s defense, which seems to have declined greatly over the past three seasons.

Francona spoke about a lack of veteran leadership with this group, that they missed a Jason Giambi or Mike Napoli in the clubhouse.

If true, then it’s time for Jason Kipnis and Brantley to be assertive with this group.  There is too much talent to be just two games over .500 at this time of the year.

It isn’t panic, but it is fine to be a little concerned with the 2017 Cleveland Indians.  It’s time to start establishing that they are the team to beat in the AL Central Division.

MW