It wasn’t supposed to be like this again for the Cleveland Indians offense. It wasn’t supposed to be like this after getting key players healthy and adding a powerful bat in Brandon Moss. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but through eight games it is.
Through eight games, the Tribe batters have done little to erase the memory of the final two months of 2014 in which the rotation was among the best in baseball, yet the team stayed home in October because of too many games in which the offense could not produce enough runs for a rotation that didn’t need all that much to begin with.
Last season, Cleveland put up, overall, pretty good offensive numbers. However, it was a bit skewed in that the bats would look sluggish for several games and then explode for a total that would help the runs per game average and runs scored total.
A season ago, the Indians had injuries to key contributors in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Jason Kipnis struggle with a down year. Carlos Santana couldn’t hit a lick for the first two months. Lonnie Chisenhall couldn’t hit a lick for final two months. Really, only Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes strung together a full season of good offensive baseball. It wasn’t enough to propel a squad rich in pitching back into the postseason.
Things were supposed to be different this year. Santana, following his second have rejuvenation, was expected to come in with a monstrous bat this year. The hope was Kipnis would rebound to his 2013 form after being plagued by injuries and struggling in 2014. A fully healthy Bourn could finally be that much-needed spark plug at the top of the lineup. Moss, picked up in an offseason trade, could be that 30-plus home run hitter the club sorely needed.
Through eight games, none of this is coming to frutition. The Indians entered Wednesday hitting a paltry .219 as a team, Santana is leading the regulars with a .286 batting average. Not a knock on Santana, but you normally want your team leader in batting to hit over .300. Of the regualrs, Kipnis is next at .242. It gets worse from there.
Santana is also in a four-way tie on the team with one home run. In eight games, the Tribe has hit just four bombs. Moss had not gone deep either. Nor has Kipnis, who was supposed to refind his power after battling and oblique injury a year ago.
The Indians are averaging less 3.5 runs per game. Four times, they have scored four runs or less. Three times it was two or less and they have been shut out already. Some of the best scoring outputs came over the weekend against Detroit, when Cleveland scored 4, 6 and 5 runs. Many of those were in attempts to erase deficits against a bullpen that is not very good.
The biggest positive on the offense so far has been Jerry Sands, who was called up before Saturday’s game, and is hitting a blistering .412 in 17 at bats with two doubles and four RBI. He is not expected to be around once the team is fully healthy.
To be fair, like last year, the Tribe has been hit by injuries. Swisher is still out. However, anything the team gets from him at this point may be more bonus than expected. Gomes and Brantley, however, have been missed big time. The two have combined to play seven of Cleveland’s first eight games. Gomes play five games before injuring his knee and will be out six to eight weeks. He was hitting only .150 at the time, joining the others off to sluggish starts. However, he at least had the potential to get things going.
Brantley has not landed on this disabled list, but a sore back has had him day-to-day since the start of the season and he has only played in two contests, going 1-for-8. The Tribe could really use his back and it is hoped that he will be back this weekend. Of course, backs can always be finicky so it is hard to say for sure if he will be fully healthy at all this year. Fans and the team, alike, certainly hope last year’s MVP finalist can get back to complete strength.
As for other regulars in the lineup, Chisenhall, Bourn and Jose Ramirez have all gotten off to slow starts. All the tough starts in the lineup are a big reason the Tribe is 3-5. Cleveland has lost a game in which it allowed two runs and one in which it allowed four. Those were winnable games, to be sure.
Even with the injuries to Gomes and Brantley, the Tribe has enough good players to be scoring more runs than it has to this point. With guys like Kipnis, Moss, Santana, Chisehall and Bourn, Cleveland’s offense should still be able to produce at least four runs per game, or more. It is not as though the club is throwing minor league talent into the lineup night after night.
The Indians are at team capable of much more than they have shown to this point in the season. The group really needs to get its hitters going to their potential before well-pitched losses start to pile up again.
It is certainly early, so it is not time to panic. However, we are seeing something of the continuation of a trend that began last year. That trend really needs to and has the potential to reverse itself. It is not supposed to be like this again this year for this Cleveland Indians offense.
Photo: Mark Duncan/AP Photo