One month in…Things must improve

Jason Kipnis

In what has been the first month of the season, we have watched our Cleveland Indians kick the ball around the field, hit sub-Mendoza line with runners in scoring position, fail to pitch deep into games, and lose six in a row in California. Other than that, they were great!

Baseball is a six-month trek. It’s a marathon season, not a sprint. How many times have we seen teams struggle out of the gate, only to catch fire mid-summer and get right back into the mix for a division title? I’m not saying this version of the Indians can do that, but they are certainly capable. The core of this team is, for the most part, the same group that won 92 games a season ago. But judging by the first month on the field, you probably couldn’t tell.

Terry Francona is going to earn his money over the next couple of months. The majority of the games the Indians have played in thus far have been close. Pitching and defense are going to be a huge part of said games. The 2014 Indians have been reminiscent of my son’s little league team when it comes to defense—they rank dead last in in the American League. Worst of all it is the timing of these errors.

Take Monday night for example. Nick Swisher boots an easy grounder in a tie game in the eighth inning, which turned into the winning run when Mike Trout’s RBI single put the dagger in the Tribe’s heart. Making matters worse in that loss was Francona’s head-scratching decision to pitch to the best player in baseball with first base open and one out in the eighth inning.1

swisher_2014-04-05

Swish’s error was par for the course. Between The Bro and his ground ball issues, Jason Kipnis’s yips on throws to first2, Asdrubal Cabrera’s usual lack of range, and Yan Gomes’s regression behind the plate, the defense has truly killed the Indians this season. While Michael Bourn has great range, he has missed cut-off men too many times thus far. I cannot recall an Indians team that was so poor defensively. I know it has only been a month, but errors are a problem seemingly every single night.

The fundamentals of this team have been putrid. They aren’t moving runners in key situations. Gomes’ eighth-inning at-bat Tuesday night after David Murphy lead off the inning with a walk in a one-run game was awful—he struck out on three pitches. The base-running leaves a lot to be desired as well. Then there are the response runs.

Watching the Indians offense score runs this season has been an adventure to say the least. When they actually do come through putting a crooked number on the board, the other team seems to be immediately returning the favor. When your offense delivers, it is of the utmost importance that whoever is on the mound needs to respond by shutting down the opponent right away. Instead Indians pitchers have given up 47 response runs in 28 games.

This team if rife with issues right now, there is no denying it.

For this team to succeed, it has to get more from the middle of its order and from the starting rotation. Offensively, Francona is getting next to nothing from his biggest bats. Carlos Santana (.151/.313/.593) did hit two homers this week in Anaheim, but heading into that series, he was in the midst of a 3-for-50 slump. Imagine if he wasn’t drawing walks. I believe Carlos will be fine. The position switch has definitely affected him. Who would have though the problem with Santana would be the bat, not the glove?

Kipnis (.234/.354/.748) started slowly last April before having monster months in May and June. The hope is that we will see that again, assuming his side injury doesn’t require a DL stint3. Swisher (.211/.287/.617) thrived in New York when he hit down in the order in a New York lineup loaded with All-Stars. Last year he got a pass because he actually came here to become a major part of the culture change. The shoulder injury that plagued him is supposed to be in the rearview mirror. However, things don’t look any different for Swish at the dish. I see lots of strikeouts and frustrating at-bats.

These are the two- three- and four-hitters in your lineup and the Indians are getting essentially next to nothing from them. I can’t even get worked up about Cabrera’s lack of production (.220/.297/.627) because at this point, he is what he is–a declining player on the final year of his deal. We all know he won’t be back next season as the future (Francisco Lindor) will take over at short. You also knew a regression from both Gomes (.250/.289/.706/seven errors) and Ryan Raburn (.164/.217/.398) was coming.

For the month of April, the Indians offense went .232/.313/.668 with just 19 home runs while averaging 3.8 runs per game. In four less games last April, they hit 36 homers and averaged 5.0 runs per game4.

Imagine where this offense would be without the contributions of Michael Brantley and Murphy. Even Lonnie Chisenhall has surprised us all, looking terrific at the plate (.362/.412/.901). Francona is still cautious about over-using Lonnie, almost in the same way he did with Raburn a year ago. He has moved him up in the order a couple of times, but Tito won’t use Lonnie against lefties. He has been only given one at-bat against a southpaw and got a hit. With the offense struggling so badly, you would think Chisenhall would be getting more of a chance, but so far Francona has resisted.

brantley_2014-04-02

It has only been a month, but the Indians have no chance if the offense continues down this same path.

As for the rotation, the back end has been a mess and the so-called “ace” has been completely inconsistent. It took one month for Carlos Carrasco to flame out and get replaced. The heir will most likely by Trevor Bauer who has been dominant in Columbus and thrived in a sport start against San Diego three weeks ago. Not far behind is Josh Tomlin hasn’t allowed a run in his last two Triple-A starts, including Thursday night’s complete game, three-hit shutout in Durham. Danny Salazar was expected to take a big leap as the future of the Tribe rotation, with that future being now. That hasn’t happened as Danny has been just as shaky as Carrasco. In his last start in San Francisco, however, the Salazar we all expected to see reappeared as he held the Giants to one run in seven innings. We need to see more of that.

Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber have given Francona exactly what he expected from them—solid starts deep into games which have given his team a chance to win. The same can be said for Justin Masterson I suppose, but when you are the team’s alleged No. 1 starter, you have to be better what he has shown. Masterson has made six starts and has yet to register a win. This has nothing to do with run support; Justin just hasn’t been that great (4.84 ERA/1.50 WHIP). His problem against left-handed batters has resurfaced as well; they are hitting .314 against him, while righties are at .208. There has been a documented slow-down in his velocity that hasn’t helped, but I also believe the pressure of pitching for a big contract may be weighing on him. He still has yet to put together back to back quality seasons and this is a big year for him. It hasn’t gotten off to a great start.

Yes, the Indians are 11-17 and in last place in the AL Central, but nobody is running away with anything. You know who else is in last place and under .500? The Tampa Bay Rays, a team that many picked to go to the World Series. There are some positives signs: Murphy has been a huge addition (.282/.360/18 RBIs); Brantley has kept up his knack for hitting with runners in scoring position (.310/17 RBI); the bullpen anchors–Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Marc Rzepcynzski, and closer John Axford have all been excellent; veteran Scott Atchison has taken over the Matt Albers role and handled it well; Kluber and McAllister have anchored the rotation.

This off day couldn’t have come at a better time for the Indians. We turn the page to May and get a refreshed Tribe coming home to face off with the upstart Chicago White Sox. It should be interesting to see if they can respond and turn things around quickly. It will be Salazar’s turn again as he faces off with lefty John Danks, who is usually a Tribe punching bag, but beat the Indians on April 10 with six innings of three-run ball.

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Footnotes:

  1. Yeah, I know who was on deck (Albert Pujols) but I’d rather take my chances on getting a ground ball with a slow runner at the plate then pitching to Trout. []
  2. This is a real budding problem that nobody seems to be talking about []
  3. Which appears to be coming with the rumors that Jose Ramirez is on his way to Cleveland []
  4. Remember, Mark Reynolds looked like the AL MVP that first month, then was cut later in the season []
  • nj0

    You don’t see it like this, but I think Steve and myself are regularly critical of the Indians – just in different ways from yourself and the rest of many here. I do not believe one or two over-priced FAs would make or break this team. I regurgitate stats because those stats support my argument.

    But if you want me to hate on the Indians, I will. We’ve drafted horribly, spent too much imo on two aging vets (Bourn and Swisher), put together one of the worst defensive in-fields in recent memory, failed to move ACab after his flukey peak…

    Now that I think about it, my criticisms of the Indians are all the antithesis of your complaints. I think we should be acquiring FEWER big name free agents. I think we should be more willing to sell high on young players who have big years. I think we need MORE roster turnover year to year. Be more like the Rays. Develop better. Trade your stars. Try to build a consistent winner instead of all this window of contention nonsense.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yea ‘cuz me hungry me go eat and like I said below your entitled to YOUR OPINION just like me. Win that argument son!

    You and your buddy Steve feeling the need to uptick each other responses is hilarious too!!!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    OY VEY!

  • Steve

    “Win that argument son!”

    I don’t think many people here are trying to win some black-and-white argument. Just adding to the conversation. When someone suggests that the offense was weak last year, a noteworthy follow up is where the offense actually did rank. That’s not saying that the discussion has ended. It’s just the next logical point to go.

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You don’t see it like this, but I think Steve and myself are regularly critical of the Indians

    You are right I don’t see it.

    But if you want me to hate on the Indians, I will.

    Lets not play word games you are an American you can do whatever the f&^% you want to!

    And please you and Steve keep taking turns upticking each other, it’s funny.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    So wait, one start, in the minors, makes Tomlin a quality starter now?

  • Steve

    I guess the next logical point is, if you don’t want to have an actual conversation, why do you participate? At this point, I’m genuinely curious as to what your endgame is here.

  • Steve

    The Disqus nanny apparently ate my reply so I’ll try again:

    “considering the HORRENDOUS defense”

    We both will point out the flaws in the team. We won’t just simply whine and complain when they have a bad week.

    And I need you to clarify two points. What exactly is being conflated? What opinions are we telling everyone is a fact? I’ll be glad to amend any of my points or change my stance.

  • nj0

    Goes to show how quickly a manager can go from genius to goat. When you’re winning, his laid back attitude keeps guys loose and puts them at ease. When you’re losing, his lackadaisical attitude means no consequences and results in a lack of urgency.

    As a side note, four weeks ago I had a lot of trouble spelling “lackadaisical”. I no longer do.

  • Steve

    Fried chicken and beer. It can turn on you quickly.

  • nj0

    Bad day? Have a cocktail.

  • Harv 21

    right. But is it a legit question to ask in light of performance?

  • Steve

    Definitely fair to ask, and I would like to see the bumbling Hoynes and Ocker press the FO a bit more. They seem to go back and forth between praise (seemingly to keep their access) and whining about an issue without actually asking anyone about the issue.

    I’m willing to wait and see on Swisher and Gomes at the moment. It’s sloppy play that needs to be cleaned up, but it seems fixable. Bourn may still be having some hamstring issues, which isn’t an excuse, but may be worse than the alternative. Kipnis though, ugh. He seems to be unable to get to balls that he used to. We can barely handle that from his double play partner. Getting it from both guys up the middle is a huge blow.

  • nj0

    Yes, I think it is. I wasn’t criticizing your criticism of Francona. Just observing. But yeah, Francona has done some weird things. Low OBP guys leading off, inexplicable Giambi loyalty, Elliott Johnson love… Plus, like you said, this team sure doesn’t look ready.

    Is that’s Francona’s fault, who knows? But considering all the people who were rushing to crown him King of the Corner of East 9th and Carnegie last year, I think his negative influence on this team in 2014 is fair game.

  • nj0

    I’m from Cleveland. I don’t win anything.

  • Harv 21

    I don’t blame them for not asking yet; they have journalistic standards and I can say whatever, whenever. They attended spring training and I did not.

    I do not want this to be true, I’d rather think the tribe somehow scored one of baseball’s consistently best managers rather than a guy who gets results more from star-studded lineups. I know I saw a manager effect last year, and the players to a man were saying it. But what is this about? Re Bourn, that little league angle he took on the Trout triple worried me more than any error I’ve seen. Can’t believe he even had such a bad instinct left after gold gloves there. That’s not a hamstring, that’s a guy who either hasn’t been practicing or was in the middle of a first-inning daydream until the ball was on him. Just doesn’t look like contagious jitters by young players. Looks like guys thinking in camp that another fun August was somehow assured, and nobody called them out.

  • nj0

    That sounds so good right now. The Francona Special…

  • Garry_Owen

    Anyone else notice that WFNY conversations about the Indians generally take on this vibe?:

    http://stream1.gifsoup.com/view7/3342342/monkey-knife-fight-o.gif

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Your next logical point which in itself is a mystery but endgame, lol, seriously?

    OY VEY!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Your next logical point which in itself is a mystery but endgame, lol, seriously?

    OY VEY!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This is beyond argument and to which I bid you adieu!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This is beyond argument and to which I bid you adieu!

  • nj0

    I always pictured it more like the Kyle-Cartman slap fight from Southpark.

  • nj0

    I always pictured it more like the Kyle-Cartman slap fight from Southpark.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yes and yes. I’m gonna have a few Shirley Temples (wink wink) when this day is over!!!!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yes and yes. I’m gonna have a few Shirley Temples (wink wink) when this day is over!!!!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If so I’d be on top!! ;-)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If so I’d be on top!! ;-)

  • Garry_Owen
  • Garry_Owen
  • Garry_Owen
  • nj0

    Amen. 5:00 pm can’t get here fast enough.

  • Tron

    Your facts are sound. My main beef is not keeping Kazmir. I think it was a crucial mistake.

    That and another right-handed bat.

    Our defense is bad but it’s the same as last season and I don’t think that was what needed to be focused on during the off season.

  • Tron

    I’m not buying that. St. Louis is not a big market. Cincinnati is not a big market.

    You make your market. They made their market.

    You think the Bucs are a pinnacle of success?

    There is no more reason why we can’t get as many Pirate fans in PA to switch allegiance as there is for all the Ohioans that are now Steeler fans.

    You’re right about Sizemore though. There is no question that hurt. All i’m saying is that last season we made moves that netted results and instead of continuing down that course and continue to make the necessary moves, the Dolans settled with a one-game wild card spot.

    We should expect more.

  • Steve

    I think it’s feasible to ask a question about if the spring had anything to do with the current start they’re on. You’re not there to be Terry’s buddy. He gets to be asked tough questions every once in a while.

  • mgbode

    beer battered fried chicken. mmmmmmmm

  • mgbode

    baseball and more directly complaining about baseball is still America’s pasttime.

  • mgbode

    Ok, so for April:

    Our pitching generally stunk
    Our hitting (especially RISP) generally stunk
    And our defense smelt as if a skunk ate nothing but Limburger cheese and eggs for four straight days and was then run over by a truck.

    Does that sum things up well enough?

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • mgbode
  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • left out

    tomlin pitched well before tommy john, he pitched well in ST and better than carrasco, and he is pitching well now. it seems that someone (francona) does not care much for him or he is in the doghouse