The 2020 Indians have had 10 quality starts – six-or-more innings with three-or-less runs allowed – in their first 11 games, with the rotation doing their part and more. Cleveland […]
The 2020 Indians have had 10 quality starts – six-or-more innings with three-or-less runs allowed – in their first 11 games, with the rotation doing their part and more.
Cleveland has just five victories to show for it, and that’s because the offense could not be more lost, particularly over the last six games. The Tribe has combined for just six runs in that span.
In Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Reds, the fourth straight for the Indians, desperation sank in for the Tribe’s offense. After Cleveland got out to the 2-0 lead with runs in each of the first two innings, Reds starter Sonny Gray proceeded to retire 12 in a row at the plate. Francisco Lindor, who homered in the first inning for his third of the season, stepped to the dish in the sixth with one out. After a second quality at-bat against Gray, resulting in an opposite-field single to left field, Lindor found himself at first with the Tribe holding a 2-1 advantage. He gave Cleveland the chance for valuable insurance. What ensued was Lindor trying to do everything to spark his club, which hasn’t done much of anything offensively outside of the star shortstop.
With Carlos Santana at the plate, Lindor was caught stealing by Tucker Barnhart. Santana, who in fairness has great patience, ended up walking. But, instead of two men on and one out in the sixth, there were two outs for Franmil Reyes. The fifth hitting in the Tribe nine proceeded to roll over on another groundout to end the inning.
Joey Votto did what Joey Votto does, homering in the bottom half of the sixth and making it 3-2 Cincinnati.
Sure, one could argue that’s a mistake by Zach Plesac.
It was. But the fifth starter in the Tribe rotation went six innings and gave up just a trio of runs to an improved Reds lineup. When you’re not getting run support, and have noticed it as a theme leading into your start, it only adds stress to a young starter.
Plesac’s without a win on the season despite a pair of quality starts.
We’ll get back to Reyes in a moment.
In the eighth inning, Cleveland had an opportunity that you simply can’t go scoreless in. Greg Allen was hit by a pitch. That was a gift.
Cesar Hernandez proceeded to hit a ground ball that took a bad hop on Reds second baseman Freddy Galvis. He tried to throw from the dirt to second but the ball went away. Men were at first and second with no one out, and the two-three-four hitters about to bat. Jose Ramirez struck out, Hernandez was caught stealing at second after both runners tried to advance on a ball in the dirt.
Lindor followed by striking out.
It was yet another situation where Cleveland needed a situational hit, and came up absolutely empty. In a season that’s more than a sixth old, this has been a theme, one that’s wasted pitching to the max.
It bears noting that offense has been down across Major League Baseball. Thus far, the league’s average OPS sits at .709. Outside of 2014, when the league’s OPS was .700, there has not been a lower OPS in baseball since 1993. Of course, things can change, but there’s certainly less time for that to happen in an unprecedented 60-game sprint.
The Indians’ OPS sits at .558, dead last in the American League and 29th in the Majors. The Diamondbacks are the only team with a worse one at .533. One might say that Cleveland’s too focused on swinging for the fences, but that was never going to be the identity of this Indians team. Not in the AL Central Division, where the power of the Twins is dominant and the big bats in the White Sox lineup can heat up quickly. The Tribe has just seven home runs, which is 24th in MLB. Lindor and Ramirez own five of those.
So, what are the roots of the problem?
For one, Terry Francona called Franmil Reyes “the connector” of the Tribe lineup earlier this season as the fifth man. Reyes couldn’t be more disconnected at the dish at the moment, and Cleveland’s order has followed suit. With a .194/.219/.226 slash line, it’s hard to believe the 25-year-old was projected in the preseason to contend for the home run crown. Reyes was traded to Cleveland to supply power. He is without a homer thus far.
According to MLB’s Baseball Savant, Reyes saw 19 pitches on Monday night – nine sliders, nine sinkers and a changeup. Noticing a theme here? Reyes whiffed on five sliders, and took called strikes on four sinkers.
“I think it’s a matter of confidence for him right now,” Sandy Alomar said of Reyes. “He just probably needs a blooper right now or something like that to get confident. He’s pulling off the ball. I’m not sure if he feels his bat’s not quick enough right now but pretty much, he looks like he’s second-guessing himself out there right now at the plate. It seems to me like he’s a hitter in between. A big part is because he’s chasing balls.”
As for the rest of the order, Cleveland’s six-to-nine hitters haven’t been able to string anything together. In the last six games, the Tribe’s bottom four in the lineup have combined for a total of four hits, courtesy of Bradley Zimmer with two and Oscar Mercado and Sandy Leon each with one.
This is a glaring slump, but by the same token, the Indians bottom four don’t come off as dangerous on paper. With Roberto Perez still on the shelf with right shoulder soreness, that worsens the situation. Perez had a career-best 24 home runs last year. Monday’s lineup featured rookie Daniel Johnson, Mercado, Leon and Greg Allen.
While Johnson, Mercado and Allen make up a speedy lineup, the three have hit .125, .080 and .000 respectively. Allen does not have a hit in nine plate appearances.
Cleveland has options defensively in the outfield, but nobody’s really separating themselves at the dish outside of Zimmer, who has a .250/.360/.400 slash line. Domingo Santana was acquired in the offseason and thought to be a hitter who could catch fire, but he’s batting just .158 with three hits in 27 plate appearances. Tyler Naquin still has not made his way back from a hairline fracture in his foot, and he was thought to be the starting right fielder. That only adds to the unknowns of the outfield on the offensive end.
While Hernandez has been a solid leadoff hitter, Ramirez has fallen into struggles. He’s 0-for-12 in the last three games, and 2-for-his-last-17. The Tribe third baseman is making contact, as he only had one swing and miss on Monday. He’s just been unable to find a gap or deliver a power boost of any sort.
Santana singled in the first inning Monday, and his patience is in a good place. He saw 21 pitched on Monday – five changeups, five four-seam fastballs, five curveballs, four sliders and two sinkers. That said, Santana is batting just .188 with one home run and no doubles on the season.
The lineup as a whole is struggling, and “it’s early” is not a valid point this year. Cleveland may have the best starting staff in baseball, but even ace Shane Bieber’s unreal level of pitching, in which he’s racked up 27 strikeouts in his first two starts, can’t always be the bailout. The Tribe has to find a happy medium in the runs scoring, because having the best rotation in the American League Central isn’t amounting to much right now. The Indians are 5-6, in fourth place, and proving national analysts who considered them a non-factor correct at the moment.
Much can change, but Cleveland has to wake up – now.
Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today