It’s the first week of May, and the Cleveland Indians sit a game below .500. They just spent the weekend in Philadelphia where they were swept by a team that was projected to win somewhere around 65 game, and looked terrible doing it.
Sure, the Philadelphia Phillies are a surprise team with unlikely pitching doing yeoman’s work and a couple decent bats floating about, but that was supposed to be the easy cushion to end the road trip that included Minnesota and Detroit, not the stiletto slipped between the ribs. This is not how any of this was supposed to go, but it has, and morale is low. Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s all over. It is only darkness now. All is lost. Here’s why.
Tyler Naquin is the Tribe’s best hitter
The sometime center fielder is here for platoon and pinch hitting purposes, and instead leads the team with a .333 batting average, 120 OPS+ and is second to Carlos Santana in wRC+ at 127. His numbers at first glance are awesome, and he’s certainly squared up some pitches that have turned into outs as well, packing a 40.6 percent hard-hit ball rate. However, this is buoyed by a .500 BABIP. I haven’t seen a guy get this many seeing eye singles in a single month ever, I don’t think.
Now maybe he’s telekinetic, and he’s either guiding the ball with his mind or making fielders fall over at inopportune times, but at some point that batting average is going to normalize to something more, well, normal seeming. At that point it’ll get ugly, because he’s also got a 2 percent walk rate, and a 32.7 percent strikeout rate. More precisely, he has walked one time this year. That astounds me, that in 49 plate appearances he’s seen four balls only one time. He battles at times, works some decent counts, but that needs to be more for him to be anything more than the most sudden flash in the pan. I like the guy, want him to succeed, but he can’t be hitting better than Mike Napoli, Michael Brantley or Yan Gomes. Speaking of which…
Yan Gomes looks terrible
It’s early, and Gomes’ defense has been sterling, and he’s flashed some rather timely power. But there are stretches of his batting that are just hideous. And when it happens is killer, too. Why does it seem like he’s striking out with men on first and second like once a game? His 75 percent contact rate the worst of his career while his swinging strike rate, 13.2 percent, is the highest. While he’s never been much of a walks taker, that 3.3 percent walk rate is the lowest it’s been.
FanGraphs suggests that it takes 120 plate appearances for things like walk rate to normalize for a hitter so I’m definitely overreacting, but Old Man Eye Test is killing me right now. One of the reasons for the divergence in the Tribe’s actual record and second and third order records was things like hit sequencing, and right now Gomes is the main contributor in all these one-run losses. He’s saving games with his defense all the time and definitely helped one game with a homer. I suppose I just want him to be much better because I’m a fanboy, though.
It'll probably come around, but even on his days off, we don't have the rare pleasures of the Roberto Perez appearance. He of his zero batting average and .400 on-base rate. That man is a mutant.
Arg, the bullpen
We all know and accept the Indians don’t have the type of ‘pen the Royals do. The last two or three innings will always be a bit of an adventure, even if the Manship is sailing. But come on now, what is up with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen? Do we have to deal with this type of swoon every year? At some point, it’s all going to catch up to them.
But those two, I figure they’ll get it going sooner or later. On Tuesday Allen showed his vintage stuff by striking out the Tigers’ side in the ninth. It’s the rest of the guys that freak me out. Zach McAllister is going to get hammered if he can’t throw a second pitch. What happened to that curveball, or literally anything else? And that murderer’s row of Joba Chamberlain, Dan Otero whoever he is and Kyle Crockett. Is there nothing on the farm after years of failed starter drafting? With Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer soaking up 40 percent of starts and Danny Salazar throwing 100 pitches in six innings, there’s going to need to be some relief, and it’s not very relieving to see what Francona is calling out half the time.
Michael Brantley may not be enough of an improvement over Rajai Davis to offset the loss of Carlos Carrasco
It’s only six weeks that Carrasco will be gone, but if Trevor Bauer continues to be not any good as his replacement and Cody Anderson’s mechanics stay out of whack, Brantley is going to have to round into spectacular form fast, and even then it likely won’t be enough.
Carrasco was looking like one of the top pitchers in the league and optimism told me Bauer would be at least decent, but he hasn’t been. His last start had the same problems that have plagued him his whole career as an Indian -- spotty location, loss of focus leading to a home run, and high pitch counts because he tries to be too fine. It wouldn’t be a huge issue, but it’s not good to be counting on Brantley like this, someone else in the offense needs to pick it up. As unfair as it is though, they just don’t have time to let him have a "spring training" in live games.
As much of a marathon as baseball is, a few weeks can do wonders or horrors.
It’s an uphill climb already
So April didn’t go quite as terribly as last year, when they limped into May at 7-14. But that doesn’t mean it’s all easy street. According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, since 1996 three hundred teams have finished April with a record at or below .500. Forty-four of those made the playoffs. To add to that misery, the Indians are playing in a very rough and tumble division.
The defending world champs are still squirrelly and a tough out, the Chicago White Sox pitching staff is savage and the defense is no longer a broken sieve, the Minnesota Twins looked rather tough over three games against the Tribe with good doses of scrappiness and Joe Mauer seemingly returning to form, and the Tigers still pack a hell of a punch. Outside of maybe the pitching staff, which has taken a hit with Carrasco out, the Indains don’t do anything better than anyone else in the division. The Sox pitch better right now, the Royals have a better bullpen and defense, and the Tigers have a better offense. Managing is the Tribe’s only leg-up, and even Tito can’t make that much lemonade.
No matter what happens, it's going to be a hard road to October. We knew that already, but it's much more stark now that the White Sox stink less.
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So there you are, some reasons to be extra miserable. You’re welcome. Tune in Saturday, for my rebuttal of all of this!