Posts By Craig Gifford
There are many reasons why the Cleveland Indians’ season is over right now instead of the team playing in the ALCS (which was instead contested between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees). As we all know by now, the former knocked out the Tribe in a gut-wrenching five-game ALDS last week.
A major reason that Cleveland’s season fell short of great expectations was an offense that simply fell flat once the playoffs arrived. The Indians struggled to get much of anything going at the plate, especially in games 3-5. In those final three contests, all losses, the Indians score 0, 3, and 2 runs respectively. It’s hard to win when that happens.
The poster boys for the Tribe’s offensive woes seem to be Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Both struggled at the dish during the five-game series with the Bronx Bombers. Ramirez had but two hits in 20 at-bats for an anemic .100 batting average. Lindor, who did provide a big-time grand slam in Cleveland’s Game 2 come-from-behind win, also had just a pair of hits in 18 at bats, hitting a mere .111.
As he takes the mound Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco is sure to hear plenty of boos from what can be raucous and loud crowd for visiting teams to deal with. This New York crowd is sure to be extra amped up for their home team, returning from the first two games at Progressive Field, with the Tribe holding a commanding 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series. Those Yankees fans will not want to see Carrasco pitch like an ace, as he has done so many times over the past few seasons.
All of that will be perfectly fine to Carrasco. He will be simply happy to be pitching in a playoff game Sunday after an excruciatingly long wait. One of the longer-tenured and certainly talented Indians players, Carrasco had to sit idly by while his teammates enjoyed the breakthrough success of winning and A.L. championship in 2016.
Last September, the Indians were humming along, well on their way to winning the American League Central Division championship and well on their way to the playoffs. Cy Young winner in 2014, Corey Kluber, and Carrasco were primed to form a formidable one-two postseason punch that would be hard for any team to topple. Then, disasaster struck for the Tribe’s No. 2 starter.
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger sure has come a long way this season. He followed up a so-so 2016 rookie campaign with something of a breakout season this year.
In his first Major League season, Clevinger bounced between the bullpen and starting rotation. He was 3-3 with a 5.26 ERA. He seemed in over his head at times and was only on the Tribe’s 2016 postseason roster out of necessity. With a full complement of healthy pitchers on hand, the Indians probably would not have had room for the long-haired hurler.
This really changed this season, however. The 26-year-old right hander found his footing in Cleveland’s rotation. He has started 21 games and entered the weekend series with the Chicago White Sox at 12-5, with a 3.07 ERA. He has shown that he is likely going to be a fixture in Indians starting five for some years to come.
The 1954 and 1995 Cleveland Indians are largely considered the greatest ball clubs in team history. In the annals of an organization that dates back to 1901, those two groups stand as the only ones in the team’s 117-season lifespan to ever win 100 games.
Cleveland’s 1954 squad won 111 games. That is a team record for one season. It was a Major League Baseball record until the Yankees marched to 114 victories in 1998 and was again topped by the 116-win Seattle Mariners in 2001.
That 1995 team, still loved by most Clevelanders, slugged their way to 100 wins in a strike-shortened 144-game season. With 16 more contests, that group, led by the likes of Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Carlos Baerga, Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser, among so many more, may have outdone the great 1954 ball club.
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.