Posts By Craig Gifford
We are approaching the one-year anniversary of a game better left forgotten.
Last September 17, a line drive off the bat of Ian Kinsler struck Carlos Carrasco in the right hand. The second pitch of that mid-September game broke the pitching hand of Cleveland’s No. 2 starter. At the time, it seemed it would shatter the long-term playoff hopes of a Tribe team that was already destined to win the American League Central Division.
The effects of losing their second best starter were not evident immediately. An injury-depleted rotation carried by 2014 Cy Young winner and ace Corey Kluber and a top-notch bullpen spearheaded by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen gamely pitched the Indians to the doorsteps of what would have been the team’s first World Series championship since 1948. Of course, it was not to be as the Tribe lost Game 7 of the Fall Classic to the Cubs in extra innings.
What might have been with a healthy Carrasco, though, is the biggest unknown of all from last year’s postseason run. The Tribe was able to get through the ALDS against Boston and the ALCS against Toronto with little problem. However, the pitchers doing the heaviest of lifting were clearly tired by that final game against Chicago.
May 1 is never a good time to hit a panic button when it comes to baseball.
Whether it is a team or player that has just gone through a sub-par April, the game has proven time and again that things are never exactly what they seem one month into any baseball season.
That old mantra has been proven yet again this summer when it comes to the Cleveland Indians and their $60 million dollar investment in Edwin Encarnacion. On May 1, many Tribe fans were shouting, complaining, and worried that Double E would be the latest in what seemed to be an emerging line of Indians’ free agent busts.
Everyone knows about one left-handed reliever that the Cleveland Indians acquired last July. The trade for Andrew Miller proved to be an important one for the Tribe as the relief ace and 2016 American League Championship Series MVP helped lead the way in October all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
The magnificent Miller was not the only lefty the Indians added last July – he was the only one that made shock waves. However, Tyler Olson is now making some waves of his own. Before the blockbuster trade-deadline deal for Miller, Cleveland claimed Olson off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. The largely unheralded and barely mentioned move happened on July 9, 2016, a little more than three weeks before Miller traded in his Yankees pinstripes for Tribe red, white, and blue.
For several years, the Indians have thrown darts at the dart board and putty at a wall to simply see what sticks when it comes to left-handed relievers. Before Miller, the bullpen was a revolving door of left-handed specialists who failed to get much done in Cleveland. Managers like to have two southpaws that they can count out of the ‘pen. Tribe skipper Terry Francona has been lucky to have one such arm to turn to since coming to Cleveland in 2013.
Before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, a good number of Cleveland Indians fans were clamoring for their favorite baseball team to trade for starting pitching.
For much of the season’s first three months, the Indians were mostly a two-man rotation. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco were throwing like the two-headed aces that they are. However, the rest of the starting five was not holding up its end and Cleveland’s starting pitching was largely a disappointment.
In mid-July, the question of just who the third starter would be if the Indians could get back to the playoffs for a second straight year was unsettled. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin were struggling. Danny Salazar was similarly struggling and injured. Mike Clevinger was looking much better in his second big-league season, but leaning and depending on a guy who struggled as a rookie in 2016 and really only had pitched well in a handful of Major League games seemed like a stretch.
Since May, Corey Kluber has been pitching at a level even greater than when he won the 2014 American League Cy Young Award. Despite a few hiccups, Carlos Carrasco has been a strong No. 2 pitcher this season. Beyond that, however, the Cleveland Indians rotation was a giant question mark during the season’s first half.
The starting five figured to be a strength of the team for the Tribe before this season. Carrasco and Danny Salazar were set to come back from injuries that kept them from playing in the 2016 postseason, in Carrasco’s case, or making any significant impact in Cleveland’s run to the World Series, in Salazar’s scenario. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin were supposed to reprise their 2016 roles this season as two of the game’s better back-of-the-rotation hurlers.
Instead, Salazar spent the first half battling confidence issues as well as the injury bug. Bauer and Tomlin simply were not very good. Before the All-Star break, it was Mike Clevinger who was pitching like Cleveland’s third best starter. However, the second-year pitcher never seemed to have the complete confidence that the veterans could inspire when going right. Many wondered if his good stretch in June was a mirage or if he really was coming around. He was becoming a master of the Houdini act in getting out of rough innings and tight spots, never a recipe for long-term success.
Jason Kipnis has had a rough go this 2017 season. Cleveland’s two-time All-Star second baseman and team leader has had two stints on the disabled list and had not totally seemed like himself at the plate when healthy.
He missed the beginning of the season with an oblique injury and appeared to be a little bit rusty upon his return in late April. Just when it seemed his bat was coming around, he injured his hamstring in a game against Detroit on July 8. He has not played with the Tribe since.
Out on a minor league rehab assignment in Akron and Columbus this past week, Kipnis is finally expected to return to the Indians Sunday. His reinsertion into the every day lineup should be a big boost to the Tribe, especially if his month away has helped to get healthy and hopefully pain-free, at last.
Cleveland Indians first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana could not have picked a better time for his bat to start heating up. Both from a team standpoint and individual standpoint, Santana’s recent hitting outburst has been much-needed.
The Tribe lost both second baseman Jason Kipnis and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall to injuries just before the All-Star break. Between those two, that accounts for a good chunk of offense. Around that time, Santana started hitting like it was 2016 all over again. After a cool first half to the season, his bat has really started to heat up of late.
Santana, who has been with the Tribe since 2010, has never been the model of consistency. He’s never strung together consecutive truly powerful seasons. He has topped the 25 home run mark three times, but never in back-to-back seasons. However, a lot was expected of the veteran coming into the 2017 campaign.
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.