It has been a while Standing Room Only fans. After a few weeks off after vacation, it is time to get back to writing.
Okay, so this Indians fan may be writing out of a place of frustration. I just watched Cody Allen blow a save against the Reds, in a game where the bullpen gave up 7 in the 9th to spoil what was an outstanding start by Trevor Bauer. The team has been sputtering as of late and has not really found a groove. Yes, I am sure that this post will be tagged by Indians twitter as an overreaction. “The Tribe is in first place in the Central,” they will say. “This team has 5 All-Stars.” Great! But we need to look at this team from a different perspective.
So, are the Indians in trouble?
Yes and no. It is a complicated answer. If you are just scratching the surface, the Indians are not in bad shape. They come into Wednesday with a 49-41 record and sitting atop the AL Central by a comfortable 8-game lead. They have 5 All-Stars this year: Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Bauer, and Michael Brantley. That is a solid group to build not only your season around, but also your team around. And yet, this team feels more unstable that past squads. So what’s going on?
To start, the Indians bullpen has gone from one of the best in the game to one of the worst. The loss of Brian Shaw to the Rockies, Joe Smith to the Astros, and Andrew Miller to the DL has stretched this group thin. Dan Otero is not the Dan Otero of last year. Josh Tomlin is not only pitching himself out of the bullpen, but out of the entire Indians organization. Zach McAllister makes me physically ill every time that he comes into a game with a 5.77 ERA. Now, there have been a few surprises. Oliver Perez has turned out to be a great lefty for Terry Francona to turn to…..and that’s about it. This year’s trade market for relievers has yet to develop, but it is hard to see the Indians trading young assets for a rental reliever. If the trade market for relievers does not develop and the Indians don’t get back the Andrew Miller of old, then this team has a serious problem.
The next issue is the outfield. The Tribe just lost Lonnie Chisenhall for the next two months due to a grade 3 hamstring strain. With that loss, the only suitable outfielder with any offensive output is Michael Brantley. Currently on the roster, Rajai Davis, Greg Allen, and Brandon Guyer all have a batting average of .250 or below. Tyler Naquin may be the player to step up and fill that void, but that still leaves one hole in the outfield to fill.
The final glaring hole in the field is at second base. Now, Jason Kipnis is one of my favorite Indians of all time. It pains me to say this, but he is one of the problems offensively for this team. To his credit, he has played much better of late, but he still has a line of .220/.305/.661 which tells you just how bad his first few months were up until this point. If the Indians are going to become more consistent offensively, they need Kipnis to step up.
So are the Indians in trouble? Yes and no. With how weak the Central is, the Indians should cake-walk their way to their third straight Central title even without things drastically improving for this team. So if you are looking at things from that perspective, then no the Indians are are not in trouble. If you widen your gaze, however, you will see the full picture.
With the Oakland A’s being in third place in their division and with more wins than this team, it shows you just how strong the East and the West are. That poses big problems for the Indians once they reach the playoffs. For a team that was projected to go back to the World Series just a season ago, without roster improvements they open themselves up to being bounced in the first round yet again. With several key players up for free agency at the end of this season and next season, the window of opportunity for this group is quickly closing. If this team cannot trade to sure up the roster, the window will shut without the title this group of Indians so desperately craves.
So, are the Indians in trouble? You tell me.