Indians Need to Reclaim Progressive Field Advantage
Bob Toth | On 25, Aug 2013
Saturday’s offensive outburst notwithstanding, the Cleveland Indians’ bats had been rather quiet of late. It did not matter who the opponent or where the location – the Indians did not seem to pack their good lumber.
The pitching staff continued to pick up the offense during their just-completed nine-game road trip through Minnesota, Oakland, and Anaheim. Just twice on the trip did the arms surrender more than four runs in a game. The offense provided 4.22 runs of support and the Indians were a not-surprising 1-3 in games when they scored three or fewer runs.
While the Indians may have curtailed their road woes with the successful 6-3 trip, they returned home to Cleveland and continued to display some suspect baseball on the shores of Lake Erie. If the Indians have any serious hopes of playing baseball in October, they will have to return to their winning ways at home and may need to receive all of the offense they can muster to do it.
The Indians had been good throughout the season at home until they dropped six straight to the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels at the beginning of August. It came right on the heels of an eleven-game home winning streak for Cleveland against Toronto, Kansas City, Texas, and Chicago.
Prior to their recent skid, they had lost three straight games or more at home just twice on the season.
It almost forces the rhetorical question asking why Progressive Field has suddenly lost some of that home field advantage that it had become so well known for.
There may be no rhyme or reason for the recent lack of power at the stadium still affectionately referred to as “the Jake”. The name alone conjures memories of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome crushing baseballs into the stratosphere, supplying more than enough offense on a daily basis.
It would be easy to blame the uninspired play at home on the lack of home support for an Indians team that is a legitimate contender in the playoff picture, as it stands today. They are easily within striking distance of the American League Wild Card (two and a half games in back after Saturday’s play) and cannot be ruled out of the AL Central race (six games behind front-running Detroit), although that route looks to be the harder path to travel with a 3-13 record on the season against the Tigers.
Certainly, the lack of support in the stands has been notable throughout the entire season. But the paltry attendance during the summer months, when school was out and fans were thought to surely attend, has been a distraction.
A total of 26,870 fans took in fireworks and a Nick Swisher jersey giveaway on a beautiful Saturday evening. Just 23,218 attended Friday night’s Sugardale Dollar Dog night and a Blues Brothers-themed fireworks display.
Sure, the players notice the empty seats, but they endured other bouts of worse attendance this season and put together several impressive stretches of baseball while playing at home in Cleveland.
But this isn’t about the fan still reeling from hurt feelings caused by years of underperforming clubs, poor drafting, and the trades of some of the best pitchers the Indians have had take the mound over at least the last 15 years.
Despite their recent home woes and some weaker power numbers, the Indians have been exceptional at home throughout the season. They have a home record of 39-26, good for fifth-best in the American League, even after losing seven of their last nine at Progressive Field.
Five different times they have won four or more consecutive games at home, including that season-high eleven through July. Nine different times they have won in their final at bat, bringing back some of that walk off magic of yesteryear.
The home record is something to be excited about, even with the recent dip in production. They have already surpassed both their home win total and their season win total with over a month left to play. They have scored the fifth-most runs in all of baseball. Hopefully these facts will act as proof positive that the team can rebound and return to their winning ways from earlier this year.
When you look closer at the numbers, specifically the differential in runs scored versus runs allowed, an interesting number exists. Despite being 13 games above the .500 mark at home, they have outscored their opponents by just 14 runs. They are an even 10-10 at home in games decided by five or more runs (blowouts). They are 13-4 in one-run games.
At home as a whole, the Indians have been on the receiving end of as many blow outs as they have shelled out. They simply have just found ways to win the rest of the ball games.
Even though they have had issues at home since the All-Star break, they have still posted a 9-7 record. They began the home half of the second half by finishing up the final seven wins of their eleven-game streak before dropping six straight. They have alternated wins and losses since.
Since the end of that run of home field dominance, the Indians have faltered on their home turf. They have compiled a 2-7 record in that time, yet find themselves just two games further back in the division than they were at the start of that losing streak. It should be no surprise that the roller coaster of a season would apply even to stretches of the home schedule.
The biggest culprit in the recent decline has been the anemic offense. In the eight games entering play on Saturday since the winning streak ended, the Indians had hit just .205 and averaged just 2.8 runs per game. Saturday night’s seven run eruption undoubtedly helped skew the numbers back up slightly closer to acceptable.
During their last nine home games, the Indians have been outscored 49-29. The opposition has averaged 5.44 runs per game. Cleveland won each of the two games it scored more than five runs.
The pitching staff has shown some signs of slowing during this stretch. But when an offense can barely provide three runs per game, any ball game becomes difficult to win.
Some of the expected offensive contributors this season had slumped in that losing spell, but may be coming out of it.
Jason Kipnis, in his last ten home games entering Saturday, was hitting just .158 (six hits in 38 at bats) with eleven strikeouts. He had driven in just two runs in that time. With a two-run home run and a single in Saturday’s contest, he ended an 0-for-19 slump and resumed his mastery of the Twins this season. He now has 20 RBI on the year against them, tied for the most RBI by any one player against any one club this season.
Michael Brantley drove in a run with an RBI single in Saturday’s game, ending an 0-for-22 stretch. He was one of the few who had played well through the bad stretch at the beginning of the month, getting hits in all six games he played while batting .375.
Carlos Santana had four hits in 27 at bats (.148) with two RBI during the Indians’ home woes. He is 3-for-6 in the series with Minnesota with three RBI, improving his home batting average on the season to .266.
Swisher is batting .212 in his last eight home games with six RBI, after batting .300 in his previous seven home dates.
Including Sunday’s finale with Minnesota, the Indians have 16 home contests remaining against 17 road games. Two of those remaining road series will get knocked out this week against Atlanta and Detroit, two of the better home teams in baseball.
They have five separate home series on the schedule in September, including three games with Baltimore, three against the New York Mets, three with Kansas City, four with Houston, and two against the Chicago White Sox. Baltimore is the only one of the five with a winning record, with Kansas City spiraling back to .500 in their current seven-game losing streak.
The Indians have met the expectations of so many by fielding a competitive team this season, one that is still in the race for a possible playoff birth as September looms large on the horizon. They spent money rebuilding the roster with Swisher, Bourn, Mark Reynolds, and Brett Myers (obviously, not all of that money turned out to be well spent…). They fixed problems in the clubhouse by instilling Terry Francona and his coaching staff.
The team has popular names to support and familiar young faces to get behind, but the fans have still not supported. At least, not in person.
With the Browns set to begin their 2013 NFL season in a few short weeks, attendance figures are likely to remain low, as the city vehemently stomps its foot and proclaims that, despite the Indians marketing campaign, Cleveland is a Browns Town.
The Indians, however, continue to give the city of Cleveland a competitive, fun, and frustrating team to watch, built for now and for the years to come. Maybe, just maybe, some of that old time magic will come back at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario and help push the Indians back into October.
In the meantime, it has been nice to see meaningful baseball taking place in Cleveland in the late summer months.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images