Two games into their pivotal three-game series against the Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland Indians playoff hopes look further away than ever before. A mere week ago, it looked like a Wild Card run was inevitable, but the rug went out from under the offense in a hurry. One of the big issues down the stretch has been injuries, and while it has made sense to keep their star players in as much as possible in a playoff hunt, now may be the time for the Indians to start shutting them down before it causes long-term problems.
Two the Tribe’s best (if not the best) hitters, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, in particular could probably use extended trips on the disabled list. Kipnis came back from a shoulder injury on August 18 and he has not looked the same since. His recent five-game hitting streak is encouraging, but it’s already over and he now has one hit and no walks in his last eight plate appearances.
All told, in 31 games since his return, Kip has only 27 hits and eight doubles, good for a .218/.265/.331 slash. Whether it is just regression or an injury, he is clearly not himself. And if it is the latter, there is absolutely no reason to push the issue at this point with the Indians playoff odds sitting at less than a percent, according to FanGraphs.
While his injury never required a formal trip to the disabled list, Michael Brantley’s sore shoulder has been lingering for well over a month at this point. He re-aggravated the injury diving for a ball in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Twins, but the Indians show no signs of taking him out for any duration. Sure, his bat has not slowed down much due to the injury, but shooting him with a cortisone shot and trotting him back on the field could potentially be doing more harm than good; especially if he manages to go down again in a few days anyway.
Corey Kluber missed two starts due to a hamstring injury, but he has not looked like his cyborg self in his two starts since returning. Worse yet, both poor outings came at times when the Tribe needed wins the most. His first lapse came on September 17 against the Kansas City Royals when he lasted only four innings and allowed two runs on five hits, and the second came just last night against the Twins when he allowed four runs in a disastrous fourth inning that ultimately sunk the Tribe. Hamstring injuries have a tendency to stick around a lot longer than they have any right to, and it may be that Kluber’s is throwing off something with his mechanics. I am sounding like a broken record at this point, but if there is even a small chance of the injury getting worse because he is being thrown out there with a 0.9% shot at the playoffs, why do it?
Although the replacements would not be very fun to watch, the Indians do have plenty of options to replace all these players, before even getting into the 40-man roster expansions. Michael Martinez, Jerry Sands, and (unfortunately) Mike Aviles have already played significant time in the outfield. Martinez, Aviles, and Jose Ramirez are all also easy candidates to take over for Kipnis at second base.
As for replacing Corey Kluber, the Tribe could give Trevor Bauer a few more outings from the bullpen before having him start again. Terry Francona said before when the change happened that Trevor could start again, and time is running out again for that the happen in 2015.
Regardless of who the Indians do or do not put on the disabled list, at this point the team is playing for pride and trying not to ruin their futures. Be smart.