Carlos Carrasco’s leave of absence puts into perspective the frustrations of an underachieving baseball team. Things had gone wrong in a number of ways for the Indians already in 2019, but nothing until now that was more than just baseball.
For the second straight year, everyone in the Cleveland baseball community is thinking of someone they cherish in ways that do not pertain to the game.
The implications on Carrasco will be unknown for the time being, while the implications on the Indians are obvious. A team banking on their pitching has now lost a third pitcher for an extended period, and they have been, and will be much worse off for it.
In terms of hope, such a legitimately worrisome situation is enough to throw one’s hands in the air and cry “sell,” pining for the old “exit Franchise Mode without saving” move.
The Indians are back to .500, 10.5 games behind the scalding Twins in the Central. Even after gaining a game in the previous series, it seems insurmountable.
While the second Wild Card spot is still very well within reach, the current contrast to the back-to-back-to-back American League Central Champions’ expectations makes that feel of a lost cause.
Despite losing Mike Clevinger to the 60-day disabled list, as well as Carrasco and Corey Kluber for an unknown amount of time, the Indians are still treading water. Add on Trevor Bauer and the entire offense struggling to get on track, and it is amazing that the season is not already down the tubes completely.
There is hope that with just how little has broken their way, some sort of market correction is coming any day now. No one wants to say when before it is time, especially a team in the middle of a window of contention.
Those cries of sell may still wind up the team’s best option. While it is still a matter of if than when, you can still wonder when dispersing short-term value becomes more plausible.
Chris Antonetti and company do not need to know until late July whether or not to completely pull the plug. On their current path, the Indians and their fans will likely know if their identity reaches seller status earlier than that.
This is less about a “sell by” date, and more about when it will be obvious that things have spoiled.
It is not unreasonable to think the front office could make the right deal as soon as it becomes available. Perhaps a controllable outfielder for Brad Hand, a sell-high on Carlos Santana, or anything to unload some of Jason Kipnis’ money. If the division is unlikely (all of an 6.2% chance entering Friday, according to FanGraphs), none of those moves would prevent the Indians from fighting for a Wild Card spot alone (30% entering Friday).
As for hard dates other than July 31, a jumping-off point may be July 15. The All-Star Game will have left town, and so too will have the Twins. After what is sure to be a decent showing at the Midsummer Classic, Rocco Baldelli’s boys will remain in Cleveland for a three-game set to kick off the second half.
At this rate, that series feels on track to be a potential end-all, be-all for the home nine’s divisional chances. Maybe more.
Realistically, it may not even take until the break.
Starting with the two-game set against the Cincinnati Reds starting on June 11, the Indians finish June by playing five of six series against teams below .500. The Texas Rangers (31-29) and their 1.6% playoff probability are the lone standout with any hope.
In that same stretch, the Twins play three against both the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
On the contrary, the Indians could rediscover some of the hope that was lost with Carrasco’s absence. They could not seize more than a modicum of momentum from the Twins, but taking at least two from the New York Yankees starting Friday could at least stave off the stink of a rotten year.
There are still technically almost two full months for the Indians to show that they are a team worth building upon. If they instead spend the rest of June toiling in mediocrity against the likes of the Detroit Tigers (x2), Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles, actual contenders will be calling before the Indians are ready to call it.
The Twins’ lead is by no means impossible to overcome. The 2013 Oakland A’s erased a 13-game deficit from June 30, and also stood pat at the deadline.
The difference is that the Indians may be better suited to put themselves in a better position for 2020 and 2021, and they can do so without completely mortgaging 2019.