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

 

 

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Early Spring Roster Battles For Tribe

Exhibition play is a little over a week old in Goodyear, Arizona and what that means mostly is we are closer to the start of the regular season, which is now just 24 days away.

We have always maintained the perfect record for spring training is around .500, because it doesn’t give the fan bases of a bad team any unrealistic expectations, nor does it worry supporters of good teams, like the Cleveland Indians.

The best news to come out of the desert is it appears Jason Kipnis is healthy and ready to go.

We were never in the trade Kipnis camp, because he is coming off a poor, injury plagued season, so the Tribe front office was never going to get value, it would have been strictly a salary dump.

The negatives have been on the injury front where Danny Salazar likely will not be able to open the season on the big league roster, and OF Brandon Guyer has had some set backs as well, although we aren’t sure his timetable was to open the year on the active list.

Salazar’s injury simply means Terry Francona and new/old pitching coach Carl Willis don’t have to make a decision on whether or not they have to move a starter to the bullpen.

As of right now, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Josh Tomlin will make up the starting staff.

With Guyer and Michael Brantley likely to be on the disabled list to start the season, it opens up two outfield spots, with holdovers Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, and Yandy Diaz battling with Rob Refsnyder, Rajai Davis, and Melvin Upton Jr. to make the Opening Day roster.

Quite frankly, we think each spot will go to one in each group.

The first group has two switch-hitters in Almonte and Allen, with Naquin swinging from the left side and Diaz the right.  The latter has been playing most infield, so maybe versatility wins out.

The brass knows what Almonte can do and Allen could probably benefit from some time at AAA.  In the latter group, Refsnyder offers the multi-position option, while Davis and Upton are trying for one last shot at a big league roster.

To date, neither of the veterans have done much in games, but this is the Indians we are talking about, and we know Tito and his staff love veterans.

We would keep Diaz, putting him in LF to start, and Refsnyder would also get a shot because he can play both infield and outfield.

In the bullpen, the loss of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith leave two openings, but the recent signings of veteran Matt Belisle, Carlos Torres, and the claiming of Ben Taylor from Boston would make them the leading candidates to win the job.

Torres is durable, pitching in 65 or more games in three of the last four years in the bigs, and Belisle ended last season as the Twins closer, pitching great in the second half, after solid years in Washington and St. Louis.

One reliever to watch is Nick Goody, who has struggled so far in Arizona.  He doesn’t have the track record of some of the other arms, so he could find himself the odd man out if he doesn’t start pitching better.

Again, it’s early.  But the players we talked about are the ones in battles to make the trip north to Seattle on March 29th.

Which can’t get here fast enough.

MW

Tribe Looks To Be Waiting For July To Make Moves

With spring training starting in two weeks, it would be fair to say the Cleveland Indians have had a very quiet winter.

Sure, they’ve been in the news in terms of losing players, as Carlos Santana signed as a free agent with the Phillies, Bryan Shaw went to Colorado, Jay Bruce to the Mets, and Joe Smith departed for Houston.

The front office did sign Yander Alonso to replace Santana at first base, banking that Alonso’s power surge last year is sustainable.

After never reaching double figures in home runs during the first seven years of his career (his high was 9 in 2012 with San Diego), Alonso crushed 28 dingers in 2017.

He slugged .501 last season after never reaching the .400 mark during his career.

If changing the launch angle of his swing can be carried forward, then the Indians have Santana’s replacement, at least vs. right-handed pitching, against whom he had a 900 OPS a year ago.

President Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff obviously feel the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer or perhaps Yandy Diaz can handle rightfield, after all the Tribe was in first place before they dealt for Bruce.

In the bullpen, the organization is banking on Nick Goody to step up and hoping perhaps a non-roster invitee such as Alexi Ogando, Preston Claiborne, or Neil Ramirez can emerge like Jeff Manship, Ryan Webb, or Scott Atchison have in recent years.

We believe the Indians feel comfortable in their place in the division, after all they won the American League Central Division by 17 games a year ago, and will use the first three months of the 2018 season to see what they will need for the stretch drive.

This means the July 31st trading deadline will be more important to Cleveland than the off-season was.

Management is banking on a return to form from Jason Kipnis to boost the offense, and this is a solid move.  The second baseman has had an OPS over 800 in three of the four years prior to last year’s injury plagued campaign.

If Kipnis has was is an average season for him (.268, 17 HR, 74 RBI, 762 OPS) that will add offense for Terry Francona.

Don’t forget Chisenhall was having an outstanding season before missing most of the last two months.  The former first round pick was hitting .288, slugging .521, and had a career high OPS of 881.

We are unsure about replacing Austin Jackson, who had a rebirth in Cleveland (.318, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 869 OPS in 89 games) with Melvin Upton Jr., who didn’t play in the big league during 2017.

Upton does have a career 760 OPS vs. southpaws, but hasn’t hit over .250 in the bigs since 2008, and is prone to striking out.

As for the bullpen, we think Antonetti and Chernoff will do what they did in ’16 and see what relievers come available as the season progresses.

Remember, that’s how Andrew Miller came to the Tribe.  If you can get a bullpen piece of that magnitude to go with Cody Allen and the big lefty, you will be well suited for an October run.

This strategy also will show what you have in players like Diaz, Upton, Kipnis, and Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie.

And who knows, another minor leaguer may emerge as a piece other teams will covet.

Remember, the Cleveland Indians didn’t squeak into the playoffs last year, they had the best record in the AL.  Even a slight regression puts them in a great position going into 2018.

MW

 

Kipnis Back To Second Makes Sense

The news didn’t make a lot of headlines, but the Cleveland Indians announced over the weekend that Jason Kipnis would likely be the Opening Day second baseman in 2018.

That puts the infield alignment, save for newcomer Yonder Alonso at first base the same as the one the Tribe used in the 2016 World Series, with Jose Ramirez moving back to third, and of course, Francisco Lindor at second.

It does weaken Cleveland’s up the middle defense.  Ramirez is a far better defender at the keystone than Kipnis, including turning the double play.

However, we never liked the idea of trading Kipnis after last season’s injury plagued season in which he hit .232 with 12 home runs and 35 runs batted in (705 OPS).

We understand the veteran’s salary takes a huge jump this season, going from $9.2 million last year to $13.7 million in ’18, making him a candidate to be moved if Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff wanted to create payroll space for another player.

And another off-season would make Kipnis virtually untradeable going into the 2019 season, with his salary jumping again to $14.7 million.

But, the second baseman should be a good candidate for a bounce back season coming up, if he remains healthy.  Keep in mind he suffered a shoulder issue during spring training and then had hamstring woes as the season came to a close.

Although Kipnis turns 31 in April, last season saw him have the lowest OPS of his career (640 in 2014).  Three of his five full campaigns have resulted in OPS over 800 for the season.

You would have to figure he would come close, if not surpass, that mark again in 2018.

This move also clears up one of the question marks the Indians still had as spring training approaches, who will play third?

So, the biggest question now becomes whether or not Michael Brantley can open the season in left field, and if he can’t who plays there?  Also, how does Yandy Diaz fit on the roster?

Our guess is the organization will take it slow with Brantley, so as to not cause any setbacks with the ankle, and they would be fine with a debut around May 1st.

As for Diaz, who really needs and deserves a chance to get extended playing time in the big leagues (after all he hit .350 with a 914 OPS in AAA last season), perhaps he fits in as a platoon partner at first base, as Alonso has struggled vs. southpaws, or in the outfield.

Remember, the Indians still have Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte on the roster too.

Don’t forget Guyer has an 828 OPS for his six year career vs. left-handers.

Even with Kipnis moving back to second, the Indians are still missing a power bat in the lineup.

Santana has been replaced by Alonso, but who replaces Jay Bruce?  Lonnie Chisenhall had an 881 OPS in half a season with the Tribe, compared to Bruce’s 808 figure.  But Chisenhall isn’t a guy who gets pitched around often.

We would classify the Opening Day lineup for the Cleveland Indians right now as still fluid.  However, deciding Jason Kipnis is returning to second clears it up a little bit.

Even if they stand pat on position players for the rest of the winter, there will still be tough decisions for Terry Francona, particularly in the outfield.

MW

 

 

Tribe Has Santana Hole To Fill

The Cleveland Indians we have known over the past two years, an American League Championship team in 2016, and a 102 win team a year ago is no more.

When we say that, we don’t mean the Tribe is no longer a favorite to make the post-season, and we certainly don’t mean the Indians are not one of the best teams in the AL.

With their starting pitching and the keystone combination of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, they have the potential to get back to the Fall Classic and win it.

However, some key pieces will be missing when the squad reconvenes in Goodyear, Arizona in February.

We’ve already talked about relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith departing via free agency, but now a key part of the offense is gone too with Carlos Santana signing a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Santana, who has been with the Tribe since 2010, isn’t a superstar, but he is dependable and productive, the former being something overlooked by many.

In five of his eight years here, he had an OPS over 800, combining an excellent on base percentage (walking over 90 times every year from 2011-2016), with some pop (over 18 home runs in each full season with the Indians).

He also played in at least 143 games in each of the last seven seasons as well.

Because he’s a switch-hitter, Terry Francona knew he could put Santana’s name in the lineup everyday, and he worked hard to make himself a very good defensive first baseman.

That said, we felt the Phillies overpaid for Santana and we do not blame the Tribe front office for not paying him $20 million per year for three years.  Remember, Santana will turn 32 right after the 2017 season starts.

So, what does the Tribe do at first base for 2018?

We believe the logical move is putting Michael Brantley there, since Dr. Smooth’s defense has declined some in recent years, and Brantley has experience at the position in the minor leagues.

That move would open up leftfield for Jason Kipnis.

We know Kipnis is supposedly on the trade block because Ramirez is now entrenched at second, but he’s coming off an off-season due to injuries, hitting just .232 (705 OPS) with 12 home runs.

So dealing him means you will likely get 50 cents on the dollar.  We would put him in left and hope he bounces back to a good year, and then, if you want to move his contract (he would make close to $15 million in ’19), you might get a better return.

Another option could be Yandy Diaz, who has to play everyday someplace with his bat, as he has no more to prove in the minors after hitting .350 at Columbus (with the highest on base percentage in the minors) last season.

Diaz hits the ball hard and can work counts too.  If the staff can get him to hit the ball in the air more often, he could have a huge year for Cleveland.

Other options outside the organization a lot of people mention would be Logan Morrison (coming off a career year in Tampa), Matt Adams (really a platoon player), and Eric Hosmer (would likely cost more than Santana).

It will be interesting to see the market for Jay Bruce now.  The longer he stays unsigned, the more the Tribe could get back in the mix, with Lonnie Chisenhall either moving to first or leftfield with Kipnis being moved.

Many fans didn’t like Santana, but his departure leaves the offense with a big hole.  We are sure Chris Antonetti and his group are on the case.

MW

Could Be A Busy Winter For Tribe

The hot stove league has officially started in Major League Baseball with the GM Meetings this week, and the Winter Meetings taking place in a few weeks.

After the past few years when the 25 man roster was pretty much set in stone, the next few weeks could be filled with several moves for the Cleveland Indians.

It was not surprise that the Tribe offered free agent Carlos Santana the qualifying offer, nor was it a shock when he turned it down.

Many experts expect Santana to return to the Indians after seeing what offers are out there, but president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff have plenty of questions to answer before the team reconvenes in Goodyear in February.

Santana is the key to Cleveland’s off-season in our opinion.

The team would probably be interested in a reunion with Jay Bruce if the market comes back down much like it did with Edwin Encarnacion a year ago.  But they probably won’t go more than two or three years for the veteran outfielder.

And what to do with Jason Kipnis?  If Santana returns, there doesn’t seem to be a fit for him, as Michael Brantley would play LF in that scenario.  However, if Santana departs, Brantley would likely go to 1B, with Kipnis playing left field.

The Indians do have some trade assets, although we believe they aren’t interested in trading their top prospect C/3B Francisco Mejia, one of the top 10 prospects in all of the minor leagues, nor would they be anxious to move Triston McKenzie, one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball.

We would think the organization would want to keep Mejia and OF Greg Allen in AAA to start the season and get them more experience.

However, we could see players such as Erik Gonzalez, Yu-Cheng Chang, and Willi Castro, all shortstops by trade who would seem to be blocked here by the presence of Francisco Lindor.

We also don’t know how the organization feels about the future of 1B Bobby Bradley, whose power is unquestioned, but he has a lot of swing and miss in his style.  Does the front office think he can be a viable big league hitter?

With reliever Bryan Shaw also likely to be elsewhere in ’18, who fills his role in the bullpen.  It has been rumored that perhaps Danny Salazar moves to the bullpen with his electric stuff as a bridge between the starter and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

If not, no doubt the brass will be looking for another bullpen arm.

The rotation shouldn’t see changes, but if Salazar does go to the ‘pen, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Tribe look for a starter on the free agent market, probably toward spring training when the prices come down.

The Indians have a strong core with Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Miller, and Allen.  Unless he fails with the bat, Bradley Zimmer probably has a lock on centerfield.

The rest of the spots are fluid and the front office has some choices that are currently on the roster, young players on the uptick, and perhaps adding more pieces in deals.

There could be plenty of new faces in spring training for the Indians, and many of those spots hinge on Santana’s decision.

MW

 

 

 

More Tribe Decisions: Kipnis, Gomes, Shaw.

Last week, we wrote about the dilemma the Cleveland Indians have surrounding the club option they hold on Michael Brantley, and the free agency of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce.

There are also other decisions that need to be made regarding the make up of next year’s roster for the Tribe.

The first involves longtime Indian Jason Kipnis.  Kipnis is scheduled to take a huge jump in pay in 2018, a $4.5 million raise, and he’s coming off an injury plagued poor season, hitting just .232 (705 OPS) with 12 home runs last season.

It appears by their actions at the end of the season that Kipnis no longer is the Indians’ second baseman either.  When the veteran returned from a hamstring issue in September, he moved to centerfield, with Jose Ramirez staying at second.

So, with Bradley Zimmer seemingly the incumbent in center, and a likely platoon (if Bruce doesn’t return) in rightfield of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer, if Brantley does return in ’18, where does that leave Kipnis?

Many have speculated that Kipnis will be dealt, but with the off year in ’17, a deal this winter will not bring the return the club would receive with a bounce-back season next summer.

So, it looks right now like the front office will be forced to choose between Brantley and Kipnis.  Certainly not what they thought when the two signed contract extensions prior to the 2014 season.

The third player inked at that time and identified as a core piece was catcher Yan Gomes.

Gomes had a stellar ’14 season, hitting .278 (785 OPS) with 21 homers and winning the Silver Slugger Award.

Since then, it’s been all downhill.  Injuries haunted the catcher in 2015 and 2016, with his offense all but disappearing in the latter year (.167 batting average, 527 OPS).

He rebounded a bit last season (.232, 14 HR, 56 RBI), but seemed to lose playing time down the stretch to Roberto Perez, a better pitch framer.

Gomes is still a very good defensive catcher with a plus arm, and could be a significant trade chip to a team looking for stability at the catching position.

If the organization wants to give Perez the bulk of the playing time going forward, Gomes could be a player who can bring something very valuable in return.  We believe that will be the direction the front office is going in.

Bryan Shaw is also a free agent this off-season.  For all the back and forth between his fans and critics, Shaw is durable and dependable, leading the AL in appearances three of the last four years.

With the bullpen craze the sport has seen in recent years, Shaw is going to get paid.

We would be interested in keeping him at a reasonable deal, but we feel another team is going to make him an unbelievable offer.

And with the wear and tear on the right-hander’s arm, it’s a risk to sign him long term.

Our fear is Shaw could follow the same career path as Scott Linebrink, who appeared in 70+ games from 2004-08 with San Diego and Milwaukee.  The veteran went to the White Sox in 2009 and never had the same effectiveness, and was out of baseball at age 35.

Again, as a non-large market team, the Indians can’t afford to be paying a lot of money to someone who cannot contribute to the major league team.

With the World Series ending this week, these decisions will have to be made as early as this weekend.

Coming off an 102 win season and a division title, the Tribe front office has some tough calls to make.

MW

 

Tribe Dilemma: Brantley, Santana, Bruce

In a little over a week from now, the baseball hot stove season will be upon us, three days after the World Series ends.

Although we were hopeful at the end of the regular season that the Indians would be involved in the Fall Classic for the second straight year, the reality of the post-season for the national pastime creeped in and Terry Francona’s team was eliminated in the Division Series.

The biggest decision the front office has to deal with immediately is whether or not to pick up the club option on Michael Brantley, and how that decision affects the future of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce with the Tribe.

Although Brantley has been with the Indians since 2009, he is actually the youngest of the trio as he will not turn 31 until May 15th next year.

Brantley is a professional hitter.  He makes contact and gets on base on a regular basis, a career .349 on base percentage.  He is also consistent, hitting at least .285 for the last five years.

But he has the least pop of the three, a career .423 slugging percentage, and unfortunately has played only 101 games over the last two seasons.  And he had surgery on his ankle since the end of the year, and may not be available for five months.

His defense has declined in leftfield over the past couple of years, and with another leg issue, that seems unlikely to be reversed, so he may have to be a 1B or DH going forward, something we predicted a few years ago.

And the latter spot isn’t really an option with Cleveland, with Edwin Encarnacion on the roster.

If Brantley has to be moved, it would seem to force Santana out, and he is probably the best player of the three.

The switch-hitter has a lifetime .363 on base percentage and a higher slugging percentage than Brantley.  He’s also made himself into an excellent first baseman defensively.

He is the oldest of the three, turning 32 early next season.  He’s also a free agent, and if another team offered more than three years, the Tribe front office might be inclined to pass.

Bruce, who came over in August and made an immediate impact, is probably the least consistent, and is also a free agent this winter.

His 832 OPS in 2017 was his highest since 2012, and the third highest of his career.

We can’t forget he had back-to-back seasons in ’14 and ’15 where he hit .217 and .226 in hitter friendly Great American Ball Park.

Complicating the decision is what does the future hold for Jason Kipnis, who seems to be viewed as an outfielder now by the Tribe brass.

Our guess is the team will pick up Brantley’s option because of his tenure with the organization, although we would pass because of the uncertainty that he can play the outfield going forward.

Santana would be the priority because of his impact on offense and defense, and that he’s a switch-hitter.

He’s happy here and might sign a more club friendly deal to remain an Indian too.

Our second choice would be Bruce because he can still be a serviceable outfielder and he has revitalized his career by making a swing adjustment to hit the ball in the air more.

The Indians have spent more in recent years, but they aren’t a big market team, meaning they still have to be smart about who they spend big money on.  They can’t have a lot of cash tied up in a player who isn’t available.

That’s why we would pass on Brantley.  The organization probably won’t because that’s how they operate.

Still, it’s the biggest decision of the off-season.

MW

 

 

Lots Of Injuries For Tribe in July

With last night’s loss to the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians are now 2/3rd of the way through the 2017 season.

Here is a breakdown in 27 game (1/6th of the year) increments–

Games 1-27:      15-12
Games 28-54:    13-14
Games 55-81:    16-11
Games 82-108:  15-12

If anything, it is surprising that the Tribe’s splits are so similar in this regard.

The reason for Cleveland being 10 games over the .500 mark, is they have lost more than three in a row just once, and that was a four game losing streak, and they’ve had winning streaks of five, six, and nine games this year.

Think about this last 27 game stretch.  The Indians started winning four of six, then lost five of six, followed by a nine game winning streak.  In that losing skid, they looked horrible.  They didn’t hit and couldn’t field.

Such is the 2017 Cleveland Indians.  Just when you think you have them figured out, they surprise you yet again.

We also saw injuries creep in.  Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall missed significant time over the last month.  Giovanny Urshela and Erik Gonzalez filled in for Kipnis and our thinking there is if Urshela could hit just a little bit, he can have a role on a big league roster.

His defense is that good.

Gonzalez can’t control the strike zone yet.  His offense has dropped with increased playing time, mostly due to a strikeout to walk ratio of 28:1.  That’s insane.

In the outfield, Chisenhall’s absence was quieted by Austin Jackson’s sensational season.  Jackson is hitting .321 in part time duty, almost 50 points higher than his career mark.

Oh, and he made the catch of the year last Tuesday night in Boston.

The biggest injury was to Andrew Miller who was put on the disabled list with tendonitis in his knee.  We have complained about Terry Francona’s overuse of the lefty all year, and it appears it may have caught up to him.

Cleveland needs him back for the stretch, so hopefully the ten days will take care of the problem.

Boone Logan was another of the injured Tribesmen, suffering a tear in his lat.  Tyler Olson will replace him, and so far, he’s been fine, but no doubt the organization will look for a veteran.

Danny Salazar returned from the disabled list, and has been dominant in three starts, pitching 20 innings and allowing three runs.  If he is right, it just makes the starting rotation stronger and hopefully, limits the bullpen innings.

The front office made a move to bolster that ‘pen at the trade deadline, picking up Joe Smith from the Blue Jays for two minor leaguers.  Smith should be able to help Bryan Shaw in the 7th inning, as he is another who may have been overused this year.

Overall, the offense has perked up, jumping from around eighth or ninth in runs scored to fourth in the American League.  And with an ERA than ranks second in the AL, the Tribe’s run differential is behind only Houston in the junior circuit.

They’ve also started to play better at home.

August is a brutal month schedule wise, with the Indians having to play the Rockies, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and big games against the Royals coming up to.

A winning record would put them well on their way to a second consecutive division title, something that hasn’t happened since 1998-99.

The key is still the starting rotation.  If Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Salazar, and even Trevor Bauer, the way he has pitched recently, can continue to do their job, the Tribe will be set up well for the rest of the season.

MW

 

 

 

Doesn’t Look Like Tribe Did Enough In Trade Market (At Least For Now)

The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went yesterday, and the Cleveland Indians did make one trade, sending two minor leaguers to Toronto for reliever Joe Smith, who will be making his second stint with the Tribe.

Smith, who played for the Indians from 2009-13, compiling a 2.76 ERA and three saves in that period, is a quality relief pitcher.  His lifetime ERA is under 3.00 (2.95), and he is having a great season, with 51 strikeouts in 35 innings this year.

However, being a sidearmer, he is extremely effective against right handed hitters, holding them to an OPS of 588 and a .215 batting average.

Against left-handed hitters, the OPS against is 708, and this year that figure is 749, so he is more like a ROOGY, which will benefit the bullpen, but is that the biggest need for the relief corps.

Our biggest concern, which we discussed in the last post, is the overuse of Andrew Miller, and we don’t see how getting Smith remedies that.

When Smith was a member of Terry Francona’s bullpen in 2013, the only year they were together, he drew the later inning work, with Bryan Shaw working earlier.  Basically, Shaw took Smith’s spot when he departed in free agency following the season.

So, will Francona trust Smith is late inning situations again?

If he does, that will ease the burden on Shaw, Miller, and Cody Allen in the late innings of close games that the Indians are winning.

Francona can say anything he wants, but it is clear there is a pecking order in the bullpen, and when the Tribe has the lead late, he goes to that trio, pretty much on an exclusive basis.

There still is a pressing need for another left-hander, and perhaps Tyler Olson can fill that bill, but do you really think Tito would trust him to get Eric Hosmer out in a key game against Kansas City later this month?

Another factor with Smith is the health of his right arm.  He spent some time on the disabled list earlier in the year with inflammation in his shoulder.

The trust factor is another reason we are surprised GM Mike Chernoff didn’t strengthen the bench as well.

Right now, with Jason Kipnis on the shelf, Francona’s options are Erik Gonzalez, who has a terrible strikeout to walk ratio, or Giovanny Urshela, who is struggling to hit at all.

When Kipnis is back, Gonzalez will return to his utility role, but would the skipper and/or the fans feel comfortable having to put him in to pinch hit if the need was there?

We are all for playing young players, but in a pennant race, wouldn’t you rather have an experienced guy who can hit and can handle the strike zone?

We understand that it takes two to tango, and the Cleveland front office could’ve been eager to make a move, but if other teams were steadfast in wanting Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie, we would have passed as well.

Still, it seems like the organization is putting a lot of faith in the return of Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.  Unfortunately, Kipnis has struggled all year and quite frankly, we don’t know what he will do when he returns.

They also seem to be putting a lot of faith in Danny Salazar’s last two starts.

You try to eliminate as many of the possible weak spots on your roster when making a playoff run, and we aren’t sure the Indians did that.

Hopefully, there are some moves to come in August.

MW