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

 

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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