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What is wrong with the Indians?
May 1, 2014 - Zach Baker
Before we begin with the breakdown, I have a confession to make.
I'm strangely detached from the Cleveland Indians this season.
OK, that's not true. I listen to every game. I read every bit of analysis I can. I even look at stats that I'm not even 100 percent sure what they mean (what is WARP, really? I know what it's supposed to stand for, but what is its value? Or, value over average replacement statistics?).
But for whatever reason, I find myself viewing the Indians with more objectivity. The passion about the team, the joy I felt when they won, the despair I felt when they lost is gone, and, frankly, has been for a long time.
Maybe I'm retreating more and more into the journalist's mind set, where you don't cheer; you observe and analyze.
Or, maybe, as my friend and fellow writer Aaron Korte suggests, I've just become numb to the losing.
If that's the case, hey, it's not the Indians' fault. The Tribe is at least nice enough to sprinkle in a winning season, a playoff appearance every now and then. The Browns-- who for some reason I still go crazy over-- lose way more. The Cavaliers have never recovered from LeBron James leaving, and deep down, I tend to believe they never will.
But even in my current state, I'm concerned about the Indians' start. The record -- 11-17 -- doesn't concern me that much. In 2005 the Tribe started 9-15 and won 93 games. In 2011 it started 30-15 and finished below .500. Last year Cleveland went 5-10, and then made the playoffs.
What worries me is that, to this point, there is no area of excellence on this team.
The starting pitching has been inconsistent. The defense has been horrible. The offense? Well, when you're waiting for David Murphy to come up because he's your most consistent hitter, you have problems.
Michael Brantley is really close to being great, but even he is slumping. I'd have thought a week ago he was slump proof. So much for that.
Had this been any other season, any other team, I'd be ready to write them off. Not because of their record, but because they haven't shown an ability to do anything well through 28 games.
The X factor, the reason I don't dismiss the Indians, is the manager.
Tito Francona is the best manager the team has had in my lifetime. And this is not because the franchise has been stocked with bad managers. Mike Hargrove was a good skipper. Charlie Manuel was a great one, though few of us realized that at the time. Hey, John McNamara was really successful with Cincinnati and Boston before coming to the north coast. Eric Wedge had two 90-win seasons with teams few saw as powerhouses at the time.
I'd put Francona above all of them. His ability to unite a team, to fight through adversity with it, is unmatched. If anyone can turn this around, it's him.
Francona's place in Cooperstown is assured. Winning two World Series -- in Boston of all places -- gets you in.
But a manager, no matter how great, only can do so much. It's on the players.
So what has to happen? Lots. But here's a quick list.
1. Starting pitching needs to become more consistent.
This area of the Indians has been consistently mediocre, but there are moments when it appears capable of greatness. Corey Kluber, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister and even Danny Salazar have had really good starts. The problem has been following up on them. Maybe Trevor Bauer or Josh Tomlin can provide some stability. One likely is to be called up to replace Carlos Carrasco, whose place in the rotation for the better part of a month will go down as one of this century's biggest mysteries.
2. Carlos Santana needs to be a big-time run producer.
Look, Carlos Santana will hit more than 20 homers, and likely will hit better than 200. But what he needs to be -- and what the Indians don't have -- is someone who can be a true No. 4 hitter. He needs to drive in 80 runs or more. Every lineup needs a big-time run producer. If Santana doesn't do it, it's unlikely anyone will.
3. Yan Gomes needs to stop airmailing his throws.
If you've watched the Indians this year, this should need no further explanation.
4. Defense in general needs to be better.
Again, simple enough.
The Indians can turn it around, but this homestand is crucial. Things need to get better, and fast.
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