Half of what the Cleveland Indians did on Opening day was perfectly to script. No, Corey Kluber didn’t get his no-hitter to match Bob Feller AGAIN. The offense just, well, wasn’t. Maybe they got lost in Olympia, maybe they jut like Seattle as a city and wanted their fans to have one nice day. But it was amazing. They did score, at least. But one run is never enough (okay, a billion runs in a game might be enough, but that’s it) even when Kluber pitches. They looked bereft, miserable, Little League at the plate. It’s time to overreact.
This was the main worry in the offseason. When you phrase it like that, you realize the scope of it. It’s why people were worried when Carlos Santana left. It’s why articles pushing for signing JD Martinez or Lorenzo Cain or anyone to help with the outfield were written. Yes, by me, if that matters. The Indians are a good offensive team. They scored the sixth most runs and had the third highest wRC+ in baseball. In the grand scheme of things they were really good. But really good isn’t the goal here, is it. Titles are what we’re looking for, and with how loaded the Astros already are and what the Yankees added, to say nothing of various teams in the National League, sixth isn’t going to cut it. Even if the pitching staff IS as historic as last year. So Thursday was distressing.
The biggest problem they have, based on this one intensely important game, is actually two problems. They do come in conjunction with each other though. Once they get past about fifth in the lineup, the Indians right now are something resembling terrible. Look, I love Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes, have irrationally high hopes for Tyler Naquin, and less irrationally so for Bradley Zimmer. But they’re just so... is mediocre the right word? That might be a bit generous. Of the four, only Chisenhall boasted a wRC+ over 100 last year, hitting an addmittedly impressive 129, and though he did have a heck of a play in right holding Robinson Cano to a very long single, that excellent rate stat came in only 82 games. It weakens the confidence knowing he might continue to platoon with Brandon Guyer. Yes, I’ve written about him being a full-time player. I probably still believe myself. But still. It’s nerve-wracking for them to lean on him. Can he keep hitting both sides of the plate so well? If so, that’s superb and help the Indians cause even as it damages this rant. But that’s the problem — if.
If Yan Gomes can maintain the patience he demonstrated Thursday night, working hitters counts before making outs, he may return to his once slugging ways. If Chisenhall can stay healthy and do what he did last year to lefties, he’s suddenly something short of a star. If Naquin recaptures that 2016 magic then everyone is happy. And of course Zimmer — if he actualizes the potential he’s blessed with, then there aren’t any problems. But none of that is real yet, it won’t be for months. All of these guys are still massive question marks if not merely placeholders. And they were the ones that did a lot of the offensive lifting again the Mariners. That holds up going forward, the Indians are unbeatable. But you can’t just comfortably believe in that
The second half of that one problem, one that isn’t avoidable even with Brantley returning, is how lefty-heavy this team has become again. Shades of those miserable days in 2012 when a LOOGY suddenly became a LTOFOGY. I was suddenly remidned how incredibly valuable Carlos Santana was to this team, and it made me sad for so many reasons. Most of these guys are good hitters, but the prdominance of southpaws brings to mind too many bad memories of second half fades. The Indains are blessed with Ramirez and Lindor being switch hitters, and of course Encarnacion as a righty, but they all have to bat in the first three or four holes, ideally. It’s tough when they have to lean on Gomes and Guyer to be key right-handed bats in big moments to neutralize left-handed relievers. At the end of the order are Naquin and Zimmer, and both have problems at the plate and both have to play a lot right now. Giving away two outs to a left-handed pitcher makes it hard to win games. Once Brantley comes back maybe Gomes slides town and things loosen up. Which does add balance. But until then, games could get short.
Then there’s the aggressiveness from the stars. Through three at-bats on Thursday, Francisco Lindor saw 10 pitches. Not too bad of course, but six of those came in his third plate appearance. Felix Hernandez is a fantastic pitcher, after all these years so adept at the mental game of pitching and able to toy with hitters no matter their experience level. But coming out, the Indians were on the attack. It is a little confusing — he’s not the Felix of old who could crank it up to 96 or so. He lives off deception and guile and an insane change. I can’t tell these hitters to just wait for a pitch to hit. he’s still fantastic. But it was common knowledge that he was limited to 85ish pitches. Why chase? Why did the first two hitters of the game see a combined four pitches? Or in the top of the fourth, what was with Edwin, Yonder and Lonnie seeing a combined seven pitches? Yeah, Felix is fantastic, but so are these hitters, allegedly at least. Is this going to be a problem? How did they all get the same discipline as me playing video games poorly?
Who knew the offense would collapse without the calming influence of that magic man Carlos Santana? He could turn 0-2 to 3-2 in no time. Did they forget all his teachings? If the Phillies start working deep counts and the Indians start seeing 85-pitch complete games out of opponents, we know why. They look terrible, and I was always taught to make a good impression and put your best foot forward. They did not do that, so like a weird new kid at school now I don’t like them.
Luckily, there’s another 161 of these dumb things.