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.