As of Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians sit at 29-30, tied for second in the AL Central and 11.5 games back of the first-place Minnesota Twins. In their last four series, the team is 4-14, including a 1-7 stretch against the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics.
Pitching, defense and hitting have all gone cold after a 25-16 start to the season. But what do you expect from a team that took a back seat during the offseason while the Twins and other American League contenders actively bolstered their rosters?
Putting aside, for a second, the laughable signings of players like Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez and Kevin Plawecki, just looking at the former Indians who are tearing it up with other teams is enough to make any fan sick.
First and foremost is Michael Brantley. The three-time All-Star left fielder ended his 10-year stint with the Tribe and signed a two-year, $32 million deal with the Houston Astros. Sure, the guy had glass bones at times and $16 million a year is a hefty price tag, but Brantley is second in the league in batting average (.333). Want to add a little more salt to that wound? The first-place player (Jorge Polanco) and third-place player (Tim Anderson) are both right here in the AL Central.
Two players in new homes who are a little more palatable are Clint Frazier and Gio Urshela. Frazier, the Indians’ top draft pick in 2013, was dealt as part of the Andrew Miller deal in 2016. Now a regular in the Yankees lineup, Frazier’s hit .270 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs in 40 games.
Urshela, who actually spent a gap year with the Rays before being dealt to the Yankees, is hitting .338 with three home runs and 21 RBIs in 47 games. While Urshela only spent one year in Cleveland and never lit the world on fire, it raises the question of if Cleveland moved on too soon.
Now, back to this offseason. The complacency of the team’s ownership and front office to settle for winning the division and getting ousted in the first round of the playoffs has finally caught up to them.
Since the 2016 season, when the Indians made it to the World Series, the team made just one big-name signing, Edwin Encarnacion, who isn’t even on the team anymore. All the while, modest but effective signings like Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz by the Twins are moves that were well within the Indians’ reach, but the Scrooge-like nature of the Dolans apparently prevented those thoughts from even entering their heads.
The dynamite, sure-fire, best rotation in baseball has imploded before Cleveland’s eyes. It was assumed the bullpen was going to be a dumpster fire, but a combined 23.06 ERA between the team’s five pitchers with more than two starts is the worst-case scenario for a team that was going to have to lean on its pitching in the first place.
If that’s not enough, add in that Jose Ramirez is hitting just over .200 with only four home runs and 17 RBIs to really get your blood boiling. Thankfully, Francisco Lindor is still carrying this team with his .293 average and Carlos Santana, Jake Bauers and Jordan Luplow have been pleasant surprises to this point. The latter two can’t be expected to keep up this pace throughout an entire season or into another with any level of certainty.
Coming into this season, I was resigned to the fact that this year was going to be just like the last two – ending in an ALDS exit after limping into the postseason. At this point, though, who knows if the Indians will have enough steam to even scrape together a Wild Card berth.
Whatever championship window the Indians had left has been slammed shut over these past three seasons. Unfortunately for the fan base, though, the only reassurance the front office is offering to fans is to “enjoy” Lindor while he’s in Cleveland, all but guaranteeing that he’ll walk in free agency or get traded before that.
Well – and I never thought I’d say this – at least we have the Browns.
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