As the Cleveland Indians hover around the .500 mark this season, there are other reasons besides the bullpen for the inconsistent start.
Four of the five starters have been outstanding, with only Josh Tomlin struggling, but Terry Francona has, because of injuries and manipulating off days, limited Tomlin to just six starts, showing that the organization has lost a little faith in The Little Cowboy.
The offense ranks 6th in the American League in runs scored, but that is a tad misleading. Cleveland has scored three runs or less in 16 of their 44 contests to date, which is 36.4%. The Tribe is 5-11 in those games, which again is a tribute to the starting pitchers.
What it means is the hitting has been inconsistent, and it has been carried by three remarkable performances.
The trio of Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, and Francisco Lindor might just be the best one-third of a lineup in baseball right now. And if only one of the three is hitting in a specified game, the Indians have problems scoring.
The switch-hitting Ramirez, still just 25 years old, can now be considered one of baseball’s elite players. We remember the talk in 2016, saying he was having a career year, which almost no one has at 23.
Ramirez is 5th in the league in OPS (1.007) and also ranks in the top five in home runs and doubles. He is also third in the AL in WAR, behind Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.
Lindor, another switch-hitter and just 24 years old, is 8th in OPS (953), is tied with Ramirez for 5th in doubles and is in the top ten in HRs. And he leads the junior circuit in defensive WAR too.
Brantley, 31, is the wily veteran of this threesome, but he appears to be recovered from the physical problems of the past two seasons, hitting .333 (4th in the league) and his OPS of 942 ranks 9th.
And in this age of the swing and miss, Brantley has struck out just 11 times, and has the second lowest whiff rate (behind Andrelton Simmons and just ahead of Ramirez) in the AL.
The problem with the offense is everyone else, save for Yan Gomes, who has to date had a real good year (.264, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 807 OPS).
While many have pointed to Jason Kipnis’ disappointing season (.174 batting average, 522 OPS), we would put Yonder Alonso in that category as well.
The veteran has a 708 OPS, and worse just a .280 on base percentage. The offense misses the walks provided by Carlos Santana (.363 OBP) greatly. He has also hit just .163 vs. lefties, which means the team should, and has, started playing Erik Gonzalez at first against southpaws.
Francona is not getting much out of his bench/platoon guys either, save for Gonzalez (978 OPS in 36 at bats).
Brandon Guyer is hitting only .150 total, just .229 vs. lefties, who he has hit .278 lifetime, and is just 1 for 32 vs. right-handers.
Rajai Davis is batting just .213 with a 514 OPS, and it appears his only offensive value is as a pinch-runner.
Roberto Perez is batting just .132 (484 OPS), so when he is in there, and he is still a very good pitch framer and defensive catcher, he’s a liability at the plate.
And Greg Allen, who has been pressed into service with the injuries to Lonnie Chisenhall, and then Tyler Naquin, has a .200 batting average, and hasn’t walked to date, with 12 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances.
Perhaps veteran Melky Cabrera can help when he is brought up, but he’s a defensive liability. He did have a 746 OPS last year with the White Sox and Royals. And maybe Yandy Diaz can help too.
Otherwise, there isn’t much Francona can do. These guys do have track records, but it is tough for the offense to generate runs with just three big bats. A team needs production up and down the order.
If that doesn’t happen, Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff may have to get a bat as well as some bullpen arms before the July 31st trading deadline.