Tribe Gets Through August Challenge With Flying Colors.

The Cleveland Indians entered the month of August facing a stern test.

The schedule was full of post-season contenders, with home and home series with the Red Sox and Yankees, an 11 game trip to Tampa, Minneapolis, and Kansas City, and a couple of game vs. Colorado.

They started the month 10 games over .500, and they ended it 20 over the break even mark thanks to a 19-9 month.

What is more remarkable is Terry Francona’s squad had several important players missing time with injuries.

Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Andrew Miller all missed most of this important stretch of games with injuries.  And yet, the Tribe rolled on.

They did it first and foremost with incredible pitching, mostly from the starting rotation.

After allowing 12 runs to the Red Sox on August 1st, in what should be the Major League Baseball game of the year, gave up more than four runs in a game just five times the rest of the month.

Three of those games came consecutively in home series vs. Boston, and Cleveland won the last of those games, a 13-6 win over Sox ace Chris Sale, a day after the Tribe went through a two game stretch where the offense couldn’t buy a hit.

The staff had a streak of 30 straight scoreless innings, which ironically ended with ace Corey Kluber on the mound.

Despite all the injuries, the offense pitched in too, scoring five or more runs in half of the 28 games.

The hitting was revitalized with the addition of Jay Bruce, acquired from the Mets.  Upon arrival, Bruce hit in his first 11 starts, contributing four home runs and 13 runs batted in.

The injuries to Brantley and Chisenhall necessitated the deal, and give the front office and ownership a gold star for seeing the club needed a boost.

Depth in the farm system paid dividends with Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez, and Yandy Diaz contributing to the Indians’ success.

Among the position players, these are the standouts–

Carlos Santana:  997 OPS, 7 HR, 15 RBI
Edwin Encarnacion:  Batted just .220 for the month, but belted 10 homers
Francisco Lindor:  9 HR, 17 RBI
Diaz:  8 for 20, 5 RBI

Pitching wise, there are more exceptional statistics–

Kluber:  5-1, 1.96 ERA, .146 batting average against
Trevor Bauer:  5-0, 2.31 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 39 innings
Ryan Merritt:  2-0, 1.15 ERA
Joe Smith:  9 appearances, 8 of them scoreless
Tyler Olson:  8-2/3 scoreless innings

What does this period of great play mean for Francona’s club?

When Brantley, Chisenhall, and Kipnis come back, it could be a lethal batting order, one that has Chisenhall and maybe Santana hitting as low as seven and eight in the lineup.

It also buys more time for Miller to rest his knee.  It wouldn’t bother me if the lefty wasn’t held out until September 15th, giving him two weeks to get ready for what seems like an inevitable post-season berth.

Same with Brantley.  He hasn’t started baseball activities yet, but as long as he can get two weeks of play under his belt, he should be ready for the playoffs.

Will this mean another World Series berth for the Indians?  We can’t say that, baseball is not that kind of sport.  However, as usual, a Terry Francona led team is playing better ball in the second half of the season.

They passed their toughest test of the season with ease, and the magic number (right now 24) countdown can start right now.

MW

 

 

 

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Tribe In Command In AL Central Now

With this recent hot streak, the Cleveland Indians have done what has been expected since the first game of the 2017 season, they have taken command of the American League Central Division.

They lead the Minnesota Twins by six games with 41 to go.  If the Tribe goes 21-20 during the rest of the schedule, then the Twins will have to have a 28-13 record to top Cleveland.

Since Paul Molitor’s team is just three games over .500 for the season, and really have only two reliable starters in Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, that’s not a likely scenario.

This hot streak has come about due to tremendous pitching.  Since the 12-10 loss to Boston at Fenway Park on August 1st, Terry Francona’s pitching staff has held opponents to three runs or less in 13 of the last 16 games.

In two of the other three games, both losses, the opposing team scored four runs.  Only an 8-1 loss to New York on August 6th provides a bad day for the pitching staff, and that game was partially due to a misplay in rightfield by Abraham Almonte.

Most of the recent surge has been done on the road.  An 11 game trek through four cities seemed a tad daunting at the start, but the Indians responded with an 8-2 record with one game remaining today in Kansas City.

This trip has been so long that Jay Bruce has been with the team over a week and still hasn’t played his first game at Progressive Field with the Tribe.

Actually, today’s game is the end of a stretch of 16 out of 22 contests on the road.  And has they have all year, Cleveland has been very good away from home with a 13-8 mark to date in that stretch.

After a six game homestand, the Tribe will embark on another 11 game roadie from late August through the Labor Day holiday.

The starting pitching has been the catalyst for the hot streak, but the front office can feel free to take a bow as well.

Getting Joe Smith at the July 31st trade deadline didn’t seem like a big move, but the sidearming righty has made six scoreless appearances with Cleveland, allowing just two hits.

His addition gives Francona another option he can trust in close games along with Bryan Shaw, who has been much better with a reduced workload, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

Bruce has been another godsend to date.  The offense was struggling when the move to get the veteran was made, as Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Brantley were all out of the lineup.

The veteran came over from the Mets and immediately started raking.  In his 10 games with Cleveland, he has hit .389 with 3 homers and 12 RBIs.

And as we said previously, he has yet to play his first game at Progressive Field.  Our guess is he will be greeted with “Bruuuuuuce” chants upon his arrival tomorrow night.

In our view, Bruce looks like a different hitter than the one we remember in Cincinnati.  He seems to have a much shorter stroke.

As for what happens when Brantley and Chisenhall return, our guess is the latter will play centerfield with Bradley Zimmer coming in late for defense.

Francona will have a much longer lineup when they comeback, with players like Chisenhall and perhaps Carlos Santana hitting as low as 7th or 8th.

The schedule is still tough with the next 11 games against Boston, New York, and Kansas City.  However, if the starting pitching continues in this manner, the Cleveland Indians and their fans will start counting down the magic number very soon.

MW

 

Tribe Adds A Big Bat In Bruce

The Cleveland Indians are certainly a different organization than they were five years ago.

After watching their offense sputter over the last four games, scoring just one run (Austin Jackson’s bloop single that tied the game on Tuesday) that didn’t come on a home run over the last four games, they decided to add some pop to the batting order, acquiring slugging outfielder Jay Bruce from the Mets for minor league pitcher Ryder Ryan.

And reportedly, the Indians got him because they were willing to pay the remainder of the outfielder’s salary, something the Yankees weren’t willing to do.

With Lonnie Chisenhall still on the disabled list and Michael Brantley going on today with a sprained ankle, the organization couldn’t go with an outfield of Austin Jackson or Brandon Guyer in right, a slumping Bradley Zimmer in center, and Abraham Almonte in left for even a short time.

The 30-year-old Bruce is hitting .256 with 29 home runs and 75 RBI (847 OPS) in 102 games this season.

When Bruce played with the Reds before being moved to the Mets at the trade deadline a year ago, we felt he was a product of playing his home games in Great American Ballpark, a known hitter’s paradise.

With Citi Field being a pitcher’s park, Bruce has been very good on the road this season, with 18 dingers and a 919 OPS.

He is also been dominant at Progressive Field, hitting .384 with a 1.031 OPS in 86 at bats.

And the defensive metrics say he’s been a solid defender in right field this season, a drastic change for the better from when he was in Cincinnati.

He is a high strikeout, low walk guy, having been punched out 102 times this year, with only 39 walks.

Hopefully, Bruce can help the inconsistent Tribe offense, which has scored three runs or less in 47 of their 111 games (42%) this season.  That’s not acceptable for a team with post-season aspirations.

The addition of Bruce could allow Terry Francona to move Carlos Santana back up to the leadoff spot in the batting order, replacing the slumping Jason Kipnis, whose batting average has dropped to .225 on the year, with an on base percentage of .285.

With the injuries, management had to realize they had to lengthen the lineup, which yesterday had Zimmer, Almonte, and Roberto Perez in the bottom three spots.

The league seems to have made adjustments to Zimmer, who is 0 for 17 in August, and the extending playing time has affected Jackson, who is 5 for his last 24.

Bruce will probably play right, with Guyer and Almonte alternating in left and Zimmer and Jackson splitting time in center.

There is speculation that perhaps Brantley and Chisenhall are more seriously injured than originally thought, but we believe the front office couldn’t think of going with an unproductive outfield for even another week, especially with the upcoming schedule of 11 road games, all against playoff contenders.

It also sends a message in the clubhouse that the front office isn’t satisfied with the way the team is playing since the All Star break, and they also want to do more than just win the American League Central.

Considering the cost, it’s a no brainer move for the Indians.  Hopefully, Bruce keeps slugging and the seemingly dormant Tribe offense gets a jolt of energy.

MW