*Note: This post was written Saturday morning – i.e. prior to Nick Swisher hitting a solo bomb with 2 RBI and Asdrubal Cabrera driving in 2 RBI as well last night. Kudos to them for that, but it does not change my perspective on their season-long output.
On June 19, I stated my expectations for this year’s rendition of the Lake Erie Warriors. Since that tweet, things have played out just as I my ominous tweet predicted. Am I proud of this? Certainly not. After all, I am an Indians fan first and foremost and desperately wanted to see them back in the playoffs for the first time since Cookie Cookie Sabbathia shit the bed in Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS with the Tribe up 3-1 against the Red Sox.
In the end, they won’t overtake Detroit for the division, so they need to get their wins up to compete with AL East and West’s second tier.
— Michael Krieger (@MKsince83) June 20, 2013
However, that playoff run is not going to happen this year, but I am hopeful that this year has at least laid the foundation for future playoff appearances. All those losing seasons since 2007 can’t be turned around in one year. Could they?
Still, I've stated they don't have enough juice to make the playoffs. I watch them nearly every night. That's definitely still my belief.
— Michael Krieger (@MKsince83) July 24, 2013
Yet, entering the year, that seemed to be the hope. Tribe ownership finally opened their check books and doled out healthy contracts to IF/OF Nick Swisher ($13 million/year), RHP Brett Myers ($7 million/year), IF Mark Reynolds ($6 million/year) and OF Michael Bourn ($12 million/year). Bourn is the only one in the group who has come close to justifying his four year, $48 million deal. Reynolds, after a hot start, found his way to a prolonged slump where he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, while Myers has spent the season rehabbing. The $6 million spent Reynolds did not go entirely down the drain as Reynolds did provide early season power with 13 homers through May, but taking into consideration the season is 162 games, the contract was hardly money well spent.
That brings us to the $13 millon man that is Nick Swisher. To put it nicely, he’s been abysmal – hitting .239 with 20 doubles, 12 homers while knocking in a pedestrian 38 runs (Career Average: .254, 33 doubles, 27 HR, 88 RBI). He’s been hitting in the four hole for the majority of the year! To be fair, his leadership qualities, that manager Terry Francona speaks so highly of, potentially have kept the Tribe from those July and August tank jobs of previous seasons, but at the end of the day, players are measured by their tangible contributions. Even if we take his past production into consideration, he was overpaid by Tribe brass, but as a mid-market team, management will always have to overpay to lure “top” free agents to come to Cleveland. But I digress.
The fact that Swisher has been our clean-up hitter much of the year points to one of the Tribe’s major flaws – lack of true middle of the order run producers. Unfortunately, these guys do not grow on trees as evidenced by the fact the farm system hasn’t churned out a prominent run producer since Manny Ramirez made his big league debut in 1993. Ouch. Yes, Swisher hit .272 last year with 24 bombs and 93 RBI, but he was also hitting in a lineup that offered him protection. This cannot be overstated.
Of late, Francona decided to swap Asdurbal Cabrera and Swisher in hopes of getting Swisher going, but the results in both the two and four hold have yielded the same results mainly because Cabrera has been equally as bad at the plate as Swisher has been all season. Cabrera is hitting .231 with 9 home runs and 44 RBI (Career Average: .273, 14 HR, 77 RBI). Yikes!
The lack of run production from Swisher, Cabrera and to only a slightly lesser extent Carlos Santana (who Francona actually inserted as the clean-up hitter Friday night in Oakland) is the crux of the Indians problems as they try to sneak in to the playoffs via the extra wild card spots. Had Swisher and Cabrera produced closer to their career averages, I would be spending time highlighting other deficiencies. In the end, their lack of production has a trickle down effect because another part of the ball club needs to pick up the slack. So, where does that lead us?
Nick Swisher – Career Stats
Asdrubal Cabrera – Career Stats
Well, if your middle of the order guys cannot produce runs consistently, then the Indians pitching and defense must yield less runs to the opponent. That leads us to pitching and the extra pressure put on the staff to pitch well on a nightly basis.
Much was made about the question marks in the starting rotation at the beginning of the year, but the starting pitching overall has been a pleasant surprise. Yes, the Tribe still lacks a true number one starter. While he has pitched well, Justin Masterson is not that guy. Corey Kluber and Scott Kazmir have done their part to rise to the occasion. To begin with, it can be said that not much was expected from them. Prior to his finger injury, Zach McAllister was consistent. Then, there’s Ubaldo. Not much needs to be said here other than he’s a number four or five starter at this point, and it’s likely I am being generous. While Carlos Carrasco has struggled in spot duty, rookie Danny Salazar gives the Tribe real hope for the future as a potential true No. 1 starter. He has performed well in spot duty and will be needed to pitch perfectly down the stretch if the Indians have any hope of sticking around, especially with Kluber on the disabled list. Collectively though, the starters have done their part.
If only the same could be said for the bullpen. Over the course of 162 games, a manager is going to receive some criticisms, and the lack of consistency from our bullpen continues to put Francona in tough spots, especially when it comes to moves transitioning from our starters to the first pitcher out of the bullpen. It’s often a lose-lose. Leave a starter in one inning too long, and in the recent case of Salazar sometimes one batter, and Francona is made to look dumb. Given the struggles of our bullpen, though, it doesn’t always mean he made the wrong move. It just means the move or non-move didn’t work out as hoped for. Francona’s logic can still be sound even when there is an unfavorable result. This is the Catch-22 of being a manager.
When your bullpen is inconsistent, it’s extremely difficult to know what the right move is as a manager. Relievers are also creatures of habit and love to know how and when they will be used, but first, they need to prove they can be trusted. Right now, there are one or two arms out of eight in the bullpen that can be counted on, and very few can be counted on when it matters most late in games. Further, the Tribe’s bullpen issues put an unfair pressure on our starters to provide seven to eight innings of two or three run ball. Over 162 games, a horrid bullpen is difficult to overcome. Couple that with a lack of run production from the middle of the order, and a real playoff run is looking more unrealistic by the day.
As a fan, I certainly hope they catch lightning in a bottle over this last month and a half and make me eat my words. They have proven to be streaky so it is possible, especially with a seemingly easy September schedule. However, given the apparent deficiencies that have reared their ugly head thus far, I don’t see the Tribe participating in a playoff game this year. Sorry, Tribe fans. There’s always next year.