How Long Will Tribe Fly Under the Radar?

After 36 games, the cliché, “It’s early,” is starting to get a little late in its usage. Most consider 40 games—the quarter mark of the season—to be the expiration of “early.” Some others consider Memorial Day as the landmark of early’s expiration. Regardless, both will be achieved this week.

And since the season started the Indians have warned us that it was early and not to panic. Teams get off to slow starts all the time. Nobody is better at calming fears than the Tribe as they roll out the, “our record was this a year ago, or two years ago.” Cleveland wakes up this Monday morning at 14-22, nine games back of first place Kansas City, and the second worst record in the American League. For the record, after 36 games, the Indians were 17-19 a year ago and 21-15 two years ago when they made the playoffs. Just as meaningful, the Indians were 11-25 in 1987 when they were Sports Illustrated’s pick to win the World Series.

All of those records are insignificant to the 2015 team. Where and how one team plays doesn’t have much bearing on previous seasons. Even a year ago, the team consisted of different players. Their opponents had different rosters, too. Each season is its own entity, but if you’re going to compare the 2015 Indians are probably slated about right, not as good as last season’s team that didn’t make the playoffs, but better than a last place team.

But while the Indians have continued to struggle and tell everyone it is early, they’ve also been able to quietly fly under the radar. The excitement of the Cleveland Cavaliers push toward a championship and the city’s continued dedication to one of the worst football franchises since 1999 have made the Indians a quick after thought. The Indians are the thing you check on your television when your day is done, or in the morning when you wake. You check and see if the Indians won or lost, then move on. So far, in 2015, short of a great start by Corey Kluber this week, the Indians have given fans little reason to treat them more than an afterthought.

For now, flying under the radar, isn’t so bad for the Indians.

But whether they want to accept it, as Yogi Berra would say, “it gets late early out there,” and it is going to get late for the Indians quickly. The Indians won two of three games this weekend in Texas, winning their first series since the first one of the year in Houston. Hopefully it is the start of a turnaround for the Tribe. This evening the Tribe opens against another struggling team, the Chicago White Sox. Their next 14 games are against teams that currently have a losing record. If the Tribe can’t get back in it now, they may very likely find themselves too far out of it by June 1 to chase down Kansas City.

By that time, anyone’s fair definition of early will be over and if the Indians have not started to turn things around they’ll have to face some facts that they are a team consisting of a solid core, but surrounded by aging veterans that aren’t going to return to the level of play that they signed a contract for. The defense won’t get any better and the offense will be inconsistent. If June 1 hits, and the Indians are still near the bottom, then it is very likely this is the team they’ve constructed for 2015—a disappointment.

What’s frightening, is the positive and negative of Indians manager Terry Francona. Francona is a player’s manager to the last morsel of his body and just a year ago declared that no team of his would ever wave a white flag. While that is quite admirable, expecting Francona to give up on veterans in favor of young players at Triple-A and Double-A seems very doubtful. It’s more likely the Indians will ride out another season of inconsistent hitting and poor defense, then try to excuse a poor season away next winter and spring before 2016 begins.

The Cavaliers have at least a couple weeks left in their season—hopefully a month—and in Cleveland the Browns know no offseason, so flying under the radar has been a nice strategy while it is early for the Tribe. So far, the Indians themselves have shown little urgency to their season, so why should the fans? But if spring turns to summer and the Cavaliers’ season ends, and the Indians are still struggling, will the same core of Indians players make it too easy to fly under the fans’ radar all year long?

If the Indians don’t give their fans a reason to be interested soon, it will be easy to leave them under the radar all the way to training camp.

Photo: Brandon Wade/AP Photo

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