Similar Seasons, Different Feels

As of Friday morning, after 27 games this season, the Cleveland Indians are 10-17. They are in fifth place in American League Central Division, trailing the Chicago White Sox (10-15), Minnesota Twins (16-13), Detroit Tigers (18-11), and Kansas City Royals (18-10). They’ve dug themselves into a bit of a hole to start the season, frankly, a hole that could pose difficult for them to dig themselves out of.

However, it would not be impossible. After 27 games last year, the Indians were 11-16 and still ended up at 85-77 to end the season third in the AL Central. April was the last month in which they had a losing record last year, as they went 15-13 in May, 13-13 in June, 14-12 in July, 18-9 in August, and 14-13 in September.

Prior to Friday’s game, the team is 3-3 in May. They still haven’t had back-to-back wins since the opening series in Houston. They’re in just as dire of a situation as they were around this same time last year. In fact, the Tribe was 10.5 games back on Sunday, May 18, 2014, their biggest gap in the standings all season. They are 7.5 games back as of Friday morning.

The numbers put the team at quite a similar level. So, why does it feel like this year is so much worse than last? Why does it seem that this season is more hopeless than last when, last year, the team hung on by the skin of their teeth and played meaningful games all the way through the last week of the season?

Perhaps it is the ending to last season that makes this year’s start seem so poor. But, last year’s bad start came on the heels of a fantastic finish to the 2013 season that included a Wild Card game and some of the most exciting September baseball in recent memory. There hasn’t been a tremendous amount of shift among all those rosters — yes, players such as Jason Giambi retired and Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez parted ways with the Tribe, but much of the overall makeup of the team has stayed the same. The team departed with some of their other pieces that were bringing them down last season in Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, and have made some acquisitions that while, not massively impactful, are not detractions by any means. Yet, something still makes this season’s rough start feel somehow worse.

Could it be because Corey Kluber isn’t riding as high as he did at the end of last season? He closed out 2014 as the American League Cy Young Award winner, yet is 0-5 this season with a 5.04 ERA after starting seven games. After seven starts last season, Kluber was 2-3 with a 3.60 ERA. He’s floundering this season without much explanation as to why. It never seemed that Kluber’s success last year was just a flash in the pan, although his struggles as of late are starting to paint him that way. Earlier this season, it seemed that Kluber’s primary reason for a lack of wins was a lack of offensive support and subpar defense behind him (which is a further reason why wins and losses don’t seem to be a great indicator of pitcher success). However, Kluber’s already thrown four wild pitches this season, more than he has thrown in any other full season, and he has given up four home runs. He’s second in the American League with 46 strikeouts, though, which continues to add to the puzzling question as to what is is happening to Kluber this year. Hopefully he reverts to the Kluber fans knew and loved at the end of last season, but likely much of the disgruntled attitude toward the team’s lackluster start this year can come from the fact that Kluber hasn’t dominated on the mound.

The Indians defense is also still a sore spot this season, and could make the early season struggles more upsetting because fans came off last season upset with the high number of errors and the sloppy play they were forced to watch. The team committed 116 errors last season, ranking them 15 out of 15 in the American League. There certainly wasn’t much further down to go, and fans anticipated cleaner play this season, if only because they couldn’t expect much worse. The team has committed 17 errors so far this season, and while it hasn’t been as horrendous as last season, the defense is still average at best. Jose Ramirez has made four errors at short (all of which are accompanied by the rallying cry of, “Call up Lindor!”), and Lonnie Chisenhall has looked better at third this season, though not flawless, and committed two official errors. The defense hasn’t been as egregious as in season’s past, but it is by no means perfect and still leaves much to be desired. This season’s aggravation can likely be attributed to little growth on the field after last year’s messy play.

The offense is also quiet this season, which accounts for the biggest reason why the team is sinking. Even when pitchers are doing well, the offense is not providing the run support needed to win games. The Indians are tenth in the American League with 119 runs scored this season, and are twelfth in hits with 221. Their 27 home runs does put them in the middle of the pack (seventh), though the vast majority have been solo homers. Last season, though, the Indians were in a similar position, ranking eleventh in the American League in April with 205 hits, though they were ninth in the league with 104 runs.

Perhaps the biggest thing that is harming this team this season is the expectations set on them to start the year. On paper, this team was poised to win it all. They suffered from early struggles between Yan Gomes’ injury and Carlos Carrasco’s comebacker and Trevor Bauer’s food poisoning and T.J. House’s struggles on the mound. Call it what you want, the Sports Illustrated jinx or the Cleveland Curse or just general ill-luck, but, the bottom line is that the Indians were built up this season to be something that, at this moment in time, they simply are not.

Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP Photo

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