They say it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
For the past three seasons, the Cleveland Indians have finished just fine. From May to September, they have been one of baseball’s best teams. They have been the team that makes people say, “Nobody would want to play them in October”. Yet, the team has only one Wild Card Game loss to show for it.
And it’s that pesky “start” that’s the problem.
Since Manager Terry Francona was hired prior to the 2013 season, the Indians have shot themselves in the foot right out of the gate three out of three times. It took a miraculous run in 2013 with a ten game winning streak to finish the season just for the Indians to squeak out one game of “playoff baseball” (the quotes are for you, Kenny Lofton). Over the past two years, however, there has been no ten game winning streak and the Indians April swoon has proved too much to overcome.
Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.
The ownership of the Cleveland Indians, namely Paul and Larry Dolan, have received a reputation among the Tribe fan base for being, “cheap”.
In a lot of ways, that label has been warranted. Larry, the owner and Paul, the chairman and CEO, took over the club in 2000 while the team was still in the midst of its boon years that began in 1994. By 2002, the club had been stripped of its stars and high payroll as the team began a period of scuffling not seen on the shores of Lake Erie since the early 90s.
That was strike one, in the minds of a lot of fans. After that, the Dolans continued to not endear themselves to Clevelanders by keeping payroll typically in the bottom third of the league, refusing to sign star players and letting some of the club’s own superstar talent walk away.
The Cleveland Indians entered the 2013 season with an alarming lack of apparent ability in the starting rotation. With the turnaround of Ubaldo Jimenez, the comeback of Scott Kazmir, and the emergence of Cory Kluber, the starting rotation became a source of strength for the Indians. Kazmir moved on to the Oakland Athletics and Jimenez seems destine to sign with another team as well. With the loss of two key players, the big question is whether or not the Indians can repeat their playoff season.
In order to look at where the Indians could be in 2014, we must look at what they have lost and gained in this current off season. In addition to this, we have to look at the loss and gain of the other teams in the American League Central. Using a statistic known as Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, we can project how many wins each player is, or could be worth. If we add up the cumulative WAR of the players the Indians lost, and the WAR of the new additions to the team, we can project how many wins the Indians lost or gained with through free agency and trades this winter.
Power is not an easy commodity to come by. There has been much speculation about the possibility of the Indians adding a power bat before the start of the 2014 season. This is going to be a difficult prospect, not only because the Indians do not have a lot of money to spare, but also because there are not many power hitters available on the open market. In fact, there are only two players still available that hit more home runs than the Indians team leader last season. Power used to be easy to find, in today’s game, it is a rare talent.
Just 14 seasons ago, in 2000, 13 teams hit more than 190 home runs on the season. Just one team in 2013, the Baltimore Orioles, surpassed that mark. The Indians finished 10th among the 30 Major League Baseball teams with 171 home runs, in 2000 that would have been good enough for 22nd. From an individual standpoint, 40 players in 2000 hit more than 30 home runs on the season. This past year only 10 men hit over 30 home runs. Power hitters are just no longer as prevalent as they were during the major offensive era that lasted from about 1994-2006. The prospect of finding a power bat readily available on the open market is not such an easy task, and the scarcity of these players makes them all the more expensive.
While much of the focus during the Indians most recent losing skid has involved placing the blame on the starting rotation for not keeping Cleveland in ball games, there has been another troubling trend that has been much less discussed.
The starting rotation has played beyond the expectations of most fans this season, and rightfully so. Justin Masterson was coming off of a disappointing 2012 campaign, the jury was still out on Ubaldo Jimenez, the transitions of both Scott Kazmir and Brett Myers were undetermined, and the younger, inexperienced arms of Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer were truly an unknown commodity. It is just shy of a miracle that the rotation has turned out to be the strength of the ball club.
The offense, however, has generally been found lacking.
There are many clichéd terms used in Major League Baseball to describe a season’s length. Often times you will hear people say, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” or “You don’t win a championship in April.” Those phrases are often used when discussing a team performing far better or below expectations. Those same words, clearly, can be used for the individual players, as well.
That was proven Thursday when the Indians designated Mark Reynolds for assignment. In the middle of May, many Tribe fans were screaming for Cleveland management to give the right-handed slugger a lucrative contract extension. Now, he is a player who has not hit a lick in a couple months and likely headed elsewhere for the season’s stretch run.
Coming into the season many people were skeptical of Scott Kazmir and what he could bring to this Indians team. After his last six starts where he has a 1.89 ERA and his start today, going six innings, allowing just two hits, no runs and striking out seven Marlins hitters, the doubters have gone away. His performance today, followed by three scoreless innings from Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and Chris Perez, was enough to help the Indians earn a 2-0 victory.
Both pitchers, Nathan Eovaldi and Kazmir came out strong in the first inning, with both teams getting just one hit in the first inning, both of whom were left stranded.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Cleveland Indians brass was on the airwaves and in front of the media this weekend to discuss the state of the team and potential talks.
The message: Don’t spend a lot of time hitting refresh on your computer on Wednesday in hopes of a trade.
General Manager Chris Antonetti and Team President Mark Shapiro each discussed the high price of available trade commodities, the abundance of buyers and the lack of sellers in the trade market. You can’t trade for a starting pitcher if there aren’t many out there. Worse yet, why trade for one that isn’t good. With Matt Garza going for a pretty penny from the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers and four teams pursuing Jake Peavy, settling for the likes of Bud Norris leaves something to be desired for a rotation that seems to be overachieving this season. The same is true for a power hitter for the middle of the order. If Alex Rios was such a potent bat, the Chicago White Sox probably wouldn’t be having a yard sale with their roster.
“Almost everyone’s instinct is to be overconfident and read way too much into a hot or cold streak.”
BACK AND FORTH OF JULY
I feel like a frozen record, being stuck on repeat, but the streakiness of the Tribe continues to control this team.
The Tribe took a 15-5 stretch into the beginning of July and then proceeded to lose six of eight. Four straight wins took the Indians into the All-Star break, only to lose four of six against two terrible teams off the bat. It has been the recipe all season; don’t expect it to ever change.
I think what is so surprising with the recent stretch is just how PATHETIC and UNFUNDAMENTAL the Indians have become. Through Wednesday’s 10-1 beatdown of Seattle, the Indians have made nine errors through six games. The nine errors have led to five unearned runs and the Indians have lost their four games by a combined total of four runs. Only Monday’s loss to Seattle was not due to poor defense, as taking away unearned runs would have either tied or given the Indians a lead in the other three games.
Catch the ball please.
The greatest example of how baseball is a marathon and not a sprint may come in the form of Mark Reynolds.
Remember in April when Reynolds seemed to be taking Cleveland by storm in April? Reynolds hit .301, with eight home runs and 22 RBIs and was a guy that left everyone searching to give him a nickname. Our site felt he was like a hurricane. Fans wondered aloud if the Indians could possibly give him an extension at the All-Star break so that he didn’t hit the free agent market. We wondered if he could possibly hit the scoreboard. I once tweeted that he was appointment TV. You shouldn’t leave your seat or the television if Reynolds is coming to the plate.
My how times have changed. Now, it’s Reynolds who might need a seat himself.
The month of July is more than half over. In the world of baseball, this means the conversations about trades are going to heat up. With the trade deadline fast approaching on July 31, teams near the top of the standings will attempt to get better through deals to solidify their weaknesses.
At 51-44, one and a half games behind the Tigers in the AL Central, the Indians are one of those teams in discussions to improve through a trade. That is great news. Cleveland could really use a boost in the bullpen or starting rotation. The right trade for a quality pitcher could have the Indians in playoff contention as the season winds down.
The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals will conclude the unofficial first half of the 2013 regular season with a three-game weekend set at Progressive Field prior to this year’s All-Star festivities from Citi Field in New York.
The Royals …