Games like Wednesday afternoon’s 12-1 thrashing of the Kansas City Royals give Tribe fans a glimpse of what might have been. It is also frustrating to see what the Indians, picked by some this past offseason as a World Series contender, can do when clicking on all cylinders.
Wednesday’s home win went just as the team drew things up to go this season. Ace and reigning American League Cy Young Corey Kluber shut down the defending American League champions. Meanwhile, the Tribe got contributions and timely hits from up and down the order.
Kluber and the rest of the starting rotation have pitched about as well as hope this year. It is that timely hitting thing that has come and gone this year – though it has mostly been absent. Cleveland’s lack of getting hits when it matters most is why the team is a disappointing 46-54, along with an even more disappointing 20-32 at home, and headed toward meaningless baseball full of playing for pride and numbers in the season’s final two months.
Cleveland’s offense will never remind anyone of the great running-scoring clubs that called Jacobs Field home in the 1990s. However, it actually has not been all that bad. That is until runners get on base and in position to score.
As recently as one week ago, the Cleveland Plain Dealer posted that the Indians were hitting .228, 26th in all of baseball, batting with a runner on second base or better. The team was hitting an abysmal .139 with the bases loaded.
A Cleveland team, sitting 22nd in runs per game with 3.84 would be faring a lot better with hits when it really counted. Consider the Tribe is worst in baseball with 7.28 runners left on base per contest, according to teamrankings.com. Cleveland is third to the bottom with 3.72 runners left in scoring position per game. The only two teams leaving more runs on the basepaths are Arizona and Cincinnati – both clubs who are also on the fast track to watching this season’s playoffs from home.
If the Indians had even been able to knock in even a quarter of those stranded runners in scoring position, they would be in far better shape and in the upper crust of teams when it comes to runs per game.
Granted the pitching ERA is only 11th in the American League at 3.96. However, some of that is the result of relievers allowing games to get out of hand. The Indians have had some historic starting pitching. The Indians were the first team ever to have four players with 100 or more strikeouts by the All Star break. Cleveland’s starting contingency of Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar have deserved far better fates than losses they have taken this year. Just ask Kluber, who is 6-11 despite a decent 3.44 ERA because he has received some of the worst run support in the game. He now has had two outings since the All-Star break in which the Tribe has garnered nine or more runs, so that trend may at least be reversing.
With four out of five starters like the Indians have, as well as one of the better backend of the bullpen in baseball, a little offense would be going a long way. Just 4.5 runs per game would probably have the Tribe well in the thick of a Wild Card hunt, if not within string range of the A.L. Central-leading Royals.
Just look at this 1-6 homestand that just wrapped up and sent the Indians from faint postseason hopes to complete long shots. On Tuesday, Bauer would have to have been near perfect to avoid a 2-1 loss. As it was, he went the distance. The Indians squandered several chances to score and take a game from the Royals. The Tribe also couldn’t figure out how to get that key hit in a 2-1 loss Sunday to the Whit Sox. Right there are two games that could have helped reverse fortunes and trends, at least a little bit.
Looking ahead, the Indians certainly have the pitching to compete and stay in a lot of ball games. Yes, Cody Anders, the number five starter, has faltered in his last couple games after a hot start. Other starters have also had their struggles since the break. Bauer’s first two games post Mid Summer Classic were bad, before he got it going again on Tuesday.
Sadly, it does not matter how well the pitchers throw. They can give up two and three runs every night. If the offense is unable to get key hits to drive in runs that should be scoring from second and third base, the Indians will never get over the hump to be a truly good team.
It is unfortunate because the offense has seen an big, All-Star campaign turned in by Jason Kipnis. It has also seen Michael Brantley followup his 2014 breakout season with another strong year. However, guys like Brandon Moss and Carlos Santana have been hit or miss – quite literally. Moss leads the team with 15 homers but strikes out far too often, especially in big moments. Santana, last year’s home run leader, has had a miserable season. Lonnie Chisenhall never did get going before his demotion to Triple-A Columbus. Now the offense has rookies Giovanny Urshela and Francisco Lindor learning on the fly.
The Indians will not be a real contender until they can fix their issues with clutch hitting. It can be fixed in house, but more than likely may take a piece ow two from outside of the organization to really get it going as far clutch hitting goes.
A season that once held so much promise never really got in gear due to the clutch.
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