Tribe Needs To Get Less “Top Heavy”

In modern baseball, OPS is getting to be the key offensive statistic.  In our view, this is just a continuation of our belief that having an on base percentage of over .350 and a slugging average of more than .450 means you are a very good hitter.

The Cleveland Indians are fourth in the American League in runs scored despite having just three players who have played more than half the team’s games that have OPS over 800:  Jose Ramirez (991), Francisco Lindor (950), and Michael Brantley (852).

By contrast, the Boston Red Sox lead the AL in runs scored and have five regulars over 800.  Houston is second in scoring, and they have four players over that figure, five if you count Max Stassi.

The Yankees are just ahead of the Indians in plating runs, and they also have five players with OPS over 800.

Why do we bring this up?  Because of our fear that the Tribe’s offensive showing may be unsustainable unless they start getting help from others.

Certainly, Edwin Encarnacion has been a contributor as well, leading Cleveland in RBIs, and his OPS is getting closer to the coveted 800 mark at 781.

The Indians have the highest Wins Above Average in the majors at two positions, third base, manned by Ramirez, and at shortstop with Lindor.

Conversely, the Tribe ranks in the bottom five at second base and in right field, although had Lonnie Chisenhall stayed healthy, they would rank higher there, but as we know, Chisenhall has had all kinds of calf issues.

Terry Francona’s squad also ranks in the bottom ten in baseball in centerfield, where it seems no matter who Tito puts out there simply cannot hit.

A good offense can have a couple of holes, but having three guys who can’t hit, puts a strain on it, and remember, right now when Roberto Perez is catching, he’s not contributing at the plate either.

Jason Kipnis has started swinging the bat better, so that will help greatly if he continues in that direction.  But Chisenhall’s injury leaves a big gap in the attack, particularly since Tyler Naquin hasn’t hit since coming off the disabled list.

The right-handed hitting part of the platoon out there, Brandon Guyer, has not returned to his 2016 form against southpaws, and he is virtually unplayable against righties, being 2 for 41 on the season vs. RHP.

Yonder Alonso has been alright hitting behind Encarnacion in the lineup, but do you think opposing pitchers think twice about pitching around the veteran slugger in a crucial situation with Alonso there, especially if you can bring in a lefty.

Alonso is batting .206 vs. southpaws, and has a .322 on base percentage overall.  It’s pretty clear that despite all of the complaints over the years about Carlos Santana, the team misses his ability to work the count and draw walks.

The need to lengthen the lineup is the reason why the national media speculate about Cleveland dealing for Manny Machado.  They understand the need to have the lineup be strong beyond the lethal top three in the batting order.

When Kipnis is productive, and he hasn’t been for much of the season, that helps.  A healthy Chisenhall, which has become rare the past season, also is a factor, although we doubt many would think that.

There is no question that Ramirez and Lindor are having MVP caliber seasons, and Brantley has been very good too.  But they need help, and that’s one of the needs president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff need to address.

MW

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Tough Decisions Coming For Tribe.

The Cleveland Indians have played 50 games this season, and it seems like they have been in a scrambling mode since the opener in Seattle.

Yes, there have been constants.  The lineup has been buoyed all season long by their version of “The Big Three”:  Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, and Jose Ramirez.  That trio are the only three players currently on the roster with OPS over 800, outside of Erik Gonzalez, who rarely plays.

The starting rotation is also been a constant as well, as Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger have provided Terry Francona with a chance to win every night.

The rest of the team is in flux, with the bullpen issues being front and center.  For the first six innings, the Indians look like one of the best teams in baseball.  Unfortunately, they’ve allowed 43.7% of their opponents runs after the sixth inning.

That’s almost two runs per game!

No one has escaped the horribleness.  Andrew Miller has been on the disabled list twice since the end of April, and when he has pitched, he’s walked 10 hitters in 14-1/3 innings.

Cody Allen struck out 92 batters in 67-1/3 frames in 2017, and for his career has fanned 11.5 hitters per nine innings.  This year, that figure has dropped to 9.1, his lowest since his rookie year (2012).

The rest of the bullpen can’t put two consecutive good outings together for the most part. Just when you start feeling good about someone, they get hammered.

Zach McAllister has pitched well in May, and we thought maybe it was time to give him another look see.  So did Francona, who brought him into a 7-5 game last night, only to see him give up a run in the 7th to close the gap.

Meanwhile, the front office is retreading the retreads.  Oliver Drake is brought in, he is gone.  Evan Marshall came up, gave up 3 hits and 3 walks in 2-2/3, was sent down, now he is back.

Neil Ramirez has allowed 7 hits, including two dingers in 2-2/3.  Our guess is his next bad appearance will be his last.

And Josh Tomlin?  My goodness, how can a pitcher who is allowing a home run every other inning he pitches still in the big leagues?

As for the everyday players, some decisions will have to be made soon, because the injured players will start to return.

What happens when Lonnie Chisenhall comes back?  Does he platoon with Melky Cabrera in right?

And who goes when Bradley Zimmer returns?  Perhaps it is Zimmer, who has fanned 39 times in 106 plate appearances.

Tyler Naquin deserves a spot on the roster the way he hit before being injured (.333 batting average, 820 OPS).

Can Rajai Davis keep his spot on the roster?  A 527 OPS doesn’t really help the ballclub.  And what about Brandon Guyer, who hasn’t been as effective against lefties as he was in 2016.

We could see a lot more Edwin Encarnacion at first base, especially vs. lefties, with Brantley moving to DH, so Cabrera can play LF.

Our guess is Zimmer will be the first one back, and Greg Allen will go back to AAA.  That will mean Zimmer and Davis will platoon in center.

But when Chisenhall is ready, that will force a tough decision.  It will be interesting to see what direction the front office goes in.

Within the next two to three weeks, the Indians roster could look totally different.  And hopefully that means better.

MW

 

 

It’s Finally Here…Spring Training!

After four long months of winter, the words baseball fans have longed to hear can now be said:  Pitcher and catchers report to spring training.

It is just a matter of time before exhibition games will start, and isn’t it refreshing that baseball calls them that, instead of the pretentious “preseason” games like the NFL does, and may we add charges full price for them.

Unfortunately, in Goodyear, the spring got off to a sad start as Tito Francona, the father of Tribe skipper Terry, passed away.  As you may know, the Franconas were one of the several father/son combinations who both wore Cleveland uniforms.

On the field, the Indians are the two time defending American League Central Division champions, and led the AL in wins last season, compiling the second highest victory total in the history of the franchise.

So, this isn’t a club with a lot of roster questions.

Still, there are a few.  Most notably in the bullpen, where Francona and new pitching coach Carl Willis have to find a replacement for the durable Bryan Shaw and another right-hander, Joe Smith.

The back of the bullpen might be the best in the sport with closer Cody Allen, and perhaps the game’s best reliever, Andrew Miller usually handling the 8th and 9th innings.

The questions on those two won’t come until after the season, as both will be free agents.

The Tribe needs to find someone who can bridge the gap from the starters to Allen and Miller.  The frontrunners will be Nick Goody and Dan Otero, but if they were as good as Shaw, they would have been used more with the lead instead of him.

Both were solid last year, but neither pitched in more than 56 games or threw more than 60 innings.  Shaw pitched in 79 games last season, and led the AL in appearances in three of the last four seasons.

Perhaps one of the non-roster invitees, such as Preston Claiborne, Alexi Ogando, or Neil Ramirez, or perhaps farmhands Louis Head or Josh Martin can emerge as possible candidates.

The other area of interest is in the outfield where it remains to be seen whether Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer will be healthy enough to start the season on the Opening Day roster.

Based on reports, neither is likely to be ready, so Francona needs to find a leftfielder and a platoon partner for Lonnie Chisenhall in rightfield.

In left, does the skipper use Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, or Greg Allen there?  A dark horse candidate would be Rob Refsnyder, a former Yankee prospect claimed from Toronto over the winter.

To be sure, the leader to platoon with Chisenhall would have to be Yandy Diaz, who hit .263 in 156 at bats, and whose high exit velocity has many experts wondering what he could be if he could hit the ball in the air.

Diaz has a ton of upside and really has nothing to prove at the AAA level, leading the minor leagues in on base percentage.  He deserves a chance to get regular at bats at the big league level.  Heck, he played a lot during last year’s 22 game winning streak.

And there are still rumors of a trade or a free agent signing around the Indians too.  This roster could look different in a few weeks.

However, it’s good to see the boys of summer out on the field, even if it is spring.  Baseball is back, and it’s only six weeks until the regular season opener vs. Seattle on March 29th.

MW

Tribe Can’t Platoon In Too Many Spots

Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona is one of the best in the league at using the platoon advantage.

It helps that his team has a number of switch-hitters who are regulars:  SS Francisco Lindor, 2B Jose Ramirez, and 1B Carlos Santana were everyday players in 2017.

It enables Francona to platoon in right field where he used Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer until both were injured and the front office acquired Jay Bruce.

He also did the same in center, using rookie Bradley Zimmer and veteran Austin Jackson out there.

In 2016, he did the same, using Tyler Naquin and Rajai Davis in center for the American League champs.

The players have to have decided platoon advantages for the strategy to work.  Guyer is lethal vs. southpaws, and Jackson hit .352 against lefties last season.

We mention this because with Santana and Bruce now free agents, many people look at available free agents and wonder about fits for the Tribe.

One name that came up was 1B Matt Adams, recently non-tendered by Atlanta.

Adams, who swings from the left side, has an 828 career OPS vs. right handed pitching with a .286 batting average.  We like Adams, who has been production even though he’s been an everyday player just one season.

However, there is one problem with the platooning.  Francona also likes to carry 13 pitchers, including eight relievers.  That means there are only 12 position players, which limits how many spots the manager can use a platoon system.

Plus, two of those dozen position players are catchers, so if you aren’t platooning with that position, it means there are only two spots that the manager can use different players against left-handers and right-handers.

And don’t forget the need for a utility infielder, preferably someone who can play shortstop defensively so you aren’t playing a statue when Lindor gets his infrequent days off.

So, if the Indians don’t re-sign Santana, they will either need a full time option there or decide that Zimmer has to play everyday in centerfield.  Either that or have one less pitcher in the bullpen for Francona.

As things are right now, you have to think the current platoons will be Chisenhall and Guyer in right (again) and Zimmer and a right-handed bat to be named later in centerfield.

That’s why we still believe if Santana goes elsewhere, Michael Brantley will move to first base with Jason Kipnis playing left field.  If Santana returns, we could see a deal involving Kipnis.

If you want to look at a player from another team that was non-tendered, how about reliever Hector Rondon.

The right-hander was in the Tribe organization until 2012, and had seasons of 29 and 30 saves for the Cubs in 2014 and 2015.

Last season, he was 4-1 with a 4.24 ERA for Chicago, with 69 strikeouts in 57-1/3 innings, so he still has swing and miss stuff.

We know the Indians like to reunite with former players, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the reliever came back to Cleveland, especially since the front office has to be looking for arms to replace Bryan Shaw, who is a free agent.

With the Winter Meetings starting on Sunday, the Indians’ roster changes should start to take place.  Just remember the number of platoon options are limited unless full time players are acquired as well.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Tribe Entering A Crucial Stretch

The Cleveland Indians are starting a crucial stretch tomorrow night with a three game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field.

The Tribe is coming off a terrible start to the second half of the season, dropping five of six to a pair of last place teams from the Bay Area, the A’s and Giants.

This losing streak, which is actually six losses in the last seven games has allowed the Minnesota Twins to creep within a half game of Cleveland, and it has kept the Royals and even the Tigers within shouting distance.

Hitting continues to be an issue for Terry Francona’s bunch, scoring just 16 runs in the six games, with a team batting average of under .200.

The first two games of the series have the Indians starting two pitchers who we are sure Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway have no idea what to expect in Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar.

Bauer didn’t get out of the first inning in his last start and has an ERA of 5.59 for the season.  He has completed six innings in just eight of his 18 starts this season.

Salazar has been on the disabled list for awhile and has an ERA of 5.40, and has pitched six innings or more in just three of 10 starts.

Not exactly a great way to start a series in which you really need to play well and start putting games in the win column.

Injuries are also affecting the Tribe, as they are missing 2B Jason Kipnis and OF Lonnie Chisenhall right now, and lost reliever Boone Logan on Wednesday to a lat strain.

The bullpen is also leaking oil a bit, with closer Cody Allen having an ERA of 4.00 since May 1st, and Bryan Shaw has pitched 4-1/3 innings since July 1st, allowing eight hits and six runs, four of them earned.

In short, there’s a lot going wrong for the Cleveland Indians right now.  Add to that, the team isn’t sure if Corey Kluber, already moved back from tomorrow to Sunday because of a sore neck, can make that start.

If the Indians want to get it going, solid starts from Bauer and Salazar would go a long way, but the problem is based on history from this season, the bullpen will need to be involved greatly in the first two games.

And we know right now, Francona only has confidence in using his “big three” of Allen, Shaw, and Andrew Miller when he’s ahead and the game is close.

What’s gone right this season?

Jose Ramirez has shown his 2016 season was no fluke, emerging as one of the American League’s best players this season.  The best thing about the Indians might be that their best players are 24 (Ramirez) and 23 years of age (Francisco Lindor).

Mike Clevinger is starting to establish himself as a major league starter, and has an ERA of 2.73 over 12 starts.

Bradley Zimmer looks like he can be a good major league player.  He’s played very good defense in centerfield, which was needed, but has cooled off a little after a very good start hitting.

And Chisenhall has had a career season to date, although he has missed time due to injuries.

That’s about it.

Still, the Indians have the lead in the division.  As Francona says often, this team needs to play a clean game.  That means catching the ball, throwing to the right base, and moving runners on offense.

In the six games since the break, they’ve done very little of those things.

They need to rediscover them tonight.

MW

 

Time For Tribe To Put Up

The Cleveland Indians continue to be a very difficult team to watch.

We know they won the second most games in the American League a year ago and advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1997.

Yes, they lost Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis in the off-season, but they signed the top slugger on the market in Edwin Encarnacion to replace the former.  By the way, both Napoli and Davis are suffering through terrible seasons.

They have the second best ERA in the American League despite a starting rotation that has suffered through an injury to Danny Salazar, and wild inconsistency from Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer.

However, they sit with a 48-44 record through 92 games.  It’s not early anymore, the Indians have played more than half of their schedule.

They looked to be turning the corner in the middle of June when they took seven of eight on a trip to Minnesota and Baltimore, and after a brief hiccup against the Twins at Progressive Field, went 8-5 before taking time off for the All Star Game.

The offense still hasn’t returned from the break.

The Tribe was swept in Oakland without scoring more than three runs in a game, and after a 5-3 win in San Francisco on Monday, they lost to the Giants 2-1 in 10 innings.

We understand Terry Francona’s crew is missing Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall due to injuries, but Kipnis wasn’t hitting before he was hurt.

The schedule for August features games against the Red Sox, Yankees, Rockies, Rays, Twins and Royals.  What do all those teams have in common?  They are very much in the thick of the post-season race.

It is clearly time for the Cleveland Indians to put up or shut up.

Yes, we know the apologists for the team will point out they remain in first place, currently a game and a half ahead of the Twins.

But really, does anyone think this team is playing up to its potential?

Last night’s ninth inning illustrates one of the problems the hitters have had this season.

After a lead off walk to Encarnacion, two of the next three hitters, Jose Ramirez and Yan Gomes, swung at the first pitch they saw.  Ramirez did it immediately after the free pass.

Gomes swings at the first pitch in clutch situations on a consistent basis.  You are helping out the pitcher in that situation by doing this.

With all the struggles, Francona continues to use basically the same batting order.  In the hot streak we talked about earlier, Ramirez was hitting third, but Tito doesn’t want to move him out of the #5 hole.

This could be another case of the skipper being more stubborn than patient.

We have written about this before, but moving Michael Brantley and his .361 on base percentage to the leadoff spot, especially he has just 23 extra base hits for the season.

The only regular with less is Gomes, whose offensive struggles are well documented.

Should Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff be looking for another bat?

Cody Allen should also be under a little scrutiny.  After recording a 0.90 ERA in April in 10 innings, he’s allowed 12 earned runs in 27 innings (4.00 ERA) since the beginning of May.

If Salazar can regain his form, perhaps the front office should be looking for another bullpen arm.

The trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and we know this front office has been aggressive about improving the Indians.

Right now, the leaks are popping up quickly.  The real issue is there is talent on this roster and it is time for the players to start playing like they can.

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