Indians Need to Resolve Road Woes

Home has been a sweet home for the Cleveland Indians so far this season. Unfortunately, the Tribe has not been so welcomed away from home.

After Saturday’s 7-6 victory over Colorado on a late RBI-single from Mike Aviles, the Indians improved to 17-11 at Progressive Field this season. It tied the club with the streaking Toronto Blue Jays for the most wins at home in the American League and tied the fourth-best mark in all of baseball. The Indians have the best winning percentage (.607) in the AL when reaping the benefits of home cooking and trail just Colorado (.696), San Francisco (.679), and Miami (.667) overall.

If only the Indians could play all of their games at home, the spotlight would be off of their sub-.500 record on the season and their underperforming stars and could once again return to a focus on the number of empty green seats at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

After a sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City earlier in the week, the Indians fell to 9-19 (.321) on the road this season. No American League team has a worse record than Cleveland away from home.

In the Senior Circuit, only Miami (8-17; .320) has a worse road mark. Like the Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates have won only nine road games, but have played three fewer games away from home entering play on Saturday. Cleveland’s opponent this weekend, the Colorado Rockies, are just 12-20 (.375) on the road after Saturday’s loss, but have made up for it with the best home winning percentage in baseball.

The playoff-bound Indians of a season ago did not exactly light the world on fire while playing in 18 ball parks not named Progressive Field (or Jacobs Field for the stubborn bunch still holding on tightly to the name linked to the glory days of the Tribe). They finished the season 41-40 (.506), good enough for a winning record.

Where the Indians excelled last season was in Cleveland, where they finished 51-30 (.630), a full ten games better in the win column despite scoring 29 fewer runs on their home turf.

The Indians appear to be following a similar recipe this season, but have switched up a few ingredients and the end result has not been quite as enjoyable for those partaking. Despite their winning record at home, they have been outscored 127-126 at Progressive Field. In the same number of games on the road, they are minus-20 in run differential, outperformed 136-116 in the runs department. They are in the midst of a five-game home winning streak now, but have lost four straight on the road.

Including the sweep in Chicago, the Indians have been swept three separate times on the road this season. The other two came on a West Coast trip at the end of April, when they dropped six straight to the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels.

They did improve ever so slightly in May on the road. After a 4-12 record in March/April around the league, they were 5-7 in May.

If there is any bright spot on the horizon, it may be that none of the Indians’ six road opponents for their 16 road games on two trips in the month of June have a record at home over the .500 mark. Of Texas (four games), Kansas City (two), Boston (four), Arizona (two), Seattle (three), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (one to end June), only Texas is at the .500 mark at home (13-13). Boston and Seattle have the second and third worst home winning percentages in the AL, while Arizona and Los Angeles are the one-two punch for the worst home winning percentages in the National League, entering play Saturday.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why the Indians are struggling away from their friendly confines.

Some extremely bloated ERA’s in the starting rotation appear to be some of the culprit for the Indians less-than-stellar road results so far this season.

Staff “ace” Justin Masterson is winless in six road games this season, posting an 0-3 record with a 5.73 ERA. Opposing batters have hit .276 against him and he has a 1.55 WHIP. Before hitting the disabled list, Zach McAllister fared only slightly better in the win-loss column, going 1-3 with a 6.46 ERA. The opposition has hit .290 against him on the road and he has a 1.65 WHIP.

Danny Salazar has yet to win a Major League game on the road. He was 0-3 in four starts this season with a 6.05 ERA and a .289 batting average against him before his demotion to Columbus. Carlos Carrasco lost both of his road starts this season, giving up nine earned runs in ten and two-thirds innings of work (7.59 ERA). He has a more respectable 2.57 ERA in four road appearances and seven innings out of the bullpen, only allowing a pair of runs in Toronto.

Trevor Bauer, in one road start, allowed four runs (8.31) on six hits (.316 batting average against) in four and one-third innings in a loss. T.J. House (0-1, 4.38 ERA in two road starts) has, like Bauer, given up a pair of home runs and is allowing other teams to hit .333 against him while filling McAllister’s spot in the rotation.

Corey Kluber, as has been the case all season, has been the one truly reliable starting pitcher for the club on the road. His three wins are top amongst all of the 18 pitchers to appear in a road game for Cleveland this season. His 3.50 road ERA is second to Josh Tomlin’s 3.27 amongst starters, but he is allowing a .288 batting average against him.

The bullpen has had its mixed results. Scott Atchison (0-0, 1.54 ERA in ten road games, one save), Mark Lowe (0-0, 2.08 ERA in four games), Bryan Shaw (0-1, 2.13 ERA in 13 games, one save), and even John Axford (0-1, 2.45 ERA in 12 games with three saves in four opportunities) have all been effective on the road. Atchison’s 0.94 WHIP is a staff best, while Axford’s .195 road batting average against him is the best of all Cleveland pitchers.

Cody Allen (2-1, 3.48 ERA in 12 games, .308 batting average against, 1.74 WHIP), Marc Rzepczynski (0-0, 3.60 ERA in 14 games, 1.70 WHIP), and Josh Outman (2-0, 3.72 ERA in 13 games, .222 average) have each given up four earned runs on the season.

Blake Wood (0-0, 4.91 ERA, 2.18 WHIP), C.C. Lee (0-0, 6.75 ERA, bullpen-high five earned runs allowed), and Vinnie Pestano (0-0, 9.00 ERA, .400 average against, 2.00 WHIP) have all had their issues on the mound and found themselves two hours south down Interstate 71.

The offense is not exempt from their role in the losing road situation.

The Indians as a team are hitting .241 on the road this season. Thanks to 103 walks, it boosts their on-base percentage to a slightly more respectable .318 on the year. Their slugging percentage is more than 50 points lighter away from home due in large part to hitting 25 fewer doubles on the road.

Only two Indians hitters are batting over .300 on the road this season. Lonnie Chisenhall leads the way with a .375 average, as he has consistently hit regardless of where the team plays or what arm the opposing pitcher throws with. The other plus-.300 hitter is Nyjer Morgan, who hit .308 in five road games before landing on the 60-day disabled list with a knee sprain.

Even worse is the fact that only two other Indians are batting above the .250 mark on the road and both are outfielders named Michael.

Michael Bourn is hitting .287 in 20 road starts this season. Michael Brantley is hitting .258 in 26 starts. Both have 25 hits on the season; Bourn has five extra base hits and Brantley has nine and a team-leading 16 RBI away from home. Brantley is hitting .342 at home.

The numbers just get progressively worse and mirror the lack of production seen in various spots of the lineup throughout the season.

Aviles is hitting .247 in 24 road games, 20 starts. Ryan Raburn is batting .246 in 18 games, 14 starts. Aviles has saved his season average with a .323 home mark, while Raburn’s struggles are even worse at home, highlighted by a .167 average in Cleveland.

Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .240 with just six runs batted in through 26 road games. Catcher Yan Gomes is just one point behind him, but is second on the team with three home runs on the road and is hitting .299 at home. Good guy David Murphy is batting .228 with 15 RBI, second-best on the team, but has hit .313 at home. Jason Kipnis is hitting .204 with a homer and three RBI in 15 games of limited action after his oblique injury kept him out of the lineup for the month. He is a .271 hitter this season at Progressive Field.

Switch-hitters and the most visible of the struggling stars on the team, Carlos Santana (.198) and Nick Swisher (.186), have not been able to surpass the Mendoza line before succumbing to injuries. Santana is hitting .122 at home, while Swisher is a better .232, if only by comparison.

Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz, a frequently discussed name mentioned in regret by some fans after the club did not pursue his services after he was extended a qualifying offer (and therefore the draft pick compensation attached to it) by the Texas Rangers last offseason, leads all of baseball with 13 home runs and 39 RBI on the road. The RBI production is 14 more than the next closest player. His .355 average away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards has not been too bad either!

It is a moot point, as the draft pick compensation seemed more than enough reason for the Indians to avoid the possibility of adding a power right-handed hitting outfielder to the lineup. The team has not been in desperate need of one of those each year in the time since Manny Ramirez left town, right? One can only dream.

The Indians have been able to do one of the fundamental things in sports this season – win at home. They have a winning record in the division and have occasionally put together some functional stretches of baseball this season. However, if they have any desire to become a player in the AL Central or the AL Wild Card race over the final four months of the season, they will have to figure out how to win more than just one-third or so of their remaining 53 road contests. To keep at the current road pace and win only another 17 road games in 2014 will just not cut it.

Photo: Brian Kersey/Getty Images

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