The Cleveland Indians return home from a nine-game road trip that started out perfectly and ended with five one-run losses in a six-game stretch.
The Tribe is 10-12 after one month of play. Here are a few takeaways from the first 22 games.
The offense is better, but not good enough.
The Indians came into the new season with some new faces in the lineup to help improve their offensive output form a year ago. The addition of players like Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe as everyday players has seen its ups and downs.
Rajai Davis has been decently productive at the top of the order when he’s been given the opportunity to do so. Davis, who’s much more effective against left handed pitching, also looks to have brought the team some speed on the base paths with his seven stolen bases thus far.
Mike Napoli has hit some timely homeruns for the team but has shown a lack of consistency early on as he struck out 33 times in 78 April at-bats. He has brought some power to the lineup but has only 16 hits through the first month. Striking out two times as often as you get a hit isn’t ideal for the teams cleanup hitter.
As expected, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor have been the most consistant hitters to begin the season. While the duo has been good, not great at the top of the lineup, when they get on base it’s up to the guys behind them to get them home.
Carlos Santana seems to have started to turn things around after a shaky first couple weeks of the season. Yan Gomes is still working to find an effective approach at the plate and Juan Uribe hasn’t been the hitter the Indians were hoping for to begin the season.
The biggest problem for the Tribe so far offensively is their inability to produce with runners in scoring postion. With Michael Brantley returning to the lineup, that production should start to increase in the coming weeks.
With the first sizeable sample size of the season it is clear that the Indians offense is stronger than years prior. At the same time, early on the holes in the lineup seem to be as apparent as they’ve been in the past.
The bullpen has been solid while giving up a few games late.
For the most part the bullpen has done a solid job holding leads when they’re handed over to them. It’s when the game is tied or the Tribe is down late that the bullpen hasn’t been at their best.
The last few seasons, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw have been automatic, lock down pitchers coming in at the end of games for the Indians. So far this season while the two have been very good at times, they have each had outings that they wish they could have back. Between the two of them they are 0-4 with an 8.24 ERA. Allen is seven for seven in save opportunities but has really struggled in non-save situations early this season, tallying three losses. Shaw has also been dominate in many of his appearances this season but has had a couple slip ups that has cost the team a couple games.
Zach McAllister looks to have gotten comfortable coming out of the bullpen posting a 0.93 ERA in his 11 appearances so far. With Bryan Shaw’s stuggles in the early going, McAllister has given Terry Francona another reliable option late in games.
Joba Chamberlin and Jeff Manship have been decent suprises for the Indians so far by not giving up a run in fourteen innings of relief work between the two.
With those five arms coming on after the starting rotation it looks like the bullpen will be in pretty good hands through the remainder of the season.
Some of the starting rotation has been as advertised while others have faltered.
After Corey Kluber got off to a rocky start through his first three outings, the Tribe ace has settled into his own after two good starts on the teams most recent road trip. While Kluber’s velocity still isn’t at the point it’s been at the past couple years, the righty seems to be figuring things out on the fly and once again looks like someone the Indians can count on when they give him the ball every fifth day.
Carlos Carrasco got off to a fast start in his first three appearances, picking up two wins in the process. Unfortunately, early in his start against the Detroit Tigers last weekend, Carrasco suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him out of action for about another month for the Tribe.
Danny Salazar has been the most consistent starter of the rotation in 2016. After Sunday’s outing in Philadelphia, Salazar holds a 2.40 ERA in 30.0 innings to start the season. While he’s been one of the hardest pitchers to hit in all of baseball early on, Salazar has had some command issues as he’s issued more walks (15) than hits he’s allowed (14).
Cody Anderson had a rough April giving up at least five runs in each of his three starts to begin the season. Anderson was recently optioned to AAA Columbus and with Trevor Bauer taking Carrasco’s spot in the rotation momentarily, the Indians are going to have to figure out what to do going forward when it comes to a fifth starter. Do the recall Cody Anderson? They could bring up Mike Clevinger for a start to see what the kid can do at the next level. That decision will need to be made before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals.
The outfield has held their own.
Entering the 2016 campaign the outfield was a bit of a question mark. Micheal Brantley missed nearly all of April while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgury. In his limited time back, Brantley is still looking to settle in at the plate.
Rajai Davis has given the Indians what they envisioned when they signed the center fielder in the offseason. He’s brought a spark to the lineup in the leadoff position and has contributed on the base paths as well.
Tyler Naquin has carried over his strong play from spring training and aside from a few blunders in center field the rookie has filled in his role nicely. Naquin is hitting .333 and has two triples after the first month. He has been striking out quite a bit but that was something to be expected from a first year player.
Marlon Byrd has brought another veteran bat to the lineup and while it took him a week or so to get going, it looks like he’s found his stroke. He’s not getting consistent at-bats but lately he’s made the most of them. Lonnie Chisenhall has been spliting time in right with Bryd but has yet to find his timing at the plate since being activated from the 15-day DL.
Jose Ramirez has also brought a spark to the lineup from a new position. The multi-talented Ramirez has been given the opportunity to gain more playing time in the outfield. The former infielder has made the most of his time in the outfield and has given the Tribe another option in a what seemed like a weak unit heading into 2016.
There is too much talent on this roster for the small issues to continue.
The offense is bound to become more productive. All the strikeouts are begining to become alarming but it’s something you wouldn’t expect to continue, at least at this pace.
You’re going to see the impact Michael Brantley can have on this lineup any day now. Brantley is one of the best hitters in all of baseball and is just now getting fully healthy from offseason surgury. He has come out of the gates slow but due to the lack of pitches he’s seen up to this point, any game now Smooth is going to find his groove.
The starting pitching is going to be just fine in the long run. The question is going to be how guys perform in Carassco’s absence. Carassco should be back by mid-June so best case scenario is he only misses five more starts.
With the poor outings from Allen and Shaw being considered, the bullpen has done a nice job when they are called upon to do their jobs. One wouldn’t expect to keep seeing three to five run outings from Allen and Shaw and if those go to the wasteside the Tribe bullpen has the potential to be special. Kyle Crockett is getting the opportunity to prove that he can play the role of lefty specialist out of the pen.
All in all, it’s still early. The Indians are only two games under .500 after playing the first month of the season without their biggest offensive weapon. The bullpen has let a few games get away and the team is still 10-12. There is a lot of talent on this team but Tribe fans haven’t seen it all come together since September of 2014. If this team can get to the point where everyone is playing their best baseball together, it could get scary for opposing teams. If that doesn’t happen, Cleveland could be in for a lot more .500 baseball.