August 17, 2014

Tribe Weekend Wrapup: Wahoos falling fast…can they get back up?

Michael BournLet’s get it out of the way right from the jump: Your Cleveland Indians, aka Team Streak, are in the midst of yet another June swoon. This was a team that not too long ago won 18 of 22 and led the AL Central by two and a half games. Since the miracle four-game sweep against Seattle, capped off by the Yan Gomes walkoff three-run homer on a Monday afternoon in Cleveland, the wheels have come completely off the wagon. The schedule became a lot tougher, and the Indians collectively have gone into a gigantic slump. The 4-15 stretch has been book-ended by two sweeps from the team they are fighting for the division lead, the Detroit Tigers.

It has been Murphy’s Law time for Terry Francona’s crew. Whatever could go wrong, has gone wrong.

“When it rains, it pours,” said slumping first baseman Nick Swisher. “We’ve got to just keep going out there and battling every day, man. This is a long season. Hopefully, we’ll look back at this stretch in August and September and kind of laugh at it all. That’s it, man. It just boils down to winning a ballgame. That’s it.”

However you look at it, the Indians have reached danger time. They’ve now lost 11 in a row on the road and have to go to Texas for a three-game set with the AL West leading Rangers, who have owned the Indians for a better part of a decade. The hope was that the Tribe could hope to salvage a 5-4 or even a 4-5 record on this “see what they are made of” nine game road trip. Instead, we are all wondering whether or not they will win even one of these games.

The three game sweep in Detroit came at an ill-advised time. The Tigers now lead the Tribe by five and a half games and the Wahoos are under .500 for the first time since May 1st. So what exactly happened this weekend and how did we get here? Let us take a look back at the weekend that was(n’t) in Wahooland.

What to do about the rotation

It is amazing how quickly things can turn. During the 18-4 run to the top of the AL Central, it seemed as though each and every night, the much maligned starting rotation showed out. Whether it was Ubaldo Jimenez making his resurgence, the ascent of Zach McAllister, the rebirth of Scott Kazmir, the solid surprise of Corey Kluber, or the domination of Justin Masterson, the group as a whole kept the Indians in almost every game. However, during this horrific 15 of 19 loss skid, the rotation worries have come right back to the forefront.

This weekend was a prime example.

Friday night, Ubaldo wasn’t terrible (two costly errors by Swisher killed him), but he was far from sharp as the Tigers took the first game of the series 7-5. Jimenez couldn’t get out of the fourth inning and just didn’t have the stuff we had seen over the last month. He gave up five runs (three earned) on seven hits in three innings, walking three and striking out three. Even he admitted this was just not his night.

“In the first inning, I felt really good,” Jimenez said. “In the second inning, everything was going the other way. I threw too many pitches in that inning and after that, I was kind of fatigued.”

He was due for an off game and I will give him a pass on this one because his defense really didn’t help his cause and you can’t give a team like the Tigers extra outs.

Saturday morning arrived with bad news. McAllister, who has been a solid number two for most of the young season, was placed on the DL with a finger issue that has been bothering him for his last two starts. In his stead, the Tribe called up the twice suspended Carlos Carrasco, who would be moved up to pitch that afternoon. The Tribe’s planning was sound – let Carrasco pitch under appeal of his suspension Saturday, either drop it or get an answer on Sunday, and with Thursday’s off-day scheduled, the other four members of the rotation could stay on regular rest while draining Carrasco’s eight-game suspension. As it turned out, MLB reduced his suspension to seven games, which started Sunday.

Carrasco had been lights out in Columbus until his last two starts, but he has done all he can do in AAA. Now is his time to either show he can be a stable member of the rotation or prove otherwise. During his first start back with the Tribe Saturday, his fastball was regularly hitting 96. However, he spent the majority of his day pitching away. It was almost as if he was scared to come inside on the Tigers, as if his suspensions were still fresh in his head. Carrasco begged to differ afterwards. “I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about that.”

The Tigers sat back and waited for their pitches and teed off on him, loading the bases in each of the first three innings. It was 6-1 at the end of three and it was all over but the shouting. Carrasco would go four innings, giving up those six runs on 10 hits and three walks. Not exactly what the Tribe brass had hoped for when they chose Carlos to take McAllister’s spot.

“His stuff is electric,” Francona said. “But there’s still some learning to do, because he didn’t pitch in. If he lets them get their arms extended, then it takes away some of the effectiveness of his breaking ball, because they’re not respecting in. When he learns to start throwing that fastball in, he’s going to be something special.”

I hope for the Indians sake Francona is right, but Carrasco is no kid anymore. He has spent parts of the past four seasons in AAA and at age 26 should be up and in a major league rotation by now. I know, it was only one start. The jury is definitely still out on Carrasco, but I would like to see more of him.

Meanwhile, with the Tribe desperate for a win Sunday to break a six-game losing streak, they turned the ball over to their ace, Masterson. This was a day where the needed Justin to come out and be dominant. Instead, he was just OK, which wasn’t good enough as the Tigers swept the Tribe out of Detroit 4-1. The kill shot against Masterson came in the sixth when the light-hitting Don Kelly took an inside fastball deep for a game-winning three-run homer. Kelly entered the game hitting .190 on the season.

Masterson has had two chances during this bad stretch of baseball to stop the bleeding. In those two road starts he has allowed 11 earned runs in 13.1 innings pitched and has been bitten by the home run ball.

Said Francona about his horse, “I didn’t think he had his best command, but he still navigated his way through that lineup.”

Outside of the obvious – Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera – there is one gigantic difference between the Tigers and the Indians. The top four starters in the rotation dwarf what the Indians bring to the table. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez are all arguably better than Masterson (we know Verlander is). Fourth starter Doug Fister would easily be the Indians number two. The Tribe’s rotation has to improve, but in the now and long term.

The offensive slumber isn’t helping the porous pitching

Nick Swisher is a great guy. He has that infectious personality that his teammates and fans love and he is a natural team leader. But his current stretch of baseball has really been hurting the Tribe. Swisher’s single Sunday ended an 0-24 slump, the second worst of his career. Defensively, his two errors completely changed Saturday’s two run loss. Yet through it all, he is staying positive.

“He’s been through slumps before,” said hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo. “There’s no panic in there. It just gets frustrating when you’re not getting hits and you want to contribute, and it’s not working out for you. But the swing is fine. He’s looked good. You just grind it out and weather the storm. It’s like a circle. It’ll come all the way back.”

Swisher is not the only one guilty here. Everyone in the lineup seems to be mired in a slump at the same time.

Carlos Santana is hitting just .206 with a homer and nine RBIs over the last 30 days. Mark Reynolds is hitting .188 with two homers and 12 RBIs during the same stretch. Even Michael Brantley, the most consistent Tribe performer of the past two seasons, is in an 8-44 skid (.188). Drew Stubbs is eight for his last 40 (.200). I could go on and on. This is also all going on with Asdrubal Cabrera on the disabled list with a quad injury.

As I have said many times, the offense is extremely hot and cold. This is just another one of the cold spells and they will eventually come out of it. Hopefully by the time they do, it won’t be too late. For all we know by the weekend, the home run brigade will re-appear.

Sunday’s loss was particularly frustrating because the Tigers scratched Sanchez thanks to  a sore shoulder and called up 24-year old Jose Alvarez to make his major league debut. Naturally, the obscure lefty factor kicked in and the Tribe offense was completely baffled by the kid. They could only muster three hits in six innings, striking out seven times.

Whatever happens going forward, if the offense can’t get things rolling again, the Indians are in big trouble. During the 18-4 run, their run differential was +54. Since then, they have lost 15 of 19 and have a run differential of -33.

Third base – what to do?

The main problem with Cabrera being on the DL is obvious. The secondary issue is that the Indians are forced to carry an extra infielder who can play shortstop. That spot is currently being held by Juan Diaz, a light-hitting shortstop who Francona is just not using (and probably shouldn’t). Mike Aviles is now the regular shortstop.

Reynolds was brought in originally to play first base. When Michael Bourn signed on, Swisher moved to first base, shifting Reynolds to DH. However, with Lonnie Chisenhall demoted to AAA, Reynolds was moved across the diamon to third base, and his bat has suffered since. Defensively, we are all seeing why the Orioles turned him to a primary first baseman last year. Big Mark hits big flies. But his defense leaves a lot to be desired. He insists one thing has nothing to do with the other, but I can’t help but think Reynolds’s defensive issues have carried over to his bat.

There is an easy solution to all of this: demote Diaz and recall Chisenhall, who is hitting .393/.475/.715 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 21 games for Columbus. It’s clear he is ahead of AAA pitching.  Bring him back and move Reynolds back to his rightful DH spot and mix him in at third against lefties. The only way Aviles is coming out of a game is if he gets hurt and if that were to happen, they could use Chisenhall or Raburn for those few innings and make a call-up for the next game.

I think it is time for the return of Lonnie Baseball.

Up Next

The Indians taken their seven game losing streak to Texas to meet the Rangers. Scott Kazmir (3-3, 5.24 ERA) will get things started for the Tribe and will face off against Josh Lindblom (0-1, 7.71 ERA) tonight at 8:05.

  • Adam Copeland

    This team’s obviously not as bad as they’ve been in this hideous 4-15 stretch, but it’s also pretty clear that with all of the question marks in the starting rotation, this team is not nearly as good as they were in that 18-4 stretch.

    In the end, the schedule will get significantly easier (I think something like 2/3 of the Tribe’s remaining games are against teams with losing records) but the starting pitching is going to continue to be the unpredictable variable.

    I bet they end up within 5 games of .500 (either above or below), pretty much where all the analysts and advanced stats predicted they’d be before the start of the year.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I’m definitely a little bummed that the Tribe didn’t show better against the top-notch competition they have faced in the past couple weeks. If you want to convince your fans that you have what it takes to make the playoffs this year, then you need to beat winning teams on the road. As bad as the Indians’ hitting has been in this streak, it still seems like they are putting up 3, 4, or 5 runs pretty often. It’s the starting pitching that isn’t giving the team a chance to win.

  • Harv 21

    I’m not so discouraged by the pitching, as it was expected. The starters’ hot stretch had everyone pitching against norm – Masterson returning to the form he had only one of his 3 seasons here, McAllister pitching his best ever, a rare Ubaldo hot stretch, etc. There’s not one grizzled guy on the staff with attitude that has the competitive nastiness to hold the opposition to one run when he doesn’t have his best stuff, and not give up “just that one bad pitch” or walk the 8th and 9th guys in the order.

    I can’t get mad at Santana or Kipnis or Reynolds – they all now have track records of disappearing for a month at a time. I’m more disappointed with Swisher. They purchased a middle of the order guy who would not tighten up and go 0-24 in the toughest stretch of games. Maybe it’s the distraction of his first baby, but horrible timing. Also think those bullpen meltdowns and blown saves hurt, a lot. This is a stretch they just needed to not get swept in any series and, as happens with every team, a rickety pen makes everyone tighten up.

    Re Chiz as a potential cure at 3rd, he’s made like 6 or 7 errors at AAA since his demotion. The key to this org being successful always comes back to amateur scouting and development, and there’s no middle of the order prospects primed to jump at their chance. The ghosts of Andy Marte and Corey Smith can haunt an awful long time.

  • ToxicToast

    There are 100 games left to play at this point. On the assumption the tribe would need 90 wins to sniff the playoffs in any way, they would need to go 60-40 the rest of the season. That’s a pretty big ask for almost anyone.

  • mgbode

    Swisher not tighten up? Perhaps you avoided the Yankees in the playoffs, but Swish has a history of getting the yips in high leverage situations.

  • mgbode

    and the bullpen. don’t leave out the bullpen.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The decline in starting pitching has coincided almost perfectly with the losing streak which is why I held my tongue when the group was doing so well. It was great to see but I wasn’t fooled which is why I felt they needed at least one more SP before the trade deadline. Heck they may need two.

    Anyways as everyone has said there are still plenty of holes on the roster both pitching and hitting. As far as Swish he’s a big fish in a small pond now things are alot different when you don’t have the Grandersons, Teixerias, Rodriguezs and Jeters of the world batting around you.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This shows just how volatile a bullpen can be even when you consider it among the best in the league. Not everyone can be the St. Louis Cardinals who lost their AS closer and replaced him with one time Indian Edwin Mujica who has been awesome.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    On the bright side the mighty Bruins swept the Penguins and are back in the Stanley Cup Finals!

    #LetsGoBruins

  • mgbode

    Kazmir against the Rangers in Arlington. What could go wrong?

  • mgbode

    I’m guilty here too, but I think we all need to kill the Cardinal comparisons. St.L just operates on a whole different level from the majority of MLB.

    Anyways, yes, bullpens are volatile and a couple injuries (Pestano/Perez) easily can make a good bullpen a bad one. Also, the fact that we just do not seem to be able to find a lefty situational bullpen guy is extremely worrisome.

  • Harv 21

    This was not high leverage compared to what he’s been used to, it’s freakin early June, where he doesn’t go 0-for-week. He’s performed well in pennant races. This is not must-win time, it’s just don’t-collapse time. And he has.

    Look, don’t wanna exaggerate, never thought they’d win the division. But they need to win a game, and Swish was one guy who could help and convince his team they would do that, I did not believe a team with Bourn and Swish in their prime could lose 15 of 18 in May/June.

  • mgbode

    fair enough, but it’s really just normal ebbs and flows. the more disconcerting portion is that we haven’t had ANYONE step up during this streak.

    you mention Swish and Bourn, but we also have Kipnis, Santana, and even Brantley who have proven capable of providing a good spark for the offense in their history. Someone needs to step up.

  • Kildawg

    Look at the schedule; it’s been pretty brutal early on. Good news is we’re done playing NYY, BOS, and TB; and already had 2 trips to Detoilet. We split with the Reds and took 3 of 4 from Philly, the latter of which is heating up and Reds are good. Schedule looks easier going into August and September; wonder how much tougher Detoilet’s schedule gets? Still have 11 games to get them; 8 at home.

  • http://www.redright88.com/ Tom_RedRight88

    Unfortunately Swisher is performing pretty much right at his career numbers.

    I wrote this a couple of days ago, so his projected numbers may be slightly off, but:

    In the four full seasons when Swisher was not protected by a New York Yankee lineup, he has posted a .243 batting average, and averaged 25 home runs and 79 RBI. Project Swisher’s current production out over a full season, and he will wind up not far off those numbers with a .249 average, 22 home runs and 65 RBI.

    The Tribe may have paid Swisher like a middle of the order guy, but he has never filled that role with any success in the past.

  • Natedawg86

    Lonnie or bust

  • Natedawg86

    Downtick for rooting for a Boston team

  • Vindictive_Pat

    But I WANT to leave them out. I want them to have to pitch a lot less than they’ve had to pitch recently.

  • Natedawg86

    Maybe Swisher just needs a release. There is a six week gap after the child is born

  • Natedawg86

    Raburn needs to hit more home runs…

  • Garry_Owen

    Synonyms.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Yeesh… RHBs Andrus, Profar, Beltre and Cruz, SHB Berkman. This one could get ugly.

  • mgbode

    Costanza taught us that mentally men become incredibly smart during any gap in such activities, but perhaps that is offset by a physical weakness?

  • mgbode

    “protection” in baseball has proven to be minimal.

    take a look at Swisher’s OPS+ numbers:
    A`s+CWS: 102,125,126,93
    NYY: 122,129,120,126

    Indians: 114

    So, what he did in NY was nothing out of the ordinary from what he did in Oakland (he did have a bad year in Chicago). What he is doing this season is a tick below those numbers, but well within the range of expectations.

  • mgbode

    but, when they do need to pitch, they cannot blow the game (Boston series in particular that started this whole slide).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    But I like the Cardinals love the organization!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    father depression? maybe he should have gone on the DL!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    LoL I don’t care ‘cuz da Bruins are in the finals! If that wasn’t enough did you see what the mighty Sox did to the Rangers over the weekend too? Maybe they softened up for the beleaguered Tribe.

  • Harv 21

    well, don’t you know what to do with a batting practice fastball

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Look at the bright side at least Kinsler won’t be playing! Yuuuuuuu forgot Darvish, hopefully the Indians miss him.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Least they ai’t homonyms!

  • Garry_Owen

    We bench players have to shine somewhere.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Luckily we do miss Darvish. He pitched two nights ago and will pitch the game after the Tribe/Rangers series finishes. We also lucked into Ogando hitting the DL yesterday (retro to his last start on the 6th). If the Indians can’t take advantage, woe is them.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I tried to warn you about that series man!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    See, always a bright side! Turn those frowns upside down Tribe fans.

  • humboldt

    Michael Aubrey feels left out…

  • Harv 21

    I try not to blame the org if injuries play a significant role, and I think they did with Aubrey, and LaPorta. And Adam Miller. And Courtney Brown and Lawyer Tilman.

    [sobs quietly]

  • humboldt

    A small part of me will forever await the emergence of Tim Costo from our minor league system…

  • Jaker

    The good teams beat up on guys making first starts. Instead, we always look baffled. Happened with the Vidal Nuno as well as yesterday. Even the below average David Phelps has looked like an ace against our lineup. But right now, I’m not sure if the O or the Pitching is the biggest problem. A few notes…

    1. Lonnie Baseball does indeed need to return. He started slow, but raked down in AAA. He’s ready, unleash him.

    2. I don’t see a way we can improve the rotation for the “long term and short.” It’s usually one or the other, and we will have to give something to get something. Maybe if we traded our replaceable All Star Loser(sorry, meant Closer) or our other replaceable All Star SS. Oh wait, those ships have sailed.

    3. I’m putting the offensive slump on the shoulders of Santana, Swisher and Reynolds. If it wasn’t for Santana’s extremely hot start, those three would be batting in the .240s. Can’t have that from the middle of the order.

    Someone needs to wake this team up Right Now

  • Harv 21

    I think that can still happen! Karl Pagel, however …