September 28, 2022

Indians at the Break

We’ve hit the ceremonial halfway point of the season for Major League baseball, and the Indians have been so-so.  They started off slow, proving that the SI Jinx is real, with a 10-19 record out of the gate.  The Indians then clawed their way back, coming within a game of the .500 mark with a 27-28 record.  The wheels fell off again, and the Tribe fell to 33-41, after being shutout over 18 innings of a double header versus the Orioles.  Leave it to the Indians to get our hopes back up, as they went on a stretch of 10 wins in 15 games, ending the first half with a 42-46 record, 11 games behind the surprisingly dominant Kansas City Royals.  Where the real hope lies is in the Wild Card (unless the Royals turn into the 2012 Red Sox), where the Indians sit only 5 1/2 games back of the Houston Astros.  Let’s take a look at the teams ahead of the Indians in the Wild Card race and see how their postseason chances stack up.

Chicago White Sox
The Sox are tied with the Tribe in the standings, but all signs point to them going downhill after the break, even though they have won nine of their last 12 games.  Despite Chris Sale being the best pitcher in the AL, the White Sox have the worst offense in the AL.  Postseason Chance: Low.

Texas Rangers
The Rangers started off hot, but it seems the early season injuries have finally taken their toll.  After holding a lead for the Wild Card for most of the season, the Rangers recently dropped under .500.  Postseason Chance: Medium.

Toronto Blue Jays
The best offense by far in the MLB has suffered because of a below-average pitching staff.  Look for the Blue Jays to add a big name pitcher via trade.  Postseason Chance: High.

Detroit Tigers
No Miguel Cabrera could mean big problems for a Tigers team that has gotten no pitching outside of David Price.  Postseason Chance: Medium.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are filled with a bunch of star-level players, and a bunch of below-average players.  Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis will decided their future.  Postseason Chance: Medium.

Tampa Bay Rays
The light-hitting Rays have surprised many.  Injuries decimated their once fearsome pitching staff, but one of the best bullpens has kept them in the race.  Postseason Chance: Low.

Houston Astros
The Astros jumped the gun a year earlier than expected. They’ve struggled recently, but possess enough young talent to either trade for a big name player, or keep stockpiling for the future.  Postseason Chance: High.

Minnesota Twins
Remember the 2011 Cleveland Indians? Here is the 2015 version of that team. The Twins have been getting by on luck alone, and it won’t last forever.  Postseason Chance: Low.

The Indians started the season with what looked like a deep lineup, and a strong four-man rotation.  Half of that equation has worked out, with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar becoming the first starting quartet to each reach 100 strikeouts at the All-Star break, a first in MLB history.  You’d think that would be enough to make the Indians a first place team, but you’d be wrong.  An inconsistent lineup, combined with some truly awful defense (until recently), managed to waste some really strong pitching.  On the season, the Indians offense ranks 12th in the AL (347 runs).  Despite ranking 6th in the AL in on-base percentage, the Indians have only batted .230 with runners in scoring position, and have batted an impossibly low .154 with the bases loaded.

Pre-Francisco Lindor, the Indians defense ranked 26th in the MLB in defensive efficiency.  Since Lindor has been called up (along with help from slick fielding third basemen, Giovanny Urshela) the Indians rank 1st in defensive efficiency.  In the 26 games Lindor has played the Indians have given up an average of 3.8 runs per game, as opposed to 4.3 before his call up.  It has been the pitching staff that has benefited the most from the improved defense.  The starting pitching has clawed their way up to the 7th best staff in the AL (according to ERA).  Take away the defense and the pitchers have been much better than their numbers show.  Example, Corey Kluber: 3.38 ERA, 154 strikeouts, 28 walks, record 4-10.  Once (or if) this offense figures things out – watch out.  Speaking of players, let’s take a look at the Indians players, and how their season has gone so far, and look ahead the rest of the way.

Yan Gomes
A knee injury in the first week of the season sent Gomes to the DL for six weeks.  Since returning, he has transitioned back to being a plus defender behind the plate, but the offense has yet to show up.  Expect Gomes to figure things out at the plate the further away he gets from his DL stint.

Carlos Santana
Another year, another slow start for Santana.  Carlos always gets his walks though, which was the only thing keeping him in the lineup.  If past seasons have shown us anything, expect a big breakout in the second half for Santana.

Jason Kipnis
Kipnis has been better than advertised this year, batting a healthy .323 in the first half.  What will happen in the second half for the Indians lead off hitter is the biggest question. He normally slows down as the dog days creep up.  The offense will go as Kipnis goes.

Francisco Lindor
Fans are already getting flashbacks of Omar, and while his bat has been inconsistent, it’s Lindor who gives the Indians the best chance at making the postseason.  Shortstop is the most important defensive position, and the Indians now have an A+ in that category.

Giovanny Urshela
The slick fielding third baseman has what many expected him to be, strong in the field and so-so at the plate. He should improve the more at-bats he gets.

David Murphy/Ryan Raburn
Behind Kipnis, Murphy ranks as one of the more consistent Indians hitters, as he shrugged off the down seasons of 2013 and 2014, on his way to batting .319 in the first half.  Combined with the platoon of Ryan Raburn, and the Indians have the making of pretty good corner outfield/DH spot.  That is, as long as they are used correctly.

Michael Bourn
Despite being as healthy as he has been in a Tribe uniform, Bourn is having the worst season of his career.  A .222 batting average and only seven stolen bases are signaling it might be time to move on from the former All-Star and Gold Glove winner.

Michael Brantley
Even though back stiffness has bothered him all season, Brantley is still batting .292 on the season and leads the Indians with 46 RBI.  Hopefully the All-Star break gives him to time rest that back, helping Brantley return to the .300+ hitter he was last season.

Brandon Moss
Moss has struggled with inconsistency all season, and despite leading the Indians in home runs with 14, he is batting just .220.  But, when Moss is seeing the ball, he is nearly unstoppable. If Moss can turn his season around, the Tribe’s chances look much better.

Corey Kluber
Kluber has been the second most valuable pitcher over the last season and a half (behind only Clayton Kershaw), yet he leads the AL in losses with 10.  What’s different from last season?  Nothing, Kluber is striking out a record number of batters and limiting his walks, but suffers from the worst run support in the league.

Carlos Carrasco
Don’t let his 4.07 ERA fool you, Carrasco has been pitching at ace-level all season, as shown by his near no-hitter versus the Rays.

Trevor Bauer
It seems that Bauer will never get over his command problems, and he is prone to the occasional blow up, but when his stuff is on, he is nearly unhittable.

Danny Salazar
Fifth inning problems aside, Salazar has finally earned a spot in the rotation for good.  Scouts have long drooled over his stuff, and it’s finally come to fruition as he leads the Tribe with 10.6 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Cody Anderson
We know that the top four in the rotation will continue to be good the rest of the year, but it’s Cody Anderson who could determine the Indians position at the end of the year.  The one starter who won’t strike you out, Anderson has (recently) stablized the rotating door that was the fifth spot in the rotation, sporting a 0.89 ERA in 30.1 innings.

Cody Allen
Cody couldn’t have started the year any worse than sporting an 18.00 ERA over his first five appearances. Since then, he has posted 1.35 ERA with 50 strikeouts over 33.1 innings. Lights out.

So what happens the rest of the way?  The Indians clearly have the rotation to make the playoffs and be a force if they make it.  I don’t think any team would want to face this rotation in a five or seven game series.  It will be a tough road ahead, but the schedule out of the break gives some hope.  Upcoming series with the Reds, Brewers, and White Sox could have the Indians back to over .500 very quickly.  It’s all about the offense.  Don’t expect many trades.  If they fall out of contention, guys like David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn could be moved.  There is a lot of pitching on the market, but the Indians don’t need any of that (maybe bullpen help).  With no big bats available, look for the Tribe to stand pat, and hope some of the Twins luck makes a trip to Cleveland for the rest of the season.

–Chris Sladoje (@CST_Doje)

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