The 2018 Cleveland Indians have been quite something to behold. Even with the inaction of the offseason and the big losses in the bullpen a .500 record seems something short of expectations. They’re still in first, but it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem like they should be such a mediocre team. The bullpen is not as great as it was, a big offensive contributor is gone, but the rotation is better than ever and the offense is loud as hell. And yet still they barely have their head above water.
Like Mr. Murphy said, everything that could go wrong has gone utterly sideways.
Look, we all knew the bullpen wasn’t going to be as good. Maybe the loss of Mickey Callaway was undersold a bit (at least in my own head), and losing Bryan Shaw stinks. But this is incredible. There are guys in that ‘pen that have been something resembling stalwart the last few years who are utterly dreadful. Dan Otero seems to have lost everything that made him in anyway useful, his 21.4 percent HR/FB ratio topped only by his dreadful 26.5 of last year, but he’s allowing twice as many fly balls. It’s a mess. Against all logic Zach McAllister is somehow throwing more fastballs than he ever has as a reliever at 82.1 percent, and is turning in a hideous campaign so far. Tyler Olson has allowed runs, and has been forced into roles he’s not used to. To wit, pitching to righties. Nick Goody is hurt. Matt Belisle has thrown innings. A rotating cast of randos has done nothing but bomb. Quite simply, a parade of garbage has marched from the bullpen so far and it’s ruined many great starts.
Oh, and Andrew Miller getting hurt is simply incredible. Of all the things that couldn’t go wrong, this is the big one. Hamstrings are the devil when it comes to athletes, especially ones made of sticks and stones. Maybe it was wrong for the Indians to plan some much around a reliever that’s thrown 200 innings the last three years, and leans on a slider so hard, but it was what they had. Him falling means everyone else is in a different role, they have to ride Cody Allen hard, and everything is just that much closer to collapse. Which we’ve seen realize itself. It’s a lot of strain on guys who are vital when the days get short and the games get big.
Plus it’s effectively washed out an incredible run by the offense. When MLB.com’s Mike Petriello tweeted out about Lance McCullers shutting down the league’s “hottest offense” I was admittedly a little confused. But he’s right. The Indians the last 30 days have had the second best offense in baseball behind the Yankees, and it’s all washed away by the ‘pen collapsing.
Which doesn’t absolve the hitters of being something terrible at the wrong time. They wasted one of Kluber’s best starts to open the season by flailing wildly against Felix Hernandez. Carlos Carrasco pitched seven innings of shutout ball and the team lost 2-1 to the Twins. Trevor Bauer went eight against the Royals with no earned runs and earned the loss. Heck, Kluber’s second start, against the Angels, he threw a complete game and allowed two runs and again earned the loss.
These are the vagaries of baseball of course. Sometimes the hits and the K’s don’t line up. It’s not like the rotation is blameless. The starter – none being Josh Tomlin by the way – has earned the loss when the offense secored nine (Bauer against the Royals), 11 (Carrasco against the Blue Jays), six (Carrasco again, the Mariners) and four (Carrasco). Maybe four runs isn’t a big deal, though it’s enough for Kluber to win a game. And when the pitcher on the mound is supposed to be your second of three or four aces, you can stand to be a little miffed.
Things don’t line up sometimes. We saw it for a full season in 2015 when the Tribe won 77 games but by third order win percentage would have 89. That’s just bad luck and poor timing of hits and runs. So far the Indians are just doing it piece by piece, demonstrating how a team can’t survive if one major aspect is dreadful. Even when your starting pitching and offense are dominant, a bad bullpen can crush hopes. Like the 2010 San Diego Chargers, who had the best offense and defense in football and the worst special teams and ended up 9-7. It’s amazing how one overlooked, or damaged, or just plain unlucky aspect of the team (even the normally sure-gloved Francisco Lindor blowing a bunch of plays to cost the team a game in early May) can pay such hideous dividends.
Plus everyone keeps getting hurt. Injuries are the worst, and often the most obvious image of bad luck. The aforementioned Miller, now Brandon Guyer and like seven other outfielders, it’s ridiculous. I don’t really believe in curses. Things can just not sequence the right way and it can feel like a curse, but the Indians are doing something incredible with their inability to do anything right right now. At least they’re gifted with the Twins in their division as the only real challenger. That team seems even more at the whims of fate than the Tribe. Small blessings are to be welcomed. Eventually this all has to wear off, and the Indians will kick it on. Even last year they were barely over .500 through May. Things are just taking a little while longer maybe. Or they walked under too many ladders on the way to the park, who knows. It’s amazing how all this is happening though.