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

 

 

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Sign Lindor This Winter? Don’t Hold Your Breath

We said this many times throughout this past baseball season, perhaps the best thing about the Cleveland Indians is that their two best players are 25 and under in Jose Ramirez (25) and Francisco Lindor, who just turned 24 a couple of weeks ago.

Lindor, who has two straight top ten finishes in the American League MVP voting at his young age, is under the Tribe’s control through the 2021 season, giving him four more full seasons with the Indians.

The Cleveland front office would undoubtedly like to sign their shortstop to a long term deal to keep him with his home ballpark being Progressive Field for the foreseeable future, but Lindor seems to understand his value gets higher every season, particularly if he keeps performing like he has.

At his age, he is getting nothing but better, and even with a slump last year in May and June, the switch-hitting Lindor still had a career high 842 OPS, mostly due to a career high .505 slugging percentage.

He had 81 extra base hits, made his second All Star team, and won his first Silver Slugger Award, in addition to being a finalist for the Gold Glove at short.

We are sure Lindor won’t sign this off-season either as he will likely wait until Bryce Harper’s free agency is resolved next off-season.

It has been said Harper could become the sports’ first $400 million player.  If he gets that amount, you’d have to think Lindor will get close to that amount, if not exceed it.

Granted when Harper finished his third big league season, he was just 21 years old, two years younger than Lindor was when last season ended.

In those first three seasons, the highest finish in the MVP voting for Harper was 30th in his rookie season.  He won the award the following season, his fourth year, but hasn’t been in the top ten since.

Harper and Mike Trout might be the faces of baseball, but Lindor’s definitely on a level right below those two.  His personality and the obvious joy he plays with are things MLB should market, and will as he continues to get better as a player.

We made the point last off-season that if Lindor plays 10 years in an Indians’ uniform, he will be the greatest position player in franchise history.  So, the stakes to keep him with the Tribe long term are very high.

In our lifetime, we haven’t had that player like George Brett, Derek Jeter, Tony Gwynn for this franchise.  A truly great player who plays their entire career in Cleveland.

Remember that when Jim Thome goes into the Hall of Fame, perhaps next summer, he will be the first player to spend the majority of his career with the Indians to go into the Hall since Lou Boudreau.  He was inducted in 1971!

Despite all the great players who were here in the 90’s:  Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Thome, none of them can claim to have never worn another uniform.

We understand that’s not the way the sport is now, but wouldn’t it be nice if Frankie Lindor was that guy for our team.

We are sure the Dolan family, Chris Antonetti, and GM Mike Chernoff would like it to happen too.  Lindor is that kind of player.

MW

 

 

Reflecting On Kluber’s Magnificence

The Cleveland Indians lost the American League Division Series about a month ago, and it still is a disappointment, not in the team, but considering how well the Tribe was playing going into the post-season, we all fantasized about winning the World Series.

That feeling should not make everyone overlook the fact the Indians won 102 games, the second highest total in franchise history and had the best record in the American League.

They have four finalists for the Gold Glove.  SS Francisco Lindor is trying to win his second in a row, and he is joined by Jose Ramirez at third base, Carlos Santana at first, and Yan Gomes behind the plate in finishing in the top three in the voting.

Yesterday, more accolades came the Indians’ way.

Terry Francona is a finalist for AL Manager of the Year, an award he has won twice before, in 2013 and 2016.

Jose Ramirez is second Tribesman in the last four years (Michael Brantley in 2014) to finish in the top three of the MVP voting.  Ramirez had a remarkable season, setting career highs in every major statistical category save for stolen bases.

However, the highest honor will probably go to Corey Kluber.  Kluber should become the first Indian pitcher to win two Cy Young Awards during his tenure with the Indians, capping a season in which he went 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA and 265 strikeouts in 203 innings.

He would be the 19th pitcher in the history of the award (started in 1956) to win it multiple times.

It will also mean that Kluber will have finished in the top three for this award three times, finishing third a year ago.

There are four dominant starting pitchers in the sport right now:  Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Kluber.

In the past four years, the right-hander has led in the AL in wins twice (’14 and ’17), in complete games twice (’15 and ’17), in shutouts the past two seasons, and in ERA this past campaign.

He has finished in the top four in strikeouts each of the past four seasons, and has ranked first or second in pitchers’ WAR in three of the past four years.

Kluber’s career WAR total (according to BaseballReference.com) is now at 26.9.  Consider the franchise’s all time leaders among pitchers in this category:

Bob Feller              63
Stan Coveleski      51
Bob Lemon           48
Mel Harder           43
Addie Joss             43
Sam McDowell    41
Early Wynn         39
George Uhle         37
Wes Farrell          36
Willis Hudlin       33

With a season with a WAR of six next season (that was Kluber’s 2016 season), he would tie Hudlin for the 10th highest total in club history.  And he would have done it in a five year span.

It would not be a reach for Kluber to wind up as high as 4th in Tribe history among hurlers, behind the Indians’ Hall of Fame triumvirate of Feller, Coveleski, and Lemon.

If he wins in 2017, keep in mind there are only nine pitchers (could be a 10th if Scherzer wins this year) to win three or more Cy Youngs.

And those pitchers are a who’s who of the greatest pitchers in the last 60 years:  Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, and Kershaw.

He won’t turn 32 until early next season (April 10th).

That’s a historical perspective on Kluber, who will find out next week if he will be recognized once again as the best pitcher in the AL.

It’s been a remarkable four years indeed.

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’s Loss Stings, But Future Is Still Bright.

While it is certainly a shock to our system that the Cleveland Indians’ season ended abruptly Wednesday night, our biggest takeaway is that it’s baseball.

Look at it this way, the best team in football wins around 85% of the regular season games.  In basketball, that figure is around 75%.

In baseball, a team that wins 100 games in the regular season, is victorious in 62% of the contests.  A five game period like the one the Tribe just went through in the Division Series, occurs in June or July all the time.

The Indians didn’t hit, scoring just five runs combined in the last three games, and that isn’t going to get it done.  You have to get more offense.

Players like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion couldn’t get a hit, let alone one in the clutch, and all three had slumps during the regular season.

We questioned not using Mike Clevinger as a fourth starter in this series and not starting Yandy Diaz at third base, and those are legitimate now as well.  The former wasn’t the bullpen weapon Terry Francona thought he would be, and perhaps Diaz’ bat could have helped the offense.

However, people thinking there will be drastic changes, or need to be drastic changes are just wrong.

As it stands right now, the Indians are the favorite to win the American League Central Division in 2018, and their roster is set up to contend for the next few years.

And as we just learned and should remember from last year’s run to the World Series, once you get in the playoffs, you have a good chance to win it all.

We have said many times that the best thing about the Indians is their two best players are 25 (Ramirez) and 23 (Lindor).  And they have one of best prospects in the game in Francisco Mejia coming soon.

Where Mejia will play is up for debate at this time.

And don’t forget about Bradley Zimmer, who tailed off after a hot start, but should improve in his second big league season.

They still have the best starting rotation in the game, and if Trevor Bauer has found some consistency, they could have a top three that is the envy of any GM in the game, and Clevinger went 12-6 in his first extended big league experience.

They also have Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, and Ryan Merritt to fill out the rotation.

Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith are free agents, so there may be a couple of holes in the bullpen, but we wouldn’t be surprised if one or both are back in 2018.

The front office does have some decisions to make.  Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce are free agents, and Michael Brantley has a club option for ’18.

Our bet on the free agents is that it will come down to years, because the Indians can’t afford to pay a player big money (over $10 million per year) for someone who isn’t producing.

And where will Jason Kipnis play in 2018?  It’s pretty clear the Tribe wants to use Ramirez at 2B going forward, so is Kipnis’ move to the outfield permanent.  A lot could depend on what happens with Santana and Bruce.

We think many fans got caught thinking the playoffs would be a cakewalk because of last year.  The Yankees were a better club than either the Red Sox or the Blue Jays, and most of the key players stopped hitting.

It’s a reminder of how special last year’s run to the Fall Classic with basically three starters was.

It’s painful now, but the future is very bright for the Cleveland Indians.  Just win the division next year and take another shot at winning the whole thing.

MW

 

 

Unreal Tribe Putting Up Unreal Numbers

When a major league baseball team wins 29 out of 31 games it is clearly something incredible.

The hottest stretch for a team we can remember was the 35-5 stretch the 1984 Detroit Tigers started that season.  That carried the Motor City Kitties to a World Series title.

Each time the Tribe lost in that span, they rebounded with resounding wins, an 8-4 win over Kansas City after the Royals ended the American League record 22 game winning skein, and an 11-4 thumping of Seattle after the Mariners beat the Tribe in walk off fashion last Friday night.

Still, there are more remarkable numbers surrounding the 2017 Cleveland Indians.

First, the franchise is on the verge of winning 100 games in a season for just the third time in history.  Keep in mind, the Indians have been playing baseball in Cleveland since 1901.  Only the 1954 team (111 wins) and the ’95 squad (100 wins) have accomplished this.

Consider the tremendous season Carlos Carrasco is having.  The right-hander is 17-6 for the year, and has allowed 167 hits in 192 innings, striking out 212 hitters, while walking just 45.  His ERA is 3.43, well below the league average.

Then look at the unworldly numbers put up by his teammate, Corey Kluber.

Kluber has pitched seven more innings than Carrasco and has allowed 32 less hits.  Kluber has fanned 50 more hitters while walking nine less hitters.

That’s one reason Kluber could and should become the first two time Cy Young Award winner in the history of the franchise.

You have the incredible season from Jose Ramirez.  We think everyone will now realize that last season was not a fluke for the switch-hitter, who turned just 25 years old a week ago.

Ramirez has 86 extra base hits, the 7th highest total in club history and if he can get three more in the final six games, only Albert Belle (103 in ’95), Hal Trosky (96 in ’36) and Grady Sizemore (92 in 2006) would have more.

If two of those would be doubles, Ramirez would have 53 on the season, and the last time an Indian had more would be 1923 when Hall of Famer Tris Speaker had 59.

That’s a historic season and remember, he’s only 25.

Speaking of tremendous young players, 23-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Francisco Lindor is another Tribe player making history.

Lindor has already set club records for home runs in a season by a shortstop and middle infielder, and he is approaching 80 extra base hits for a season and 100 runs scored for a season.

Remember when fans were concerned about Edwin Encarnacion early in the season?

The slugger should get at least one more RBI in the final six games, which would give him 100 for the fifth time in the last six years.  He has also set a career high in walks without his strikeouts increasing over last year.

There is also a possibility of him reaching 40 home runs for the third time in his career.

We know the Indians will be home on October 5th for the first game of the Division Series.  They still could get home field throughout the American League playoffs too.

If the pitching continues like it has over the last month, it could be a very fun month of October for Terry Francona’s team.

MW

 

 

Decisions, Decisions Loom For Tribe Before Playoffs

The Cleveland Indians clinched their ninth American League Central Division title on Sunday, so they will have 12 games to get players some rest and to get their starting rotation in order.

The AL Division Series will start on October 5th in Cleveland, as the Tribe has a seven game advantage over Boston for the best record in the league.

No doubt, Corey Kluber will start that game, so Terry Francona has to decide whether he wants extra rest for his ace, or to go on his regular four days off, which means he would pitch the last Saturday of the regular season.

This season, Kluber has a 1.99 ERA with four days off between starts, and a 3.86 ERA with an extra day of rest.  It seems like a no brainer for Tito.

It would seem logical that Carlos Carrasco (16-6, 3.48 ERA) would be the Game 2 starter, but Carrasco has a 2.71 ERA on the road, compared to 4.38 at Progressive Field.

So, Francona could decide to go with Trevor Bauer (4.08 ERA at home vs. 4.88 on the road) in the second game and use Carrasco in Game 3 on the road.

Then there is the matter of the bullpen.

It has been reported that the Indians will have an 11 man staff for the first round, meaning they will carry seven bullpen arms.

Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Joe Smith are locks, and you have to think Tyler Olsen will give Francona a second lefty out of the ‘pen.

That leaves Danny Salazar, Dan Otero, Josh Tomlin, Zack McAllister, and Nick Goody vying for two spots, assuming Mike Clevinger is the fourth starter.

We would choose Salazar and Otero.  The former because he could give the team multiple quality frames, and the latter because he throws strikes, can pitch more than an inning and has pitched very well down the stretch.

Keeping 11 hurlers means 14 position players will make the roster.  The following are locks:  Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, and both catchers, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez.

That leaves six spots.

You have to believe Jason Kipnis will make the roster, and much depends on the health of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer, neither of whom are with the Tribe on this trip.

Chisenhall is a for sure if healthy, and we would think that Yandy Diaz, who is garnering most of the playing time at third base will be there in October too.

We also think Gio Urshela and his outstanding glove, and Greg Allen, with his speed and defense will make the roster, leaving the last spot for Guyer (if he’s healthy), Abraham Almonte, or perhaps even Tyler Naquin.

Our opinion is Almonte offers the most in the way of versatility.  He’s a switch-hitter, can play all three outfield spots, and can be used as a pinch-runner as well.

We don’t believe the Tribe will chase the best record in the American League and in the Major Leagues in total either.

We will see the regulars get some rest, the rotation set up for the playoffs, and auditions for the players we mentioned to see who will fill out the roster when the post-season starts.

On the other hand, the Tribe didn’t chase a 22 game winning streak either.  When the pitching performs as it has over the last two months, it just kind of naturally happens.

MW

 

Tribe At Halfway Point…First Place To Stay?

The Major League Baseball All-Star is considered the midway point of the season, and that will occur a week from today in Miami, with five members of the Cleveland Indians participating.

However, the real halfway point of the campaign happened on Sunday, when the Tribe won the series against the Detroit Tigers with an 11-8 win, thus ended the first half at 44-37, a pace that would get them 88 wins in 2017.

The Indians seem to be getting it together though, as the last 27 games have produced a 16-11 mark, compared to the first 1/6th of the year in which the Indians were 15-12 and the second sixth of the season produced a 13-14 record.

The Tribe figured to half solid pitching this season, and that has come to fruition with Cleveland ranking second in the American League in ERA, trailing only Boston.

The starting pitching stabilized with the return of AL pitcher of the month Corey Kluber, who made his 2nd All-Star Game, and Carlos Carrasco could’ve been selected as well, with his 9-3 record and 3.50 ERA.

Trevor Bauer has started to be solid each time out and youngster Mike Clevinger has delivered more often than not.

The fifth spot is a concern right now, with Josh Tomlin struggling at 4-9 and the worst ERA in baseball, and Danny Salazar currently in the minor leagues rehabbing a shoulder problem.

It would not be surprised to see president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff look for another solid starter prior to the trade deadline at the end of this month.

The inability of the starters to provide innings has caused the bullpen to spring a couple of weeks over the last 27 games.  Andrew Miller was being overused and Francona recognized that and started using him just an inning at a time.

Cody Allen is also going through a period where he hasn’t been unhittable and leads the relief corps in allowing home runs.

Overall, when Tito goes to his ‘pen, the results have been outstanding.  As long as the usage is kept under control, that should be the team’s strength.

The offense had a bit of a surge because of the hot hitting for a trio of Tribe batters: Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

Ramirez continues to show his 2016 season is no fluke, making his first All Star Game.  The switch hitter is at .325 with 15 homers and a 963 OPS. He has been scolding since the first of June.

Encarnacion showed why he is one of the best power hitters in the AL over the last five years, and is now on pace for 34 HR and 90 RBI.

Chisenhall has had hot streaks like this before, but he is tied for the team lead in RBIs (with Carlos Santana) at 46 despite being in a platoon role, and has a 963 OPS.

However, the offense still needs Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor to get going.

Santana only has 10 home runs and a 732 OPS, Kipnis still hasn’t hit his stride after dealing with a shoulder issue in spring training, hitting only .229 with a .284 on base percentage, which makes you wonder why Francona leads him off.

Lindor is showing signs he is human, batting just .229 since May 1st.  He’s become pull happy, which he acknowledges, and we actually saw Detroit putting the shortstop basically behind second base when he was batting left-handed.

If those three get going, the Indians will have as formidable attack as any team in baseball.

Terry Francona feels his club reached a turning point on this recent stretch where Cleveland played 20 games in 20 days.  If this is true, the Indians are heading for a second straight division title.

MW

 

Consistency Continues To Elude Tribe

A couple of weeks ago, it appeared the Cleveland Indians started to figure it all out.  They went to Minnesota, swept the first place Twins to go from two games out at the beginning of the series to two games ahead at the end.

Then they went to Baltimore and took three out of four from the Orioles, completing an eight game trip at 7-1.

The Indians were 11th in the American League in runs scored going into the trip, and came home 7th as the bats started to click, led by red hot hitting by Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

They came home for a seven game homestand with a 2-1/2 game lead over Minnesota, only to score just two runs in a three game series in which they were swept by the visitors.

Outside of Ramirez, who has put together a remarkable month of June, the bats went silent.  They put plenty of men on base, but couldn’t get a big hit.  It seemed the old rule of the rally finding a struggling hitter was in effect because Yan Gomes left a small village on the basepaths.

The starting pitching wasn’t great, and overall the Cleveland pitching staff now ranks second in the AL in ERA.  Even in the Twins’ series, Trevor Bauer persevered after a tough second inning to get into the 7th, and Corey Kluber struck out 13 in seven frames on Saturday.

Josh Tomlin struggled in the third game, but still only allowed four runs when it was all said and done.

Terry Francona is clearly frustrated with his ballclub, stating again yesterday that this is a different season, and the players can’t keep harkening back to 2016.

Tito should follow his own advise and make some changes in the batting order, something we wrote about a few weeks ago.

The top two hitters, Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis aren’t getting on base in front of Ramirez and Encarnacion.  Lindor’s on base percentage is .313 and Kipnis’ is .286.

Perhaps when Michael Brantley (.360 OBP) is back, he should go into the leadoff spot with Lindor in the #2 hole, and Kipnis dropping into the #5 or #6 hole.

He has already mentioned a leadership void talking about how his club misses guys like Jason Giambi and Mike Napoli.

When Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff traded Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn during the 2015 season, they turned over the team to players like Kipnis, Brantley, and Yan Gomes.

Brantley missed most of last year with a shoulder injury, Kipnis has struggled after missing most of spring training with a sore shoulder, and Gomes hasn’t hit since the 2014 Silver Slugger season.

It’s hard to lead when you are hurt or struggling.

Perhaps the team turned a corner last night when after trailing 8-1 and 9-2, the Indians rallied for a 15-9 victory, their first big comeback win of the season.

We still feel the Cleveland Indians are the best team in the American League Central Division because they have the best pitching mostly because of the bullpen and best hitting in the division.

However, there are warning signs that they may need something to shake them up.  The skipper is clearly concerned.  He can make the first moves by changing the lineup and perhaps going to Roberto Perez as the regular catcher.

Francona’s concern should make for an interesting few weeks prior to the trading deadline.  Just another thing to keep an eye on.

MW

 

 

 

 

Why Has Tribe Stopped Running?

The Oakland A’s arrived in town yesterday for a four game series against the Cleveland Indians.  Why is this significant?

Because it marks the return of World Series hero Rajai Davis, who hit the game tying home run in game seven of the Fall Classic.

Davis brought the added weapon of the stolen base to the Indians, leading the American League with 43, as the Tribe led the junior circuit as a team with 143 steals.

Along with Mike Napoli, Davis was credited with making Cleveland a very aggressive team on the base paths, and the Indians seemed to go from first to third quite a bit.

In fact, the Tribe led the AL in extra bases taken last year with a 45% percentage.  This statistic is based on taking more than one base on a single or taking more than two bases on a double.

Terry Francona’s team also led the league in stolen base percentage, succeeding on 81% of their steal tries.

This year, it’s a completely different story.

Cleveland ranks 11th in the American League in stolen bases, and is 12th in stolen base percentage.

They’ve also dropping to 11th in extra bases taken.

Granted Davis was a huge part of the Tribe’s speed game, but he’s wasn’t the only player running.  Jose Ramirez stole 22 bags, Francisco Lindor had 19 and his keystone combination partner, Jason Kipnis had 15.

Abraham Almonte added 8 more.

This year, Michael Brantley leads the Indians with five, which for a full season, doesn’t even project to 20.

Ramirez has three, Lindor and Kipnis each have two.  This year’s team just isn’t as aggressive on the bases.

Davis’ replacement is Austin Jackson, who hasn’t stolen 20 bases in a season since 2014, and he has never been the base stealer that Davis is.

Napoli was replaced by Edwin Encarnacion, who has been the better hitter over his career, but doesn’t have the aggressiveness on the basepaths of his predecessor.

So, this aspect of the game has to come from other players.  You would think it would come from Lindor, a team leader in every sense of the word, but he’s turned into an extra base machine, ranking third in the AL behind Mike Trout and Corey Dickerson of Tampa Bay.

He’s not stopping at first base very often, but his on base percentage is down almost 20 points from a year ago.

Ramirez would be the other candidate, but his on base percentage is down 25 points from a year ago.  Perhaps he will steal more when he starts drawing some walks again.

Maybe rookie Bradley Zimmer can be a force in this area.  Zimmer stole over 40 bases in each of his last two minor league seasons, so he has the kind of speed the Indians need.  However, he will have to learn the pitchers’ moves or he will just rely on raw speed to advance.

There are other reasons why the Tribe offense is sputtering, mostly a considerable drop in the team’s on base percentage and a terrible batting average with runners in scoring position.

But don’t overlook the aggressive base running we saw in 2016.  That was a big part of the Indians’ attack a year ago.  They need to get back to that mindset this season to help get the offense going again.

MW