This road trip can’t end soon enough for the Tribe. Yet, here they are, eight games in with one game remaining, and they are 4-4. All things considered, that is pretty astounding. There is little doubt that the Indians are a flawed team. You look at the roster and it is considerably better than it was last year. The bullpen is still loaded with options. The lineup is solid to to bottom. The rotation? Well, that is an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away, but the real concern right now has to be the boom or bust offense.
The rains certainly have not helped the Indians cause. Twice this week, the Wahoos were washed out. These guys are professionals, but they are also creatures of habit. They have their routines and they don’t like to get to far out of whack. While it is resting the bullpen, the rotation situation keeps changing. Friday night’s rainout caused a Sunday day/night doubleheader in Kansas City. Because of this, two Tribe starters are now on the same schedule and a spot starter is needed for Wednesday night’s game against Philadelphia.
So the offense is sputtering. The rotation is a box of chocolates every single night. Yet here they are, one win away from taking the long road trip. Yes, they are 9-13, but there is a long season ahead of us. We can’t forget that the last two seasons under Manny Acta, the Indians jumped out of the gates hot. They would finish both seasons with collapses. Maybe we will see the opposite in 2013.
So let us take a look at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
So what are we going to do about this offense exactly? First and foremost, it cannot be understated how different the lineup is without leadoff man and center fielder Michael Bourn. Bour has only played in 10 of the Indians 22 games. They were 5-5 with him and averaged 4.5 runs per game. Without him they are 4-8 and averaged just 4.3 runs per game, However, that includes a 19 run outburst in Houston and 10 runs in last night’s win against KC. Take away those two games, and its 2.3 runs per game (23 runs in 10 games).
Save for Carlos Santana (.388/.453/.687/4 HR/10 RBIs) and Mark Reynolds (.280/.356/.627/7 HR/19 RBIs), the entire team has underachieved at the plate. The chief culprits have been two guys right at the top of the Indians order – Jason Kipnis (.180/.250/.230/0 HR/3 RBIs) and Asdrubal Cabrera (.208/.265/.381/2 HR/6 RBIs). Both have started extremely slow, but at least Asdrubal showed some signs of breaking out of his doldrums.
This weekend, AC went 6-13 with two extra base hits and is in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak. Kipnis on the other hand has looked feeble at the plate and his confidence at the plate looks a tad shaken. In Saturday’s 3-2 loss, he did have two hits, but with the tying run on third in the ninth, he struck out to end the game in a pitch deep in the dirt. With runners on base, he has three hits in 23 at-bats (.130). Kipnis has just about an even spilt in at-bats against righties (31) and lefties (30). He is actually hitting lefties better (.200/.226/.267 compared to .161/.270/.194).
Despite his struggles, manager Terry Francona has continued to hit Kipnis either second or third in the order. It has been just about a month and there shouldn’t be any reason to panic. But when your offense is so anemic, shifting guys around seems like a logical move. Francona seems to think Kipnis will work his way out of it. Lets see how much longer this goes on if The JK Kid keeps looking so feeble at the plate.
A guy I would like to see get more at-bats is utility man Mike Aviles. The trade that brought both he and catcher Yan Gomes over from Toronto for reliever Esmil Rogers has looked like an absolute steal for GM Chris Antonetti. Aviles has only played in 13 of the Indians 22 games. Thanks to yesterday’s five RBI game in the 10-3 nightcap win, he is second on the team in RBIs behind Reynolds. He is 10th on the team in at-bats (40). Ryan Raburn, everyone’s Spring darling has come crashing back down to reality. In 42 ABs, he has just 1 RBI and is hitting .214/.283/.286. and is not exactly Roberto Clemente in right field.
But back to Aviles. With Kipnis, Cabrera, and Lonnie Chisenhall (.234/.269/.391/2 HR/9 RBIs) not exactly tearing the cover off the ball, I would like to see Aviles get at least four starts a week in those three spots, at least until these three can get fully on track. What does Francona have to lose at this point? The offense has been feast or famine.
Bourn’s injury isn’t as healed as the Tribe brass hoped it would be at this point. He is eligible to come off the DL this week, but the gash on his finger is in a bad place. Once he gets back, I think that will help solve some of the offensive issues. But the guys who have done it before – i.e. Kipnis, Cabrera, Michael Brantley, Nick Swisher, etc – are the ones that have to get things going.
And about that rotation. I feel like we have this same conversation every Monday. A game gets rained out, a guy gets hurt, a call up is made, the rotation is shuffled around….repeat. Over the weekend, we got another chance to see lefty Scott Kazmir. His Friday start was pushed back a day and it started out poorly. He gave up a two-run homer in the second to Salvador Perez, but the pitch was up and away and off the plate. It was truly an amazing piece of hitting. Other than that one mistake, Kazmir was much improved from his first outing in Houston. The lefty was brought in to be the team’s fifth starter, but with all of the issues, he has kind of been pressed into a bigger role. The Royals only got him for those two runs on five hits. He walked two and struck out four, but threw 99 pitches and only lasted five innings. The good news was that his velocity was 91-92 on his fastball.
“He threw a lot of strikes, and when he started throwing the ball in effectively, that’s when he really got good,” Francona said. “He got after it with his fastball. That was really good to see.”
While the start was encouraging, the Indians need more than five innings out of Kazmir.
Justin Masterson was not his usual sharp self in the 9-0 blowout loss in yesterday’s afternoon tilt. He pitched into the seventh and struck out nine Royals. However, he kept getting himself into trouble with two outs and got beaten twice in that situation by backup center fielder Jarrod Dyson. Four walks certainly did not help his cause.
The seven earned runs he allowed were more than he had given up the entire season. But again, Masterson can have a bad start here and there.
As down as the Indians may have been after the 9-0 afternoon loss, they were picked right back up by the most unlikely of sources – right-hander Corey Kluber.
The 26-year old starter doesn’t come in with the big pedigree and has watched as each of his starts have gone away thanks to the rain. Kluber has been installed in the Brett Myers slot and finally got to make his mark. For seven innings, Kluber spun a gem. He scattered seven hits, allowed two runs, and most importantly, didn’t walk anyone. It was a welcome sight to Tribe fans everywhere.
“Early on he was up in the strike zone, but he reeled it in and got into the flow of the game,” said Francona. “He pitched in, he used all his pitches, and he was aggressive in, especially moving guys off the plate. Considering how much he’s been bounced around, for him to do what he did was very impressive.”
Kluber’s catcher was Gomes, who has become something of a cult hero in Cleveland. Corey is a big fan of The Yanimal.
“Between Spring Training and the couple times here, I’ve thrown to Yan a lot,” Kluber said. “He does a great job back there. You can see he’s watching the hitters, watching their swings and stuff, and trying to get on the same page with you. It’s nice.”
Tonight the Indians end their three-city Central Time Zone trip. One last game with the Royals will pit Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2, 10.06 ERA) and Kansas City right-hander Wade Davis (2-1, 3.20 ERA).
(AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)