Better May Keeps Indians in the AL Central Mix

Given the circumstances, a 16-13 month of May for the Cleveland Indians doesn’t look too bad. They played without their number two starter, a revolving door for the fifth spot, lost their All-Star left fielder early and for the second time, and were without their quality backup catcher.

Their play over the month was a roller coaster ride of sorts. Their first homestand of the month ended positively with a three-game sweep over Detroit and a series win over Kansas City. They lost a road series in Houston and a home set against Minnesota before sweeping a home-and-home series with the Cincinnati Reds.

A bad visit to Boston in the middle of the road trip, plus a loss in the first game of a doubleheader in Chicago, put the Indians into their longest losing skid of the month, but they recovered with three straight wins over the White Sox. May ended on a sour note, despite the Tribe briefly holding a half-game lead in the AL Central, as they lost two of three to Baltimore and the final two games of the month against Texas.

What went right:

Ramirez and Napoli - Jason Miller/Getty Images
Ramirez and Napoli – Jason Miller/Getty Images

Jose Ramirez – The Tribe’s utility guy and main left field option in the absence of Michael Brantley supplied the offense with a .314 average and team-highs .423 on-base percentage and .888 OPS in May. He climbed into the middle of the lineup, hitting behind Mike Napoli, while scoring 16 runs, driving in 12, hitting a team-leading seven doubles, and drawing 15 walks against just nine strikeouts in 28 games. He is one of just a handful of players around the Majors with more walks than strikeouts for the season (including teammate Carlos Santana) and he has provided the Tribe with the AL’s third-best average with runners in scoring position (.393) this season.

Francisco Lindor – He led the club with a .316 average for the month and continued to impress in the field. His 36 hits and 21 runs scored were tops on the club, as were his six steals, which came in a perfect six opportunities. He had 28 singles in the month, which were more than any other Indians player had for his monthly hit total (with the exception of Jason Kipnis, who had 30 hits total in May).

Lonnie Chisenhall – The converted right fielder was hitting .227 through his first seven games of April after returning from his rehab assignment. He hit a very quiet, but still productive, .313 in May with a .403 OBP. He scored eleven runs in the month and drove in eight.

Mike Napoli – After surviving a very rough return to Fenway Park in the middle of a road trip late in the month (0-for-13, nine strikeouts), he got back to work, getting hits in all three games he appeared in during the Indians’ trip to Chicago and did the same against Baltimore in three straight to start the next homestand. He ran the hitting streak to seven straight, including homers in four of those seven games, before it came to an end on the closing day of the month. He hit .248 for the month after hitting .205 in April.

Cody Allen – The Indians’ closer continued to get the job done, even when it wasn’t always done by the books. He only had four saves in the month after earning seven in April, but he converted all four opportunities that he had. He allowed hits in just three games, but he gave up free passes in seven different games, offering up nine in the month. The lack of hits helped reduce any damage those free base runners could have caused, as he allowed just a .098 batting average in the month while striking out 18 batters in 13 innings.

Ryan Merritt’s debut – The Indians’ rookie left-hander had to wait a week before finally getting into a game on May 30 and when he did, he left his mark, throwing four and one-third innings of one-hit scoreless baseball. He struck out a pair and allowed a single to the first batter he faced before retiring the next 12 in order and facing the minimum. He returned to Columbus after the outing to jump back into the Triple-A rotation, but the 24-year-old made sure his name is one to consider again in the future.

Play in the AL Central – If the Indians could find a way to beat the Minnesota Twins, their AL Central numbers would be considered dominance. As it stood, they posted winning records against their three chief rivals, but somehow dropped two of three at home against the Twins, who have routinely been playing for the worst record in all of baseball.

Production from the offense – The Indians scored 147 runs in May, the fourth-best tally in all of baseball. In addition to producing runs, they were aided in run manufacturing by 108 walks in the month, the second-best total in the American League.

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What went wrong:

Michael Brantley – The Indians left fielder barely survived the first week of the month before having to shut himself down with recurring issues with his surgically repaired right shoulder. The club has taken it cautiously with him moving forward, not wanting to risk repeated trips to the disabled list this season, but it has thinned an already underwhelming collection of outfielders on the roster.

Carlos Carrasco’s absence – Carrasco missed the whole month after injuring his hamstring in a game in Detroit in April. Trevor Bauer was 2-2 in five starts with a 3.86 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, but there is no replacing a pitcher who was as effective as Carrasco was last season.

Anderson - AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Anderson – AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Fifth starters – Cody Anderson’s best outing was his last, winning the second game of the team’s late May doubleheader in Chicago. It was not enough to prevent him from returning to Columbus, as he was 1-2 for the month in four games with a 5.95 ERA and .286 batting average against. His Achilles heel this season, the home run ball, remained a problem, as he allowed four more in 19 2/3 innings pitched. Mike Clevinger was 0-1 with an 8.79 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and .276 batting average against in his first three Major League starts.

The M&M righties – Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister made the once-trusted bullpen an area of concern for the club moving into the summer months. Manship (0-1) allowed seven runs (five earned) on ten hits in eight and two-thirds innings. McAllister (1-1) earned a 7.88 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in his ten appearances, allowing seven runs on 12 hits and a .343 batting average against. Both relievers allowed a pair of homers each.

Lacking lefties – Kyle Crockett had a bad month, which led to his expulsion to Columbus to find himself on the mound again. In nine appearances, he allowed six runs in just three innings (18.00 ERA). The damage was done via seven hits and a pair of walks (3.00 WHIP). The Indians eventually called up Merritt to work in the role if needed and now have turned to veteran call-up Tom Gorzelanny.

Bullpen Bombs – Indians relievers allowed ten home runs in the month. Manship, McAllister, and Bryan Shaw (0-0, 1.54 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 13 games) each allowed two, while Austin Adams, Joba Chamberlain, and Tommy Hunter each coughed up one. Anderson allowed a walk-off homer in Houston as well in his only relief appearance of the season.

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The something in between:

Santana - AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith
Santana – AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

Carlos Santana – Sure, his .217 batting average in May isn’t pretty. But his .346 OBP was a little bit better. In 29 games in May, he reached base safely with a hit or a walk in 26 of them. He also found the long ball, doubling his three from April with six in May while tacking on 15 runs and 14 RBI. His 22 walks for the month were the most in the AL and he, like Ramirez, has a favorable strikeout-to-walk ratio this season, with 25 strikeouts and 31 walks in the first two months of the season.

Bryan Shaw – The Indians’ setup man made 13 appearances in the month with a 1.54 ERA. In eight of those outings, he allowed base runners, including in each of his final five games of the month. He took over in relief on May 13 against Minnesota and gave up a solo homer to the first batter he faced to give the Twins a 5-4 lead. It took a three-run bottom half for the Indians to escape with a last at bat victory. On May 25, he entered for Corey Kluber in the eighth inning with a 4-1 lead and allowed an inherited run to score on a two-run homer to Melky Cabrera that made a good lead shrink to one.

Yan Gomes – The struggles at the plate for the Indians catcher were much discussed throughout the month of May. While he hit just .148, he did contribute plenty to the offense when he connected, scoring seven runs and driving in 14. His three homers in the month were tied for fifth-most among all American League catchers and his 14 RBI were tied with Brian McCann for the AL lead. He entered June as the top RBI-producing catcher in the AL.

Cleveland’s Big 3 (without Carrasco) – Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar, and Kluber each had good and bad in the month. Tomlin continued in his role as the stopper with the exception of his final start of the month. While he was 4-1 in his six starts, he allowed twice as many homers as the next closest pitchers on the roster, doing so in two fewer innings pitched than Kluber (who had four). Kluber was 3-3 with a 4.08 ERA in six starts and was second on the staff with 38 strikeouts. He ended stronger than he started, striking out 21 batters in his final 21 1/3 innings while posting a 2.53 ERA. Salazar was 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts, leading the club with 46 strikeouts, but also leading the squad with 15 walks.

Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak

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