Chasing Detroit

Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians’ 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.

A few years ago, everyone was quoting the line that closed the viral “Cleveland Tourism Video”: “At least we’re not Detroit — We’re not Detroit!”

Economically? Sure, that’s a plus. But this season, when it came to baseball?

Cleveland did not have bragging rights.

The proximity and similarities between Cleveland and Detroit have lead to a number of comparisons being made between the two cities, along with a not-so-friendly competition occurring between the two — especially when it comes to sports.

The Indians and the Tigers have had a long history of being division rivals. The proximity of Cleveland and Detroit make it easy for opposing fans to travel to the opposite city to support their team, adding to the competitive nature of the series. However, there are still major differences between the two teams — differences that come out on the field and leave Indians fans with a sour taste in their mouths.

It’s easy to say that the Indians should be trying to become the Tigers. However, the Tigers are paying salaries that total to nearly $162 million dollars, while the Indians are working with just over $81 million in salaries. This gives the Tigers more opportunity to go after players who can bolster their lineup and give them the runs they need to outscore their competitors. While the Indians may always be chasing Detroit in the division, to actually be chasing them in terms of figures and lineup is a challenge.

That being said, the Indians have fared decently well against a team who spends more (and can afford to spend more) than them.

This season, the Indians went 8-11 against the Tiers, scoring 87 runs compared to the Tigers 103. They chased the Tigers for much of the season, always somehow managing to remain in the running in the American League Central. They ended the season five games back of the Tigers, who boasted a 90-72 record compared to the Indians 85-77.

For some reason, despite the teams’ ability to go neck-and-neck for most of the season, the Indians were the team to fall short in their series when it mattered. In the first three series the Indians and Tigers played this season, the Indians led with an overall record of 7-5, including two walk-off victories in May. What, then, accounts for the Indians 1-6 record in the final two series of the season?

The Tigers have good starting pitching, yes, but so do the Indians. The Indians have a strong bullpen, while the Tigers have one that is constantly on the verge of imploding. The thing that Detroit has that the Indians truly lack is power hitters.

But still, do the additions of Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez really mean that the Indians are going to collapse during the games that matter most? If you recall, Danny Salazar struck Cabrera out three times in one game during the 2013 season, which had only happened three times since the beginning of 2008, and only 11 times in Cabrera’s whole career. Yes, Salazar then gave up the hit that put the Tigers in the lead that game, but the prior at bats demonstrate that Indians pitchers could, three times out of four, hold their own against major Detroit hitters.

The Indians also boast a pitching staff of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco. Their bullpen is infinitely stronger than Detroit’s, with Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Kyle Crockett, and Scott Atchison leading the way.

So what leads to the Indians struggles when it matters?

The Indians got swept in two series by the Tigers this season, and lost their second-to-last series with Detroit 3-1. These are games which the Indians had to win in order to keep playoff hopes alive by a large margin, though they found themselves unable to do so. They were plagued by Detroit’s bats, losing games by scores of 12-1 on September 1, 11-4 on September 4, and a less painful but still palty 7-2 on September 12.

Fans know that the Indians lack the powerful bats in the lineup to add major numbers of runs to the boards. However, they were able to defeat the Tigers 7-0 in September, as well as 9-3 during their July series. Their losses can’t be solely blamed on an inability to score runs.

The Indians have a track record of struggling during important games. They fell 2-1 in their final series with the Royals during the last week of September, further marginalizing their already-slim playoff chances. Is it really a problem isolated between the Indians and the Tigers, or was it a larger issue between the Indians and vital games this season?

Statistically, the Indians were still in the playoffs up until the finals series of the season. However, their record as the season came to a close was dismaying, and did not mirror their impressive 10-game winning streak from 2013. Essentially, the Indians fell apart when it mattered most, whether they were facing the Tigers or some else. Sure, their Losing series to the Tigers in the final month of the season couldn’t have helped their confidence, but they did not always play like each game was a new game and a chance to start a new winning streak.

Is there a concrete explanation for the Indians inability to deliver wins in the vital part of their season? One can point to their sloppy defense and inability to hit to provide some sort of reasoning, though the attitude of the team did not seem to be the same confident, driven mentality that sent them into the post-season last year.

Maybe they just need another off-season to get everything right. maybe it’s the result of injuries and off-years for otherwise strong and valuable players. Or maybe the team just couldn’t perform under pressure this year.

But if we’re going to keep drawing comparisons, then it must be said: when it really did matter, though, Detroit could not deliver wins, either.

The Tigers were swept by the Orioles to lose out on their post-season hopes of playing into the ALDS.

If they are still chasing, maybe the Indians aren’t actually that far behind.

Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Although I appreciate the writers information, let’s hope that the Tribe’s front office doesn’t come to the same conclusion. Although we may not be too far behind Detroit or even Kansas City, for that matter, we can be sure that these teams will not stand pat and rely on basically their same team with the hope that certain players will have improved seasons. This is exactly what the Indians did in last year’s off season. This not only led to their falling further behind the Tigers and being passed by KC; but, it led to frustration on the part of Indian fans who were expecting the Indians to try and build on the success of 2013. This leads to lower attendance in the first part of the year and skepticism in the latter even when the Tribe experiences a hot streak, having the fear that the inevitable let down will occur.

    I applaud the long term signings of Brantley, Kipnis, and Gomes (ala John Hart); but, it must be remembered that Hart also brought us a series of established stars to supplement his stable of young starts (ex. Murphy, Hersheisher, Williams, etc.). Some were successful, some were not, but Hart could afford to see who would produce and who would not and keep those who could help the team.

    So, given the above, the Indians appear to be in much the same situation as they were last year. Even though they did not make the playoffs in 2014, I have to think the fans truly believe there is hope, as long as the Tribe makes a concerted effort to bolster what we have now. We still desperately need right handed power from right field and third base. One never has enough pitching. And, speed never goes into a slump.

    I also nominate Zack Walters as the best candidate to make a surprising contribution to the Tribes improvement in 2015. He reminds me of a youthful Grady Sizemore. He could play SS, 2B, 3B, or outfield. But, please put him in one position and give him sufficient opportunity to exhibit the “pop” he appears to have in his bat.

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