Erratic Indians Run Support Not Supportive Enough

The Cleveland Indians offense erupted for 19 runs on Saturday night against the Houston Astros.

It was a sight for sore eyes for Indians fans who had watched the team scrape together just eleven runs over the course of the week and just 22 runs over the previous eleven days. It was the largest offensive output by an Indians team since May 16, 2011, when Cleveland defeated the Royals, 19-1, in Kansas City.

Despite Saturday’s surprising results at the plate, the Indians offense has displayed some disconcerting efforts and tendencies so far this season, including long scoring droughts between large scoring outbursts. The 19 runs produced Saturday night accounted for 25.3% of the Indians scoring for the entire season so far and increased their runs per game average nearly one full run.

What has made the slow start much more troublesome is that it was believed that Cleveland would be more consistent and better overall in the batter’s box and that the bats could potentially become one of the strengths of the team. The offense was thought to be able to provide the pitching staff with a little bit of cushion in the event that the rotation was not quite up to par.

The pitching staff has lived up to that expectation.

Justin Masterson (3-1, 1.67 ERA) dominated in his first three starts of the year and kept the game close in his fourth start, despite being hit well the opposite way by the Boston Red Sox. Zach McAllister (1-2, 3.12) has been better than advertised, allowing just six earned runs in his three starts.

After these two, the results from the starting rotation have left something to be desired.

Brett Myers (0-3, 8.02) gave up seven earned runs in each of his first two appearances, one start and one relief effort. He gave up 18 hits and seven home runs in these first two outings. In his two starts since, he has pitched eleven innings and allowed five earned runs on eleven hits (three home runs) with three walks and eight strikeouts. He leads all of baseball with ten home runs allowed on the season, but his 3.00 ERA in his last two starts may give some hope that he can settle in, despite dealing with some tendinitis problems in a sore right elbow.

Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2, 11.25) was good in his first start, a no decision against Toronto during which he allowed just three hits and one earned run. Since, he has allowed 14 earned runs in six innings of work (21.00 ERA), walking eight and giving up nine hits. Opponents had a .360 batting average and .500 on-base percentage against him in those two starts.

Carlos Carrasco (0-1, 17.18) allowed seven earned runs in his lone start before being ejected, demoted, and suspended.

Yes, it is early. Yes, the pitching has given several games away, especially both of Jimenez’s last two starts, Carrasco’s start, and Myers’ first starting effort. Easily, four games that could be chalked up as losses without any argument.

The rest of the six losses were very much winnable games. Those losses fall just as much on the lack of offensive punch as they do on the starting rotation.

In McAllister’s first loss, he gave up two earned runs (four total) in six innings against Tampa Bay. He did what he could to minimize the damage created by the defensive errors behind him. His offense provided two Michael Bourn hits. Just two hits.

The very next night, the cold Indians bats provided Trevor Bauer, in his debut with Cleveland, no runs again. Bauer was shaky, walking seven men, but he found a way to limit the damage to three runs in his five innings. The Indians had five hits on the night.

Myers made just one mistake, a two-run home run to Paul Konerko, against the Chicago White Sox last Sunday. His teammates had six hits on the afternoon and pushed across their lone run on the first pitch of the bottom of the first, a Bourn home run. On Friday night, he allowed back-to-back home runs (a two-run shot and a solo homer) to the Houston Astros over five innings. At the plate, the Indians scored twice.

Masterson allowed four earned in five innings against the Red Sox on Wednesday; McAllister allowed three earned in the same amount of work on Thursday. The Indians scored three runs each night.

It does not matter how well or how badly your pitchers may pitch; if you do not score runs, you simply cannot win games.

On paper, this year’s offense should have been better than the 2012 version by leaps and bounds.

The hole in left field (see Aaron Cunningham, Shelley Duncan, and Johnny Damon) was plugged by adding several veteran outfielders in Bourn and Drew Stubbs, allowing Michael Brantley to slide over to left.

The lack of pop from the corner infielders (Casey Kotchman and Jack Hannahan) was fixed by the additions of Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds and giving the third base spot to Lonnie Chisenhall, who has shown in the past flashes of being a legitimate major leaguer.

Dead weight on the bench in light-hitting utility guys; expensive, expiring contracts; and contracts not renewed were replaced with better options, in theory, with the additions of Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, and Jason Giambi.

It was a new look Indians team and certainly a new look offense. Yet somehow, these new guys are providing less production at the plate than the 2012 club did.

Through 15 games last season, the Indians scored 78 runs, good for an average of 5.2 runs per game. The pitching staff allowed 75 (5.0 per game).

That Indians team put up two games of double-digit scoring in those first 15 contests in back-to-back wins against Kansas City. Cleveland sported a 9-6 record and had just re-entered first place for a run of 34 games in the top spot in the American League Central.

By comparison, the 2013 Indians won just six of their first 16 games this season.

Similarly to last season, the Indians pitching staff had allowed 77 runs, or an average of 5.13 runs per game, in their first 15 games. However, at the plate, the lack of production had been felt, as the club has scored just 56 runs, or 3.73 runs per game.

Compared to the league average, the Indians were more than a half run below that mark. They entered Saturday ranked 22nd in runs scored per game. They were nearly 12 runs off of the league average.

Already, the Indians have been blanked twice by the opposition, both times in Tampa Bay against the Rays. Three other times they have scored just one run and have a 1-2 record in these games, thanks to a fantastic 1-0 complete game shutout hurled by Masterson against the White Sox. In nearly half of their games (seven) this season, they have scored two runs or less.

By contrast, the Indians were not shut out last season for the first time until June 9 in St. Louis.

The problem for Cleveland clearly starts with getting runners on base.

The Indians entered action Saturday night ranked 25th in baseball with a .228 team batting average. They averaged 7.73 hits per game in their first 15 matchups, also good for the 25th ranking in the league. They strike out on average 8.60 times per game, third worst in all of baseball, behind Houston and Boston.

With the benefit of the ninth-highest total of walks so far this season through 15 games, their team on-base percentage jumps to 20th best in the league at .307. They are eighth in the league with 3.53 walks per game and 53 walks through those 15 games.

When there have been runners on base, the Indians have hit at a clip that has not been sufficient to provide the consistent offensive firepower Cleveland needs.

Prior to Saturday’s game, the Indians were batting .207 with runners in scoring position. Only five teams in baseball were having worse production in these big moments. They were hitting .216 with runners on base in general, a mark better than just two teams.

During the Indians’ five-game losing skid this week, Cleveland had just two hits in 27 at bats with runners in scoring position and just one hit in their last 21 at bats. They stranded 33 runners on base.

Saturday’s game with the Astros highlighted what the Indians can do when they are able to get runners on base. Nineteen runners scored from a collection of 22 hits, eight walks, and one batter hit by pitch on the evening. This particular night, Cleveland was 11-for-22 with runners in scoring position, despite leaving 12 men on base. It was the fourth game that the Indians had scored eight runs or more on the season; they are 3-1 in these contests. Two of the other three times they scored this many runs, they scored a run or less in their very next game.

Carlos Santana has been the most productive of the team’s bats during these opportunities, getting five hits (three doubles and a home run) in ten at bats on the season with runners in scoring position through Friday night’s action. However, after Santana, Aviles, and Brantley, no other Indians player was hitting any higher than .235 in these situations.

The worst mark has been that of Asdrubal Cabrera, whose one hit in 18 at bats (.056) was even worse than his .138 batting average as of Saturday. He had yet to drive in a runner in scoring position and had struck out twice.

Jason Kipnis had not been much better, with a double and two runs batted in with runners in scoring position in ten chances through the team’s first 15 games. He had struck out four times in these opportunities and was batting .167 entering Saturday night.

The Indians as a team have struggled. Cabrera and Kipnis have been in slumps for what feels like the whole season. Stubbs had been slow to adapt to the AL prior to the weekend, batting .213 and striking out 19 times, good for the ninth-highest strikeout total in the league. Cabrera was just one strikeout behind him and seemed to be either lazily grounding out to a corner infielder or weakly flying out. Chisenhall, with three hits in his last eight at bats before Saturday’s game, pushed his batting average back over .200 on Friday night.

Injuries, as expected, have hurt the Indians offense.

Santana missed several days in the heart of the Indians lineup with his left thumb injury. Kipnis has struggled with an elbow injury that kept him and his slumping bat out of the lineup for several days. Leadoff hitter and table setter Bourn was placed on the disabled list with a laceration on his right index finger, received after hustling out an infield single with a headfirst dive into first base.

Simply, the Indians need to increase the number of men on base. Of course, that is easier said than done. Their better-than-average walk production is helping to make up somewhat for the lack of base hits. But even with these additional runners via walks, the team has been extremely ineffective at moving the runners around the bases and across home plate.

It is unlikely that the same offensive ineptitude will continue as the season progresses. Injured Indians will return to the lineup, like Kipnis on Friday and Bourn next week, and hopefully provide stability and more consistent production. If the slumping players can begin to contribute at a level similar to that of their pasts, the Indians should see better run production with the increased opportunities and a better number in the win column.

Photo: Pat Sullivan/AP Photo

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. @Ben – I agree completely. One of the most important things for this offense is to get those table setters in the 2 & 3 spots on base consistently so Swisher, Reynolds, Santana, etc., can drive them in!

    @James – Thank you so much! Keep reading!

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