Roster Spot Battles Heat Up For Tribe.

Major league baseball will begin its season in less than two weeks, so we are down to the nitty gritty in terms of battles for Opening Day roster spots.

For the sake of this piece, we will assume that Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, and Danny Salazar will all open the season on the disabled list, something that is definite for the latter two, but Brantley has started to hit in minor league games.

We will also figure that Terry Francona will keep 13 pitchers, meaning eight relievers will make the team.  This is the way to keep Ryan Merritt, who is out of options.

The first battle is who will be the Tribe’s utility infielder in Seattle on March 29th.

It was figured going into camp that Erik Gonzalez was the frontrunner, but Giovanny Urshela has made a very strong bid to beat him out.  Urshela has been playing all four infield spots and his bat has been great, as he is 18 for 33 with 3 HR in Arizona.

He has walked just once, but has struck out only three times.

Gonzalez is 6 for 26 without a homer and has walked three times and fanned in seven at bats.  Strike zone judgment has always been an issue for him as his career strikeout to walk ratio is 45:4.

Neither have options remaining, and we would think Gonzalez has more trade value because he’s a natural shortstop and his glove can play as a regular in the majors.

In the outfield, we would pencil in Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall on the team, but who is the primary leftfielder and who is the other right-handed bat considering both Zimmer and Chiz hit left-handed.

What we don’t understand is why Yandy Diaz isn’t getting reps in the outfield, because you could put him in left on an everyday basis, meaning the battle would be between veterans Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr, and Rob Refsnyder.

Tyler Naquin could be in the mix too, but he’s another left handed bat.

Nobody has really taken charge in this battle.  Davis is 7 for 27 with one extra base hit and no walks.  Upton is 6 for 33 with a home run, three walks, and has fanned 11 times, while Refsnyder is 7 for 31 with two homers and six walks.

Again, why not consider Diaz, who is 10 for 28 with a dinger and four walks?

Our guess is Francona will pick Davis and Upton and give them a week or two on the big league roster as an audition.

As for the bullpen, if Merritt is kept, six of the spots have been filled with Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Zack McAllister, and Tyler Olson claiming them.

We think Nick Goody has pitched his way out of a solid spot by giving up 14 hits and 10 runs in seven innings of work.

Matt Belisle, signed at the beginning of camp, probably claims one spot allowing two runs in eight innings, although the 13 hits allowed are troubling.

That leaves Alexi Ogando (one run in eight innings, 12 strikeouts), and Carlos Torres (seven runs, 13 hits in 7-1/3 frames, but really one bad outing) battling with Goody.

We feel you will see Francona using these guys in high leverage situations for the next week and a half to figure out.  We note that Ogando was the second pitcher used yesterday and threw two innings.

In fact, we think you will see all of these players getting a lot of time until the decision is made.  The regulars will get their at bats in minor league contests.

Decision time is coming.  A strong finish by each one of these players could put them in Seattle for game one.

MW

 

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Tribe Starters Still Make Them Elite

There is no question this year’s off-season for the Cleveland Indians is not as exciting as last winter.

The biggest reason is a year ago, the Tribe brought in a big ticket free agent in Edwin Encarnacion and another bullpen arm in Boone Logan.

This year, most of the free agent news have been people leaving Cleveland.  Relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith went to Colorado and Houston respectively, while Carlos Santana (Philadelphia), Jay Bruce (New York Mets) and Austin Jackson (San Francisco) have also departed.

Even Logan is gone, signing with the Brewers.

Still, as spring training is a mere weeks away from commencing, Terry Francona’s team is the odds on favorite to defend their Central Division title, and they would still be considered one of the best teams in baseball.

The biggest reason for this is the Indians’ starting rotation, which may still be the best in baseball.

The starters ranked 2nd in Major League Baseball in ERA in 2017, ranking behind only the Dodgers, who have the advantage of playing in a league without the DH.

The only AL team within a half run of Cleveland’s 3.52 mark for starters is the Yankees, who had a 3.98 ERA.  The World Champion Astros were at 4.03.

Among innings pitched for starting hurlers, two National League teams (Washington and San Francisco) led the majors, while the Tribe and Red Sox tied for the American League top spot.

Texas was next, a full 43 frames behind the leaders.

Indians’ starters also led the big leagues in strikeouts with 1066, 54 more than second place Washington and 65 more than the AL runner up, Boston.

And the Tribe’s rotation also narrowly edged the Yankees and Astros for the lowest batting average against.

That part of the team has been unaffected this winter.  In fact, the Indians have six starters contending for the starting roles to start the season in Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, the man who finished fourth in the voting, Carlos Carrasco, and 17 game winner Trevor Bauer fronting the rotation.

They are backed up by Danny Salazar, who has as electric stuff as perhaps any of the three guys also mentioned, Mike Clevinger, who went 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA in 27 appearances (21 starts), and Josh Tomlin, who would be a middle of the rotation guys for many MLB teams.

Southpaw Ryan Merritt, who is 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in five big league appearances, and Cody Anderson, who went 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts in 2015, before hurting his elbow and missing all of last year with Tommy John surgery.

Something has to give, because Merritt is out of options, and of course, since the Tribe will start the year with five starters, someone who started a year ago will have to begin this season in the bullpen.

We would guess since Anderson is coming off an injury, he will start the year at Columbus.

Julian Merryweather could make some starts at the big league level in 2018, and Cleveland still has Shawn Morimando and Adam Plutko at AAA too.

So they have some depth as well, although to be fair, none of those guys are even close to the six pitchers who made most of the starts in Cleveland in 2017.

That’s the big reason the Indians are still among baseball’s elite.  Very few teams can put someone out there each and every night who has the ability to put zeroes on the scoreboard.

Francona always says when you think you have enough pitching, you go out and get more.  It looks like the front office agrees.

MW

Tribe Starters Picking Up Slack For Tired Pen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MW

 

 

Tribe Entering A Crucial Stretch

The Cleveland Indians are starting a crucial stretch tomorrow night with a three game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field.

The Tribe is coming off a terrible start to the second half of the season, dropping five of six to a pair of last place teams from the Bay Area, the A’s and Giants.

This losing streak, which is actually six losses in the last seven games has allowed the Minnesota Twins to creep within a half game of Cleveland, and it has kept the Royals and even the Tigers within shouting distance.

Hitting continues to be an issue for Terry Francona’s bunch, scoring just 16 runs in the six games, with a team batting average of under .200.

The first two games of the series have the Indians starting two pitchers who we are sure Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway have no idea what to expect in Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar.

Bauer didn’t get out of the first inning in his last start and has an ERA of 5.59 for the season.  He has completed six innings in just eight of his 18 starts this season.

Salazar has been on the disabled list for awhile and has an ERA of 5.40, and has pitched six innings or more in just three of 10 starts.

Not exactly a great way to start a series in which you really need to play well and start putting games in the win column.

Injuries are also affecting the Tribe, as they are missing 2B Jason Kipnis and OF Lonnie Chisenhall right now, and lost reliever Boone Logan on Wednesday to a lat strain.

The bullpen is also leaking oil a bit, with closer Cody Allen having an ERA of 4.00 since May 1st, and Bryan Shaw has pitched 4-1/3 innings since July 1st, allowing eight hits and six runs, four of them earned.

In short, there’s a lot going wrong for the Cleveland Indians right now.  Add to that, the team isn’t sure if Corey Kluber, already moved back from tomorrow to Sunday because of a sore neck, can make that start.

If the Indians want to get it going, solid starts from Bauer and Salazar would go a long way, but the problem is based on history from this season, the bullpen will need to be involved greatly in the first two games.

And we know right now, Francona only has confidence in using his “big three” of Allen, Shaw, and Andrew Miller when he’s ahead and the game is close.

What’s gone right this season?

Jose Ramirez has shown his 2016 season was no fluke, emerging as one of the American League’s best players this season.  The best thing about the Indians might be that their best players are 24 (Ramirez) and 23 years of age (Francisco Lindor).

Mike Clevinger is starting to establish himself as a major league starter, and has an ERA of 2.73 over 12 starts.

Bradley Zimmer looks like he can be a good major league player.  He’s played very good defense in centerfield, which was needed, but has cooled off a little after a very good start hitting.

And Chisenhall has had a career season to date, although he has missed time due to injuries.

That’s about it.

Still, the Indians have the lead in the division.  As Francona says often, this team needs to play a clean game.  That means catching the ball, throwing to the right base, and moving runners on offense.

In the six games since the break, they’ve done very little of those things.

They need to rediscover them tonight.

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

 

Our “Concerns” About The Tribe

Friday night, the Cleveland Indians will play their 40th game of the 2017 season, meaning the season is 25% completed.

Coming off an American League pennant, we are sure many fans were hoping for a start similar to the 1984 Detroit Tigers (35-5), so they could start looking for the inevitable repeat berth in the Fall Classic.

Baseball doesn’t work that way.

The old axiom in the sport is you can’t win a post-season spot in April, but you can certainly lose one.  The Tribe is just a game out of the AL Central Division lead as of today, and they are just a game out of the second wild card spot too.

They are still in a good position to get back to the playoffs, because they are right around the .500 mark, and really haven’t played good baseball to date.

There are some things that concern us about the Tribe, though.  And in no particular order, here they are:

The Starting Pitching.  Injuries aside, and losing one of the best pitchers in the game in Corey Kluber, even for a short time, doesn’t help, the rotation has been shaky outside of Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

Look at these numbers:

Danny Salazar–5.2 innings per start, 5.66 ERA
Josh Tomlin–5.1 innings per start, 6.86 ERA
Trevor Bauer–5.6 innings per start, 6.92 ERA

Just as bad as the high ERAs is, the lack of length from this trio is putting a big toll on the bullpen.  If the starters can’t start giving Terry Francona some length, the relief corps will be fried by August.

Salazar and Bauer’s struggles extend into the second half of last season.

The bigger issue might be that the Tribe doesn’t have a lot of options currently in the organization.

Inconsistent Offense.  The 2016 Indians finished second in the American League in runs scored.  Right now, the team ranks 10th, despite the addition of Michael Brantley to his pre-injury form.

Most people will put the blame on free agent signee Edwin Encarnacion, who is hitting just .203 with 6 HR and 14 RBI (691 OPS).  However, Jason Kipnis has struggled since coming back from a shoulder issue, and the outfield platoons haven’t provided much hitting either, outside of Lonnie Chisenhall.

We feel Encarnacion is pressing, trying to live up to his contract, and Kipnis will come around as he gets more at bats.

One other thing.  We are a little concerned that Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have become a little too home run happy.  That’s something to keep an eye on.

Loss Of Aggressiveness On Bases.  This has started to return, starting with last Sunday’s game vs. the Twins.

Lindor and Ramirez have just two stolen bases each.  For as many times as each have been on base, that’s incredibly low.  We understand that Rajai Davis led the league in steals a year ago, but he didn’t take the instructions on how to steal with him.

The Indians strikeout fewer than all but two AL teams (Boston and Minnesota), and they are fifth in drawing walks.  Francona needs to put runners in motion more often.

Cleveland is 11th in the American League in homers, so they shouldn’t be playing Earl Weaver baseball, looking for the three run bomb.

It’s time to use the speed to the team’s advantage.

We don’t think this is a horrible baseball team.  We don’t think the sky is falling.  It is silly to ignore some trouble spots for the Indians.

They still have another gear as the season goes on.

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

 

 

 

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

Tribe Positives and Concerns Over First 27 Games.

The Cleveland Indians hit the 1/6th mark of the season with a 14-13 record.  They didn’t have the great April they needed to get casual fans revved up about them, but they didn’t bury themselves either.

And that can be done during the season’s first month, just ask the Minnesota Twins.

The biggest problem for the Tribe is the Chicago White Sox, who have ridden excellent pitching to take a five game lead in the AL Central.

Of course, they is a long way to go to make up that deficit.

Anyway, here is what we see as positives over the first 27 games, and also, things were are concerned about.

POSITIVES

Nobody doubts the talent of Francisco Lindor, but right now, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a sophomore slump.

The 22-year-old is hitting .324 (814 OPS) thus far and is making a defensive gem on a nightly basis.

If you had Josh Tomlin as the staff leader in wins before the season started, you were in the minority.  But the right hander sits at 5-0 with a 3.72 ERA and is showing remarkable control as usual with a 19 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio.

It seems like over the last few seasons, one starting pitcher makes a step toward elite status, and this year it is Danny Salazar following in the footsteps of Corey Kluber (2014) and Carlos Carrasco (2015).

Salazar has allowed just 18 hits in 37-2/3 innings, while striking out 43 batters.  Yes, his walks are high (16), but for the most part, he has been dominating each time he takes the mound.

The Indians have been searching for a right handed power bat for years and years, and they may now have one in Mike Napoli.  Yes, he strikes out a lot, on pace for close to 200 whiffs on a 500 at bat season, but he also has six homers and 20 RBI.

His history says the strikeouts will taper a bit, and he does see a lot of pitches, but he has a chance to belt more than 25 bombs this season.

CONCERNS

The bullpen still scares us and we know that Bryan Shaw has pitched better lately.  Terry Francona likes to use Zack McAllister in the 7th, Shaw in the 8th, and Cody Allen in the 9th if the starting pitcher can only give him six innings.

You can probably count the game where each has provided a clean inning in the same game on one hand.

McAllister started great, but has struggled his last few outings.  Shaw was a mess early on, and Allen still seems to go through periods where he can’t throw strikes.

Maybe Tommy Hunter can provide a lift here.

Yan Gomes is also having a hard time at the plate, hitting just .176 (541 OPS).  Gomes has walked just four times, compared to 22 punch outs.

He never has walked a lot, and you have to wonder if many the word is out that you don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out.

He also needs to start taking the outside pitch to right centerfield.

Jason Kipnis’ diminishing contact is also troubling.  He has almost struck out as much as Napoli.  His career high was 143 in ’13, but right now, he is on pace to fan over 160 times.

Our last concern is the usual veteran problem.  How long of a rope does Francona give some of these guys.

Juan Uribe has an OPS of 652.  Rajai Davis’ is 690, and Lonnie Chisenhall’s is 626.  Under 700 isn’t very good.  The team already sent out Tyler Naquin who had a 753 OPS (.315 batting average) to the minors.

When you are a contending team, which the Indians are, you can’t wait too long to replace players who aren’t producing.

Francona needs to use Jose Ramirez more, because he has been productive (783 OPS), and he needs to leave Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot. We know it is a small sample size, but Cleveland is 8-1 when Santana leads off.

He walks a lot, and has already led off two games with home runs.

Overall, the offense has made a big improvement, ranking 4th in the AL in runs scored per game, and the pitching is starting to pick it up, ranking 7th in ERA.

Again, our biggest concern is the bullpen.  With some improvement over the first 27 games in that department, the Indians could have been 17-10 instead of 14-13.

MW