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The Highs and Lows of the Indians’ Month of April

The Highs and Lows of the Indians’ Month of April

| On 02, May 2016

April could have gone much better for the Cleveland Indians. Recent history also proves that it could have gone much worse.

So…the Indians survived April, one lacking an All-Star left fielder and one that saw the number 1A pitcher on the staff succumb to injury. They fell a game short of reaching what most fans and pundits would have deemed an acceptable return by finishing the month with a 10-11 record, victimized by a horrifying five-game stretch of tough-luck one-run games, four times ending in the loss column and three of which ended with walk-off victories for the opposition.

Here’s a look back at some of the high points, the low points, and some of the stops in between on the roller coaster ride that was the month of April for the Cleveland Indians and their fans.

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On the injury front…

THE GOOD

Michael Brantley returned from his offseason shoulder surgery in one piece. Sure, it was a little later than he might have liked, but it was far from that awful Peter Gammons prediction that floated around social media during the offseason. While the results at the plate for Brantley were mixed (five games played, .118 batting average, one single, one double, one walk, one RBI), fans need to taper their expectations some, as he is basically still working his way through his own personal spring training.

THE BAD

The Indians managed to trip and fall flat on their respective faces to close out April, but one of those intentional belly flops looks to be a bit more painful than originally assumed. Backup catcher Roberto Perez, while limited to just four games due to weather, off days, and some early concussion-related concerns, landed on the 15-day disabled list after hurting his right thumb diving to tag out Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera on an over-aggressive attempt by the Phillies outfielder to score on a ball in the dirt. It is suspected that Perez has a fracture in his hand, but it is unknown how severe or how long he will be out of the lineup beyond the 15 days mandated by his placement on the injured list.

THE OBSCENE

No doubt a fair share of colorful words were shared audibly when Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 2.45 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in four starts) crumpled to the earth in Detroit while covering first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield. A little over 24 hours later, it was revealed that while the Tribe’s number two starter would indeed miss time on the disabled list, his hamstring was just strained and not torn, making a four- to six-week absence from game activities far more palpable than the worst-case scenario of a season-ending tear.

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Regarding new guys…

THE GOOD

Anybody have Tyler Naquin leading the team in batting average at the end of April? No, Corey Kluber’s 1-for-2 effort in the month does not count, although that does deserve at least a tip of the cap for getting the first extra base hit by an Indians pitcher since 2008. Naquin, after getting banished to the bench and involved only in late defensive efforts due to the Indians extensive early season workload against left-handed pitching, has proven his worth and fought to hold a job in the crowded Cleveland outfield. He registered his first two doubles, two triples, and two RBI and also quietly put together an eight-game hitting streak.

A shout out to Rajai Davis here as well. A hitless pinch-hit attempt against the Phillies to end the month brought an end to a ten-game hitting streak and a surprisingly productive .274 average with seven stolen bases in the month.

THE BAD

The 37-year-old Juan Uribe was brought in to stabilize the third base position offensively. He’s hitting .208. There’s no arguing the guy seems to be loved in the clubhouse; he and Jose Ramirez seem to be attached to the hip and that is presumably a good thing. The Uribe situation may mirror the Brantley situation; his spring training visa issues may have cost him some time to prepare appropriately for the season. After starting the year 1-for-19 in his first six games, he finished the rest of the month hitting .294 (10-for-34), so maybe he is trending upwards now.

THE OBSCENE

Mike Napoli has made all four of his home runs count for something, as he has had a bit of a flare for the dramatic. But unfortunately, the big bopper has also had a flare for the flame out at the plate, striking out 33 times in the month of April, or roughly 39.8% of his plate appearances for the month. While there is a certain acceptance for higher strikeout numbers for power hitters, he had just five games out of 20 with no strikeouts and four times had at least three strikeouts at the plate. Eighteen of those 33 strikeouts came on the first seven games of the Indians’ most recent road trip.

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About that offense…

THE GOOD

Despite no Brantley and no Lonnie Chisenhall for much of the month, the Indians offense was surprisingly better this season, compared to the results of one year ago. In the same number of games as 2015, they scored 12 more runs and allowed 13 fewer runs to be scored. While runs have frequently felt to be at a premium, the Indians averaged 4.3 runs per game in the month, the fifth-best mark in the American League.

THE BAD

Cleveland is getting crushed in the splits. In one-run games, the team was 4-6 in the month. Against southpaws, they were 3-6. Both continue unsettling trends from a season ago. In a new trend, after going 12-8 in interleague play in 2015, they started the National League portion of their schedule 1-4 in April…and made it 1-5 with the sweep at the hands of the Fighting Phillies of Philadelphia on May 1.

THE OBSCENE

Last season, the Indians drew the third-most walks in the AL while striking out the sixth-fewest times. Those numbers have nearly flip-flopped in 2016, as the team has walked the fourth-fewest times in the league while striking out the sixth-most.

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And about some of those other guys…

THE GOOD

Bad news: Carlos Santana slumped early. Good news: Santana seemed to bust out of it by becoming…a…leadoff…hitter???

It was thought to be just a tease by Terry Francona during the spring when he dropped the concept on the media, but he made it a reality five times and Santana responded with a .364 average out of the top spot. While nearly all of his numbers come the end of the month mirrored his results last April (except on-base percentage, which was affected by his walk rate cutting in half), the true test will be in May. He’s a lifetime .215 hitter in the month.

Francisco Lindor is still good (.293, four doubles, one homer, nine RBI, 4-for-5 stealing bases, team-high 24 hits in 21 games). Ramirez has played the role of a quality utility player (.305, four doubles, one homer, seven RBI in 16 games). Jason Kipnis led the club with 13 RBI while hitting .274, but ran up 28 Ks.

Josh Tomlin played the role of stopper and has three more wins to his credit, while Kluber has three more losses to his thanks to the continued lack of run support from his offensive teammates.

THE BAD

Cody Anderson gave up six home runs in 20 innings and found himself a member of the Columbus Clippers at a time that the Indians could ill afford holes in their rotation. Danny Salazar finished the month with some stellar numbers, including a 2.35 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts over 23 innings of four starts, but he had some worrisome stats mixed in. While he had allowed just eleven hits in the month, he walked nearly twice as many batters as the next closest pitcher on the club.

THE OBSCENE

Who broke Bryan Shaw (0-1, 9.64 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, .308 batting average against) and Cody Allen (0-3, 6.97, 1.35, .231)? While fans will continue to worry about the years of [over-]use of the two key members of the Indians bullpen, others may chalk it up to a second straight year of kicking off some offseason rust a little later into the season than desired. On the plus side for both, a handful of bad outings have inflated their early numbers in small sample sizes. For Shaw, his ten runs allowed on the year were scattered over three of his eleven appearances. Allen has made eleven appearances as well – seven times in seven successful save opportunities (1.23 ERA, .120 batting average against, 6.00 strikeout/walk ratio), and four times in non-save situations (21.00 ERA, .429 batting average against, 0.75 SO/W ratio, three losses).

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And finally, about those standings…

THE GOOD

While the Indians may have fallen short of that .500 April many clamored for in the absence of Brantley for the majority of the month, this April’s 10-11 record still marked a three-game improvement over the 7-14 stinker they left last year and came despite a handful of postponed games that threw any chance to get into an early routine right into the trash.

THE BAD

It is far too early to watch the number of games the club is in back in the division (five) and wild card races (two) at month’s end. Yet it does feel somewhat better than the 7.5 game hole they dug themselves in the division with their snail start in 2015.

THE OBSCENE

The start to the 2016 season has been a rough one for all non-Chicago White Sox teams in the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers were swept by the Indians at home and needed a four-game winning streak to end the month to climb back to the top half of the division. The Minnesota Twins, despite their 7-17 record, took two of three from the Tribe at Target Field to notch their first divisional wins. And how about those reigning World Champion Kansas City Royals? They finished April 12-11 and marred in a five-game losing skid and had not scored a run in their final 26 innings to conclude the month. So while the Indians’ third-place defense of the AL Central hasn’t looked too pretty, they certainly are not alone in struggling out of the gate.

Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya