Posts By Craig Gifford
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.
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.