Posts By Craig Gifford
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger has minor league options, while fellow starters Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer do not. Bauer and Tomlin are playoff-tested veterans (more so Tomlin), Clevinger is not. Clevinger, though, has an ERA of 3.00 for the season and under 2.00 over his last six starts, while Bauer and Tomlin have not seen ERAs that low since they took the mound for each of their respective first starts of the season.
It is that third sentence that Indians management will hopefully pay closest attention to when it comes time to making some tough decisions in the near future. Danny Salazar made his return to the Major League pitching rotation Saturday, giving the Tribe six healthy starters. Eventually that number is going to have to be pared back down to five. Someone will need to be jettisoned from the rotation. It is also possible, in the next week, the Indians could make a trade-deadline deal for a starting pitcher, meaning someone else will need to be removed from the starting five.
Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are going nowhere. They are the Indians’ unquestioned top two pitchers and dual aces. The other starter that should remain in tact, whether one or two pitchers need to go from the rotation in the coming weeks, is Clevinger.
On Wednesday night, the MLB Network took Cleveland Indians fans on a trip down memory lane. The network’s documentary, “The Dynasty That Almost Was,” took an in-depth look at the great 1990s Indians teams that Clevelanders came to love and cherish.
The hour-and-a-half-long program was a roller coaster ride of emotions for the Tribe faithful. It showed how a baseball team that had been stuck in a rut of losing since the 1960s put together an amazingly young and talented team through shrewd trades and smart drafting.
By 1994, the young team was ready to take flight toward becoming a powerhouse just as the Indians beautiful new ballpark, Jacob’s Field, was opening. From 1994-2001, the Cleveland Indians went on a run of success unmatched by any Tribe team before it or since. That run included six American League Central Division crowns and two trips to the World Series.
Charismatic, outgoing, flashy, defensive wizard. Those are all words that can describe Francisco Lindor. They are likely the biggest reasons that his peers voted him into this Tuesday’s All-Star Game despite a two-month struggle at the plate, representing Lindor’s worst hitting slump since he made his Major League debut a little more than two years ago on June 14, 2015.
When Lindor was named to the American League roster via the player’s vote, for this year’s Midsummer Classic, some were surprised. There was little shock that Houston’s Carlos Correa, who edged out Lindor in the 2015 A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting, was named the starter. However, Lindor was picked as Correa’s back up over the likes of the Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts and the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons. Both of those players are having excellent statistical seasons at the plate – better than Lindor.
Lindor was named to his second straight All-Star squad on June 30, just as his worst full hitting month as a Major Leaguer was coming to a close. The now two-time All-Star hit just .214 in June, following a so-so month of May that saw him hit .248. This all was coming from a guy who, through this April, had only had one full month in the big leagues that was something of a struggle (he hit just .238 last September). That was forgiven as it was his first full year with the Tribe and he did rebound nicely to be one of the club’s hitting leaders during its memorable postseason run. Otherwise, Lindor has been one of the Tribe’s more consistent hitters since the June 2015 promotion.
Over the past couple weeks, the Cleveland Indians have finally started hitting their stride. The defending American League Champions spent April and May mostly treading water and doing just enough to stay near or at the top of a weak American League Central Division.
That has changed in recent weeks as the Tribe bats have started heating up and the pitching staff, led by the always great Corey Kluber, has started resembling last year’s vaunted group.
However, one issue that remains is a somewhat inconsistent offense. Last week was a microcosm of that. In last weekend’s three-game series against the Twins, Cleveland tallied a grand total of two runs. Then, the offense exploded for 15 on Monday against Texas before falling back to one the next night on Tuesday. The Tribe totaled five runs in each of their final two games against the Rangers on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Thursday night, a hot streak the likes no current Indians fan can really claim to have ever seen or honestly remember came an end. Tribe third baseman Jose Ramirez was held to one measly triple in four at bats.
For many baseball players, that would be considered a pretty good night. Hit a triple, get a walk, and score a pair of runs. That is actually a strong night by any standard. However, for Ramirez, it marked the end of a run of nine straight games in which he had two or more hits. In five of those outings, he had three hits.
No player wearing a Tribe uniform had had such a run of multi-hit games since Roy Hughes in 1936 – 81 years. Someone would have to be in his or her 90s to truly be able to say he or she remembers that happening. There have been a lot of players, may great ones, to have gone in and out of the Indians organization since. None put up a hot stretch of hitting like Hughes until Cleveland’s 24-year-old did so from June 14th through the 21st.
Fans of the Cleveland Indians are finally being treated to the power displays and run-producing ways of slugger Edwin Encarnacion that Blue Jays fans had become accustomed to over the past five years. The Tribe faithful could not be happier to finally see their new cleanup hitter producing like the All-Star and MVP candidate that he has been in season’s past.
At the end of April, some Indians followers and baseball aficionados across the country were ready to call Encarnacion a bust. They were saying the Indians overpaid this past winter when they went out of their comfort zone and gave a large contract to arguably the best free agent on the open market this past offseason. Cleveland had not gone on an offseason baseball spending spree in four years, a little gun-shy from the last time the club had opened its pocket books.
To be sure, the first month-plus was not kind to the Tribe’s new first baseman/designated hitter. However, comparisons to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, high-profile Cleveland signings prior to the 2013 campaign that did not end well, may have been a little premature. Swisher and Bourn took nearly three years to completely prove that they were not worth the lucrative contracts the Indians had given them. There were some fans who were ready to bail out on Encarnacion after less than a quarter of a season.
Any questions as to whether Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley could get back to his former All-Star status were certainly laid to rest this past Tuesday. The second reveal of balloting for the Midsummer Classic was announced and the left fielder had cracked the top three vote-getters among American League outfielders.
If voting ended today, Brantley would join Yankees’ rookie sensation Aaron Judge and Angels’ two-time MVP Mike Trout in the AL lineup in Miami for the annual exhibition. It is quite the comeback story for a player whom many wondered, just a couple months ago, if he could even get through April without a setback to his surgically repaired shoulder.
While last year was quite the journey and quite the memorable one for his American League Championship-winning teammates, Brantley was forced into the role of spectator.
No player or team ever hopes or wishes for an injury. However, it may come to be that Corey Kluber‘s recent stay on the disabled list was actually something of a blessing in disguise for the Cleveland Indians and the ace of their rotation.
The 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner was put on the shelf on May 3, a day after exiting a start against the Tigers early with a lower back strain.
Questions persisted throughout the offseason about what kind of shape Cleveland’s No. 1 starter would be in after pitching more innings in 2016 than ever before. It was not just the quantity, but the fact that he was pitching on short rest, in high-pressure situations, and carrying a beleaguered starting pitching staff in October all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
Over the first five weeks of the season, Trevor Bauer was not having a lot of luck. In five of his first six starts, Bauer gave up four or more earned runs. That would mess with a lot of pitchers, mentally, but not Bauer.
After his sixth start of the season, a 4-2 loss in Toronto where he gave up four earned runs in six innings, Bauer said he was making good pitches all season, that they were just being hit. He felt it was a case of bad luck rather than bad pitching. The start before that, he had surrendered seven scores to the Detroit Tigers.
Perhaps the 26-year-old was on to something. Over his last three outings, Bauer has fared much better. He has given up three runs or less in each of those contests. Bauer has pitched into the sixth inning in all three as well. Two of those starts came against first place teams in the form of the surprising Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros, who have the game’s best record. He gave up six runs in eleven and two-thirds frames to two of the American League’s top ball clubs.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has shown in years past that a move to the leadoff spot can be a good cure for what is ailing his bat.
In a small sample size, the Indians have seen a good uptick in production from their two-time All-Star since manager Terry Francona inserted him into the leadoff spot of the batting order last Sunday.
That same lineup restructuring worked wonders for Kip in 2015 when he got off to a slow start. That year, his second season as an All-Star, Kipnis hit .311 when leading off and just .245 in other spots in the lineup. Needless to say, after a late April move, Kipnis batted leadoff most of the year thereafter.
What was supposed to be a major strength for the Cleveland Indians this season has so far been a bit of a weakness through the first six weeks of this season. That weak spot has been a starting pitching rotation that many hailed as being among the league’s best before a single meaningful pitch was thrown in 2017.
The only one of the starting five who has met or exceeded expectations thus far is Carlos Carrasco, who has been dominant. That has been needed as ace Corey Kluber has struggled with back problems and is currently on the disabled list. The other three starters in the rotation have simply failed to live up to what the back of their baseball cards say they can be.
When Mike Clevinger made his debut last May against the Cincinnati Reds, it was unknown what kind of chance he would get to stick around the Majors with the Indians. As it turns out, the 2016 rookie was in the big leagues for much more than just a cup of coffee.
As injuries persisted in the starting rotation and ineffectiveness plagued more-established relievers, Clevinger had ample opportunity to show the Tribe what he could do. He became a valuable pitching commodity in his ability and willingness to work back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen. He started ten games and relieved seven for the Tribe. In the ten starts, Clevinger was up and down in going 1-3 with a 5.93 ERA in 41 innings pitched. In a more-controlled relief pitching climate, he was 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 frames.
Clevinger’s starting numbers may have been hurt by having to make four late-season starts when his arm was not stretched out to do so. The Tribe had made him a full-time reliever mid-season. Then disaster struck the rotation in September as Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar both got hurt. Cleveland needed somebody to try and eat up starters innings as best they could at that point.