The 2014 campaign for the Cleveland Indians is off to a dull start to say the least. Some fans and critics have already hit the panic button. Luckily, for my own sanity, I am not in a panic. I judge a baseball record two ways this early in a season. First of all, you need to look at the date on the calendar. It looks like it is May 16th. For arguments’ sake, this is the quarter way point in the season as the Indians stand at 19-22. Second, I look at the wild card standings. This is a great way to gauge the Indians compared to other teams in the American league. If you take a look at the WIN column specifically, there are only two American league teams with decent records. As of today that would be Oakland with 25 wins, and Detroit with 24 wins. Everyone else is hovering around a .500 record. As long as the Indians are within range of the other AL teams, there is never a reason to panic.
I’m not saying there are not issues that the Indians need to address, however, there are good and bad things that I will go through. The biggest issues right now are Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, and their sub .200 batting averages. They are the Indians number 2 and 4 hitters in the lineup. Carlos seems to be coming around a little as of late, but there is still a lot of work to be done on his extremely “long” swing. When Santana is successful at the plate, he has a quick and short swing, and he is hitting the ball to all fields. Indians manager Terry Francona has not lost faith just yet.
“We’ll have a lot of patience with him,” said Francona. “He’s our cleanup hitter. We’re not going to send him to Triple-A. He’s arguable our best hitter, our most productive hitter.”
Francona went on further to say:
“We need to have patience because when he gets hot, he’ll get very hot. If you’re not patient, you miss out on that.” – Terry Francona via the Plain Dealer and Paul Hoynes.
I agree with Tito. Santana is arguably the best hitter on the Indians, when he is hot. How much longer do the Indians wait? If we are in the middle of June and Santana is still struggling, it will be time to move him down in the lineup or sit him on the bench. I have no problem sitting Santana for a few days and letting Chisenhall and Aviles cover DH and 3rd base duties. Both guys have roughly the same number of plate appearances this season with Lonnie hitting .357 and Aviles at .297.
The Indians other offensive sinkhole is Nick Swisher. He is batting .200 and his happy go lucky attitude is wearing thin with fans. Swisher, who is the highest paid Indian has been a disappointment offensively over the last season and into 2014. He hit .246 last season and only had 63 RBI’s. Swisher needs to be hitting .280 or better with RBI’s near 90-100 for him to be worth the money. Francona was asked about Swisher, he said:
“He’s hit some balls hard. That’s what good hitters do. You keep hitting balls hard and you keep using the whole field, because if you do, you will get hot. It never fails.” – Terry Francona via the Plain Dealer and Paul Hoynes.
My biggest problem is I am a huge Swisher fan. I want this guy to succeed because if Swisher is playing well, I believe the rest of the team will catch fire behind him
Other dull sports for the Indians are with Danny Salazar and John Axford. Salazar can’t seem to pitch his way into the sixth inning and he has given up 8 homeruns this season. His ERA is 5.53 and he has given up the most earned runs per innings pitched by a starter. I’d like to send him to Triple A to get some work, but I don’t think Bauer is ready, and we know that Carrasco can’t start. The Indians have to hope the other starters can get wins, while Salazar works through his struggles.
There is not much to say about Axford. He was a cheap risk by the Indians front office, if he plays well it’s a huge win. So far, Axford is a walk machine. He cannot get through an inning without multiple base runners. He has 15 walks in 16.1 innings pitched. These are not good numbers for a back end bullpen pitcher. Unfortunately there is not an answer, the Indians just need to hope Axford can work through his struggles.
On to some bright spots. As I mentioned before Chisenhall and Aviles are hitting very well. I see them getting more at bats as the season moves on. Corey Kluber is pitching like an ace, which is really good to see. His ERA is 3.38 and he has been pitching deep into games. I would say the surprises of the season are David Murphy and Nyjer Morgan. Murphy is batting .280 and he is second on the team with 25 RBI’s. When the season started I was unhappy about Murphy and I wanted Raburn to start. Luckily I was wrong and Murphy is producing.
Nyjer Morgan has had some issues in the past with his attitude and performance; however, he has a whole new approach this year. Morgan stepped in for an injured Michael Bourne for a few weeks, and he played very well. He is batting .341 and he can play any outfield position. He can play every day or he can step in and provide much needed off days for the starting outfielders.
The Indians will probably need to make a trade at the deadline for bullpen help or a starting pitcher of they want to keep pace with the Tigers. All in all, I am not worried about the 2014 Indians just yet. As long as they can keep pace with the rest of the American League, they should have no trouble this year. It is early, and this team has yet to hit their stride. If the Indians can hit more consistently, they can play with anyone, especially the Detroit Tigers.
Follow me on Twitter @CST_RickG
Quotes courtesy of Paul Hoynes, The Cleveland Plain Dealer.