The month of July is more than half over. In the world of baseball, this means the conversations about trades are going to heat up. With the trade deadline fast approaching on July 31, teams near the top of the standings will attempt to get better through deals to solidify their weaknesses.
At 51-44, one and a half games behind the Tigers in the AL Central, the Indians are one of those teams in discussions to improve through a trade. That is great news. Cleveland could really use a boost in the bullpen or starting rotation. The right trade for a quality pitcher could have the Indians in playoff contention as the season winds down.
While a trade would help, however, it would not be the end-all-be-all for getting Cleveland to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. What the Tribe could use much more than a new player or two is the return to form of a number of its current key players.
Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Asdrubal Cabrera and Vinnie Pestano are among the guys whose first half numbers were not exactly those that are expected. After a strong April, Reynolds has been abysmal in the following months. His average, over .300 in late April, is now down to a paltry .215. A .233 career hitter, Reynolds is much more known for his power than his contact hitting. However, the current average is a disappointment at 20 points of his career pace.
Swisher, who was all but handed the keys to the city in the offseason, has also slumped since a decent start to the season. His .242 average is lower than the .260 many people around the game have come expect. The nine home runs and 31 RBI are also down for a guy who has regularly knocked out 20-plus a season while knocking in more than 80.
It may not be fair to add Cabrera to this list as he was hurt and out of the lineup for about a month. After a poor start, he has rebounded to have OK numbers. The worry is he has never been known as a great second half player. The hope is having played in just 71 of the team’s 95 games he may not burn out so easily this year.
A return to form from all three players would be enough to help an offense that seems to go in spurts of either scoring a lot of runs or very few. All three are capable of putting up excellent numbers and should be expected to come back to form. That, alone, would be like adding a couple players through trade.
The offense, even with struggles of some important players, has scored the fifth most runs in the majors. Imagine if everyone was playing up to their potential. It’s a possibility for the second half of the season. It is a possibility that, even sans trade, would make the Indians a threat to the Tigers or one of the two Wild Card spots.
On the pitching side, the biggest conundrum has been Pestano. A lights-out set-up man the last two years, he has not been anywhere near dominant this season. Pestano’s less-than-stellar 4.45 ERA is well above his career 2.85 mark. It was even lower when the year began.
In reality, the entire bullpen needs to rebound into shape. The past two seasons, the relief corps has been the backbone of the team. This year, the relievers are probably the main reason the Indians are not in first place as the season’s second half gets underway. Along with Pestano, Joe Smith and Chris Perez have also had their down moments, though not as glaring. If the three of them could get back to producing at their normal clip, that would certainly help the bullpen rebound in the second half.
These mentioned players are merely the ones who are glaringly not meeting expectations from past solid performances. Another one who has played well, overall, but could improve in the second half is Michael Bourne. The speedster has just 13 steals. This is a guy who has swiped 57 or more bags in a season three times. The former Atlanta Brave recently said he is still trying to learn the American League pitchers and who the best ones are to steal off of. If he gets that figured out and returns to his form stealing on a more regular basis, he could really change the dynamics of a game at the top of the batting order.
Now, with all this said, a trade is certainly needed. The Indians, as currently structured, will have a difficult time getting to the postseason. There are flaws in the rotation and bullpen. Cleveland could use a No. 2 or No. 3 starter to go with a left-handed reliever.
However, even with new pieces potential added, the real key to getting to the playoffs will be the return to form of those players on the roster. The Indians may have tough time playing October baseball without a deal or two. They will find it impossible if their current key guys do not pick up the slack in season’s final two and ½ months.
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