Indians Had the Pieces, But Could Not Solve the Puzzle

The pieces have all been there, at one time or another.

Glance at the names, numbers, contracts, accolades featured on the Indians’ roster this season, and one would initially think that this is a team that has the factors necessary to play postseason baseball.

At points, they have. They have had the pitching prowess to keep opposing hitters at bay, and have been able to use their bats to quiet their opponents.

But these factors have rarely found themselves put to use at the same time this season. It hasn’t been a season of unfinished business, it’s been a season of missed opportunities.

The season started shakily all the way around, though starting pitching took the forefront, as the questionable starting rotation posted a 4.82 ERA in the first month of the season and went just 5-13. Batters fared similarly, as the team had a .232 batting average to start the season, collecting 213 hits in 28 games, with a total of 69 extra base hits. However, it was the first month of the season. Things could only get better; they had to, right?

The team did seem to try to dig itself out of its hole in May, as the pitching staff compiled a 3.89 ERA, with starters improving to 4.41. Relievers went 5-3 with a 3.05 ERA. The hitters were the ones who truly excelled, though, putting together their best overall average of the season as they hit .273 with 267 hits, 56 doubles, three triples, and 30 home runs. Batters struck out only 183 times, and the team triple slashed .344/.428/.772 in May.

Again, the pieces seemed to be there. They looked like they were falling into place. If the team could keep up their hot streak at the plate, and their pitching staff could continue to improve as the rotation became less of a question, there was absolutely a chance that the rest of the season could be an exciting one for Cleveland sports fans.

But, alas, it was too good to be true.

The hitting again suffered in June. The team hit .249 with 228 hits, though they still managed to crack 25 homers and drove in 113 runs for the month. The starting pitching, though, continued it’s improvement, earning a 4.14 ERA and a 6-10 record. The bullpen earned seven wins in June compared to only three losses and tossed 3.69, furthering their consistent nature as one of the firmest assets of the Indians roster this season.

As summer progressed, though, the progression of the overall team seemed to come to even more of a standstill. The pitching was still there, and was beginning its assertion as one of the most dominant staffs in recent memory; it was the hitting, however, that could not rise to the occasion.

Despite hitting .269 in July, the Indians fell to .250 in August and are at .249 thus far in the final month of the season. They hit a season-high 31 home runs in July, followed by 21 in August and only 12 in September, while the pitching staff brought on immense success.

The Indians pitching staff compiled an overall 3.44 ERA in July, following by 2.41 in August and are currently at 3.62. Starters went from 4.32 in July to 2.57 in August and 2.68 as the season closes, while the bullpen put up even more impressive numbers as July found them posting 1.88, followed by 2.14 in August. The final month of the season has not been a good one for the relief pitchers, though, as they are tossing 6.24 to close out the season.

Again, the numbers are all there. The starting pitching rotation has now solidified itself as one of the strongest in the game. Corey Kluber is a very real Cy Young candidate. Carlos Carrasco has established himself as the starter the team wanted him to be when the season started. Trevor Bauer has grown into his own.

The hitters did that early in the season. Lonnie Chisenhall had a career night in June in a 17-7 rout against Texas as he went 5-5 for nine RBI — and his bat made it to Cooperstown. David Murphy gave fans much to cheer about early in the season, as he hit .282 in the first month of the season and .280 in July. Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley also established themselves as solid performers in the lineup, and, while they are still producing, their bats are not enough to keep the Tribe in the game from an offensive standpoint without the contributions of others.

The names of the strongest performers have rotated in and out of prominence, just as the stats have done this season. Nothing has been consistent, aside from being consistently inconsistent.

No team can survive on only certain aspects of the game being present all the time. To truly have a playoff contending team, all factors have to be present always. Teams need to hit as well as pitch.

Perhaps this season will serve as a building block for the team, and give them a chance to carefully review what they lack during the offseason and come into 2015 ready to deliver and perform to their strengths in all instances. Based on the moments of glory for the respective groups of players throughout the season, it’s been demonstrated that the team has the potential to deliver successful performances. But now the challenge is presented of performing this way together; a team can only succeed when every facet comes together at once.

The Indians have more than likely sealed their fate as missing the playoffs, although they have at least secured their second consecutive season in finishing over .500.

The pieces were all there for a winning and playoff contending season. The Indians just could not fully complete the puzzle.

Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images

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