There’s a bit of worry here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, as the Kansas City Royals leave town having beat the Cleveland Indians in two out of three games in the latest installment of their season series. The Indians entered the series with an 8-4 record against the Royals in 2013, but lost two-of-three from their Central division rivals.
It really wasn’t supposed to happen this way, was it?
The Indians headed into the month of September with the easiest schedule of a group of teams fighting for the wild card slot. More importantly, after sweeping the Royals at the tail end of July, it seemed as though the Indians had put the Royals away for good. That clearly wasn’t the case.
Since that series against the Indians, the Royals have gone 33-20, and are now sitting two games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the wildcard slot at 76-69.
During that same stretch, the Cleveland Indians are 26-23, and are a 1 ½ games behind the Rays for that same wildcard spot.
The Indians schedule going forward doesn’t appear to be all that difficult. Over the next three weeks, the Indians head to Chicago for four games, then to Kansas City for three, then home for a four game set with Houston and a short, two-game series with the White Sox, before closing the year out with a four game series against the Minnesota Twins.
The White Sox are 58-87, and are 2-8 over their last ten games. The Houston Astros are 50-96, and 5-5 over their last ten. The Minnesota Twins are 63-81, and also 5-5 over their last ten. Then there are the Royals, who are 7-3 over their last ten, a half-game back of the Indians in the loss column, and who have made up 8 ½ games against the Rays in the last month.
They are playing fantastic baseball, and the pitching trio that they brought in to turn the playoff corner in 2013 are doing just that.
James Shields has gone at least seven innings in six of his last seven starts, and has gone 5-1 during that stretch. His numbers are a bit skewed, because his one loss was to the Tigers in a game that saw him give up 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings. Past that game, he hasn’t given up more than three in a game.
Jeremy Guthrie has made 14 of 15 quality starts to close out the year, and while he hasn’t been as dominant as Shields, he’s the type of pitcher that keeps teams in games. Against a struggling Indians’ offense, that was more than enough.
Ervin Santana has made 9 of 11 quality starts to close out the year, and while he’s clearly not as efficient as Shields and even Guthrie, can keep the Royals in games, and hasn’t given up more than four runs since August 9th, and has only given up more than four runs in two games over the length of the season.
Those are the three pitchers that the Indians faced, and Guthrie and Shields really shut the Indians’ struggling offense down.
That wouldn’t really be my concern, since the Indians’ starters have been at least that good over the course of the year, and in many instances deeper and better.
But that was then.
Oh, I’m sure there will be arguments with what I’m about to say, but the facts with regards to the Tribe in September aren’t pointing upwards with regards to the starting rotation.
Justin Masterson is on the shelf with an oblique injury. Oblique injuries are generally NOT a mixed bag. You are usually looking at a four-to-six week period of getting healthy. It is on his non-throwing side, so perhaps it won’t be four weeks, but is this really what you want from your ace during September?
Zach McAllister just doesn’t seem right since he returned from his injury. He made four solid starts in a row in August, but since August 30th, he hasn’t given up less than four runs, and he hasn’t gone over five innings.
Scott Kazmir seems to bounce good starts and bad starts around like a tennis ball at the U.S. Open. You have to believe there are stamina issues with regards to the flame-throwing lefty.
Corey Kluber looked pretty awesome, but only made his first start since August 5th, and it was against the Triple A New York Mets offense.
Danny Salazar, who has some serious skill, either has a shelf life or doesn’t, and clearly has an 80 pitch count that he lives by. That’s fine, as he’s been the best pitcher in the rotation since he joined it, but the lack of longevity is putting a strain on the Indians pen.
Look, I’m high on this rotation, but there are serious September questions for a team that is “playing meaningful games in September.” I’ll take this rotation. I’m happy with this rotation. I even love this rotation. There are just questions.
Then there is Ubaldo Jimenez, who defies gravity every day that he pitches, and now, is even seeing an uptick in velocity. He’s the absolute anchor right now, and has been absolutely dominant in the second half of the season, and in particular, over the past month.
You’ve heard the numbers since the All-Star break I’m sure. His ERA since the break is a flipping 1.94, and he’s struck out 63 batters in 55 2/3 innings, while walking only 22. He’s struck out ten batters in three of his last four starts, and in his last two 10 K games, he didn’t walk a batter.
I’m not kidding.
I’m really not making that up.
You remember the guy that used to throw 14 balls in a row.
You remember the guy that used to look like folks were stepping on his neck all the time.
Where did he go?
Don’t answer that, just keep him there.
But it’s not the rotation that I’m worried about.
It’s the offense.
The only time that this offense looked any good is when Mark Reynolds was carrying it at the end of April and the beginning of May.
The only other time that this offense looked any good is when Jason Kipnis carried it in June.
It just hasn’t been good. This is a team that can score runs in bunches, but just can’t seem to do it often enough to be a consistent offensive threat.
I have no complaints with Michael Bourn. I know folks hammer on him for striking out more than in the past, but he’s playing in a new league. No, he hasn’t been perfect, but he’s the last guy you point at in this line-up. Of course, he is only hitting .154 in September. He did only hit .219 in August, with a .551 OPS. His OPS in September? .389. Yeah, forget all that positivity. He hasn’t been good.
Nick Swisher is in the two-hole, and that really says it all to me. They didn’t get him for the two-hole, but there he sits. He’s hitting .212 in September. He hit .225 in August. He’s not been very good. He’s essentially turned into a much higher paid Shelley Duncan. Okay, maybe not that far down because his OPS is likely higher than the ole’ Dunc-ster.
Jason Kipnis seems to be following his trajectory from 2012. He hit .419 in June. He hit .272 in July. He hit .250 in August. He’s hitting .235 in September. Hell, he hit .274 last September.
Carlos Santana hit .294 in July, .240 in August and is hitting .226 in September. His OPS is under .700 this month…so far…and you really can’t have that from your four-hole guy.
At least Asdrubal Cabrera’s been consistently bad, hitting .204 in July, .221 in August and only .103 in September. My only question with regards to Drubs is why he’s still in the line-up. He’s been terrible.
Drew Stubbs has been struggling since July, hitting .226 that month, .235 in August and .111 in September with a raucous .259 OPS. You can’t really make a number like that up.
The two most consistently good players in the line-up this September have been Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley. Gomes is hitting .375 this month with a 1.069 OPS. You want to talk about a saving grace, Gomes is it. Brantley’s been hitting .381 in September with an .885 OPS, solidifying that clutch moniker he seems to have acquired this year.
Then there is Lonnie Chisenhall. I just slammed him for his erraticness. He seems to do idiotic things on a daily basis, but has managed to hit .353 this month with a 1.127 OPS. Let’s hope that becomes a pattern, and they never face a left-handed pitcher again.
You get my point with the offense. It’s being carried by Gomes, who wasn’t supposed to even be ON this year’s team. It’s being carried by Michael Brantley, who isn’t really built to carry a team, but often finds himself doing. It’s being carried by Lonnie Chisenhall, and that really feels a bit like some sort of holiday prank-statement as well.
The Royals are hitting .283 in September, after hitting .270 in August.
We play three more games with the Royals, and there’s a small part of me that thinks it’s those very games that will decide the wildcard playoff.
Sure, if you’d have told me that we could play a three-game series with the Royals in September to decide the wildcard playoff, I’d have jumped all over it prior to the season.
But I’m not all that sure I’d jump all over that on September 12. They are playing good baseball in September, and the Cleveland Indians are not.
Their offense is stinking up the joint. Their starting rotation is anchored by Ubaldo Jimenez, lost their ace, has an 80-pitch starter, a guy coming off the dl, a guy struggling since his dl-stint, and a guy that needs a hyperbolic chamber to rejuvenate. Their bullpen has to put up with Chris Perez, and as good as it’s been in the second half, just isn’t as good as the Royals, who by the way, have the best pen in the American League this year.
I had an interesting conversation with an Indians’ fan this past week who discussed the Indians and their legitimate ability to make a long run in the 2013 playoffs. He continually compared the Indians to the 2012 San Francisco Giants. The Giants offense caught wind at the tail end of the year, hitting over .280 over the last month. The rotation picked it up in September and October, and their pen was rock solid. They beat the Reds, the Cardinals and the Tigers to win the series.
The Indians certainly COULD do that, but as you look at this team on September 12, 2013, do they LOOK like the 2012 Giants to you?
Or do the Royals?
Okay, so this sounds like a downward spiral of a column this week, but it’s not. Here’s what I can tell you about our Cleveland Indians in 2013. Whenever they’ve had someone ready to toss them off the mountain, they’ve somehow found a way to win.
As much as my head and my gut tell me that losing Masterson may be the straw that breaks the Indians’ back, I can’t help but follow my heart into thinking that the Indians have one more run in them.
I can’t help but think that the Indians will wake up after having the Royals put it to them in Cleveland this week.
I can’t help but think that the schedule be damned, we ARE the team that will get to that one-game playoff.
I’m an optimist…after all these years, and this team does have a fighting quality that I can’t get out of my head.
I can be harsh, because the Indians couldn’t capitalize and get that last hitter.
I can be harsh, and jump down the throats of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, who were both supposed to come in and help be that hitter.
I can be harsh, and lay out Jason Kipnis, for just being good, and not being great for any sustainable period.
Or, I can be happy, that the Cleveland Indians are nine games ahead of last year, and very likely will finish close to the 90-win mark.
The Indians aren’t perfect, and they’ll never be the 1990’s Indians until they draft better. They’ll never have potential hall of famers in center, right and left, as they did when they had Belle, Lofton and Ramirez. They’ll never have potential hall of famers at short, second and first, as they did when they had Omar, Alomar and Thome.
It’s just not that team.
But it’s a good one, and I can be happy about that.
So about these schedules. Tampa has Boston, Minnesota, Texas, Baltimore, the Yankees and Toronto.
The Yankees have Baltimore, Toronto, San Francisco, Tampa and Houston.
The Orioles have the Yankees, Toronto, Boston and Tampa.
The Royals have Detroit, Cleveland, Texas, Seattle and Chicago.
The team that has the worst schedule on perusal are the Orioles and the Rays, who play the East, with the Rays throwing in Texas for even more fun. The Yankees have San Francisco, Baltimore and Tampa left, which looks to give the Indians a bit of an advantage over them as well. The Royals have the Tigers, Tribe and Texas, but end softly.
Do the Indians have a clear advantage?
They should, but I still favor the teams playing well. Cleveland has to play good baseball…
…or schedules won’t make a difference.