Lets start with the positives. The Indians drew over 90,000 fans for the three-game weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sure, there were plenty of Bucco supporters who made the short trek from the Burgh, but we will take it. More good news – the Indians are in the AL Central division, where no matter how they play, they don’t seem to be losing any real ground. Take this weekend for example. The Tribe lost two of three from the offensively challenged Pirates, yet because the White Sox also lost two of three to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, they remain just a game and a half back.
I watched a weekend full of bad baseball from our Wahoos and it was very frustrating. The Tribe must win with pitching, defense, and timely hitting, and for the most part this weekend, we saw very little of that. Two of the three starts were poor. The defense was porous. The clutch hitting was almost non-existent.
But again, the Indians sit at 33-32, just a game and a half out of first place. They may not look like a contender right now, but they are right there. So let us dig right into the weekend that was in was in Wahooland.
I sound like a broken record, but what are we going to do about this offense? Friday night was a throwback to 2011, where starter Justin Masterson was brilliant and the Indians provided him essentially no run support. An excuse me swing two-out RBI double and Michael Brantley’s two-out eighth inning RBI single provided all of the offense in a 2-0 win. They were just two of the Indians six hits on the night. Saturday’s game was more of the same – two runs on six hits in a 9-2 loss. Both runs came on solo homers from Casey Kotchman and Asdrubal Cabrera. On Sunday, The Tribe busted out with five runs on 12 hits, but failed to deliver the knockout blows when they had the chance to.
Over the last five games, four of which have been losses, the Indians are 5-44 (.113) with runners in scoring position. No matter how you pitch, you just aren’t going to win games that way.
The slumping culprits are the usuals. They are getting nothing from left field, next to nothing from third base (though Jack Hannahan’s return should help that), and Casey Kotchman could certainly be doing more at the plate. I could live with Kotchman’s production because his glove is so great if the others would pick things up, but the bottom part of the order continues to be a black hole.
“The issue has been that the bottom of the lineup has been scuffling,” said Manny Acta after Saturday’s loss. “The top of the lineup and middle of the lineup is hanging in there. They’re the ones getting on base. Unfortunately, the bottom of the lineup is coming to the plate when they’re on base.”
One middle of the order guy who has to get things going is Carlos Santana. Los is pull happy and whatever hitting coach Bruce Fields is doing with him just isn’t working. Since coming off of the DL, Santana is hitting .154 (6-39) with no homers and five RBIs. You’ve got no Travis Hafner there so it is even more important that Carlos snaps out of this funk. He is lucky that Michael Brantley has been so good, because it has masked his massive slump.
Back to left field. There isn’t much the Indians can do at this point. Johnny Damon is still the best option, which is a sad state of affairs. Sunday afternoon, Johnny hit a leadoff double down the right field line in the fourth. It was the first time I can remember Damon really getting into a ball like the good old days and turning on the jets. The Indians don’t have anything better, so they will continue to ride the 38-year old.
Shelley Duncan is not the answer. After a .167 May (7-42), Shelley has gone 4-22 (.182) in June. He has two RBIs since May 8th. He’s a 32-year old below average defender without a track record. I love the guy in the clubhouse and by all accounts he is a great teammate. But at some point, the Indians are going to have to consider cutting the cord with Shelley. He really isn’t offering anything right now.
The guy who really needs to go is Aaron Cunningham. Seriously, other than the fact that he can play center field, why is he still around exactly? The Indians are a team with major offensive deficiencies, and they are holding dead weight like Cunningham on this team. When Acta actually does lob him an occasional start, he is an automatic out at the bottom of the order.
If only Lonnie Chisenhall or Jose Lopez could play the outfield…..
None of these offensive issues will matter if the Indians continue to pitch the way they have. Yes, Masterson was terrific on Friday night (seven scoreless innings, four hits, nine K’s), as was eighth inning stud Vinnie Pestano and close Chris Perez. But outside of that, Tribe pitching was knocked around by one of the worst offenses in baseball. The Pirates scored 18 runs in their two wins. Pedro Alvarez, the former #2 pick overall who entered the weekend hitting under the Mendoza Line, hit four homers in the final two games while driving in a whopping nine runs.
That is just brutal.
Sunday’s starter Jeanmar Gomez was cruising along until the fourth when the defense failed him. He should have been out of the inning, but Asdrubal Cabrera’s throwing error gave the Pirates an extra out. However, Gomez’s job is to bear down and get the next batter. Instead, he gave up a three-run homer to Alvarez that put the Buccos a 3-2 lead. Then with the score tied at four in the fifth and the bases loaded, Gomez seemed to have induced an inning-ending double play ball. However, Asdrubal again booted the ball, allowing two runs to score and extending the inning. That was all for Gomez.
Yes, his defense did him no favors, but he also didn’t have to load the bases. On came the newly acquired Esmil Rogers who promptly gave up another three-run blast to Alvarez.
Gomez hasn’t pitched more than six innings in over a month and has seen his ERA balloon from 3.19 on May 19th to 5.08 today (allowed 23 earned runs in his last 25 innings). With Zach McAllister pitching well in Columbus and already proving he can handle the big leagues pretty well, Gomez could be on a short leash.
The bullpen outside of the studs has also become a serious problem. Tony Sipp and Nick Hagadone have got to get going. Sipp in particular isn’t fooling anyone. He is having real command issues and hitters are sitting on his breaking stuff. He was touched up for yet another homer, this one from lefty Alex Presley on Saturday. Sipp has allowed eight earned runs in his last seven appearances. Hagadone looked untouchable through May, but has crashed back down to earth in June, allowing eight earned runs in five and a third innings of work.
Outside of Pestano, Joe Smith, and Perez, Acta is having a hard time knowing what he is going to get in the pen. Sipp and Rogers are iffy commodities. Jeremy Accardo is what he is. Hagadone is still a rookie figuring things out.
Overall the pitching has got to do a better job or else the Indians won’t be hanging around for long.
Up next for the Tribe is another three-game set with the Cincinnati Reds, who swept them last week. Monday night’s game features Asdrubal bobblehead night, but that is just the undercard to the main event; a rematch between Derek Lowe (7-5, 3.78 ERA) and Mat Latos (5-2, 4.64 ERA). Latos shut down the Tribe on Wednesday, but the real story was the Lowe/Dusty Baker flap. Lowe gets his chance at revenge in Cleveland tonight.