The Cleveland Indians have officially reached the mid-point of their 2014 season with a record of 39-42; presently 6-1/2 games out of first place in their division and only 4-1/2 games out of a wild card berth.
Similar to the 2013 campaign, this 2014 Indians team has been mired at or below the .500 mark for much of the season to date. Here is a report card on each of the key contributors.
1B – Nick Swisher: F
As much as a fan favorite as he has been and a valued teammate “Swish” has been equally a non-factor at the plate. A hyper extended knee complicates matters some, but the fact is Swisher was not very productive before being injured last month. There is time left for a turnaround, but thus far has shown little life at the plate.
2B – Jason Kipnis: C+
A slow start and a stint on the disabled list has slowed the 2013 All Star from replicating his prior season performance. His plate performance has improved each month (.232 April, .250 May, .262 June) so there are signs that a season-ending average of .275 with 15 home runs is still within reach.
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera: C-
Offensively got off to a horrid start. While the bat has rebounded of late, Cabrera’s defense has been shaky at best. As errors have been a leading cause of the team’s struggles this season (lead the league with 70 errors leading to 50 unearned runs), his deficiencies have played a big role in where the team is presently. In the final year of his contract, should the Indians fall out of contention I would expect the Indians to trade him away. There is a hot shortstop prospect in the wings (Francisco Lindor) who is not a potent bat, but is a wiz with the glove.
3B – Lonnie Chisenhall: A-
If only he had more at bats to qualify for the batting title. Chisenhall has been dubbed “Lonnie Baseball” by fans and media in the Cleveland area, turning around a rough 2013 campaign (.225 BA last season) into a possible All Star berth. The reason for his lack of at bats was due to protecting him from left-handed pitchers. To many fans surprise, Chisenhall has hit better against lefties (.366) than he does righties (.324) through the season’s half-way mark. His grade would be even higher if not for his occasional lapses in the field.
LF – Michael Brantley: A
“Doctor Smooth” shook off a slow April (.245) to have a torrid All Star caliber season since. If only for the lack of media attention would more teams be talking about the season Brantley has had. To date, Brantley leads the Indians in average (.318), home ruins (12) and RBIs (53); with his 12 dingers a career-best. Not only does Brantley produce at the plate, he also is one of the game’s better outfielders, among the league leaders in outfield assists (9). The Indians were very smart in locking this gem into a long-term contract.
CF – Michael Bourn: B-
A rough start to the season due to hamstring issues has now become a thing of the past. Ups and downs at the plate are a little concerning, but when he is on, he is an offensive weapon. It is now just a matter of getting a little more consistent production to ignite the Cleveland offense.
RF – David Murphy: C
Started the season on a good note (.284 in April) but has followed that up with averages of .258 and .190 in May and June respectively. Murphy has been a solid outfielder who hits consistently against both lefties and righties.
C: Yan Gomes: B
Gomes showed some pop in his bat as a platoon catcher last season and has followed it up with close to as many home runs through 69 games (9) as he had through 88 last year (11). Gomes’ value behind the plate has become greater; shaking off many bad throws early to become a more consistent defender against the stolen base. On pace for 138 games played, the Indians should look to rest Gomes more often or they will likely lose the offense he has provided thus far.
DH – Carlos Santana: C+
Santana has had a great month of June; batting .320 with six of his 12 home runs. Even when he was not hitting, Santana was still getting on base, ranking second in the American League with 58 basses on balls. With his power production returning, Cleveland is banking his ascension back into the middle of the lineup should result in better run production as the weeks progress,
SP – Justin Masterson: C+
If only Masterson could pitch at home every time. The team’s “Ace” has looked anything but that on many occasions. 3.54 at home co pared to 6.65 ERA on the road is all you need to know about how the pending free agent’s season has gone. A drop in velocity and lack of consistent control has been the source of his problems. The Indians will likely ship “Masty” out first if the team falls out of contention; as the cost to retain him next season is likely to be too high, despite his struggles.
SP – Corey Kluber: B+
The team’s new ace has been dominant on most occasions for Cleveland. Kluber has pitched a minimum of seven innings in nine of this 17 starts; and has recorded 122 strikeouts in just 110-2/3 innings of work. Couple that with his above-average control (28 walks) and you have the makings of a cornerstone pitcher for the immediate and long-term future.
SP – Josh Tomlin: B
Retuned from Tommy John surgery and became the pitcher he was back in 2011. His performance in Seattle on Saturday night was incredible (faced 28 batters, one hit, no walks, eleven strikeouts). Tomlin will not overpower batters, but has utilized his control and ability to keep the ball down in the strike zone to become a dependable bottom of the rotation starter.
SP – Trevor Bauer: B
Young pitcher does not have the gaudy stats to reflect his true value to the Indians in 2014. To date, Bauer has not allowed more than four runs in any start; while maintaining an impressive 52-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 53 innings of work. A little better run support would certainly have enhanced Bauer’s won-loss record; which presently is at 2-4.
SP – Zach McAllister: D
Injuries have derailed what appeared to be a solid start to the 2014 season. After posting a 2.28 ERA after five starts, McAllister surrendered 25 earned runs over his last 23 innings of work. His return from the DL resulted in an AAA stint. Zach is a pitcher equally capable of providing seven shutout innings as he is imploding in less than five. Without overpowering stuff, his control must be spot on. To date that has been a challenge.
SP – T.J. House: C+
Simply keeps the Indians in each game he starts. With the exception of one start, House has logged at least 5-2/3 innings of work, while allowing two or fewer runs in four of his six starts. The left-hander has been up and down between the majors and AAA, but steps to the mound and will deliver more times than not.
RP – Carlos Carrasco: C
Failed experiment at starter has resulted in a surprisingly good result as a reliever. Has allowed only one earned run in his last six appearances; a span of 11-2/3 innings. Carrasco’s breakout game was a 2-1/3 innings save performance against the Angels back on June 16th. In the outing, Carrasco struck out four batters on route to his only save of the season. If the powerful right-hander continues this trend, he could be a future closer in the making.
RP – Marc Rzepczynski: C+
One of five pitchers to appear in more than 35 games thus far; logging a team-high 41 appearances in 2014. The left-hander has been valuable pitching in middle relief, seemingly available every night. The Indians should be wary of overuse; as Rzepczynski has never appeared in more than 0 games or pitched more than 63-2/3 innings. At this pace, Marc will shatter those numbers.
RP – Scott Atchison: B-
Seemingly called in to losing game situations, Atchison has delivered solidly for Cleveland; posting a 3.09 ERA. Another pitcher on the Indians staff who is in jeopardy of being overworked; as his 34 appearances and 35 innings of work are far ahead of his workload pace of any season in his eight-year career.
RP – John Axford: C-
Brought in to be the closer of the team and lost that job within the first month. Control issues (24 walks in 34 innings of work) are to blame for his “demotion”, although his work of late gives some indication that in time occasional spots as a closer are no longer out of the realm of possibility.
RP – Bryan Shaw: B
Was not intended to be the setup man when the season started, but Shaw has delivered for the most part; although a rough month of June (6.52 ERA) has inflated his overall stats to date. Not known as a strikeout pitcher, Shaw relies on fielding behind him to be effective. His home-away splits are consistent with the team overall; simply performing better at Progressive Field (2.08 ERA) than on the road (3.38 ERA).
RP – Cody Allen: B+
Arguably the team’s most valuable pitcher. When Axford struggled, Allen was inserted into the closer’s role and simply got the job done. While most closers are known for their strikeout ratio, Allen has been successful in save situations on seven of eight opportunities. Lack of late game leads has hindered Allen from recording more; many times coming in to deficits or tied games.
The Indians have been treading water most of this first half. The 92 wins from last season are more a tribute to their 10-0 end of the season record than the team’s drop-off from 2013. As demonstrated a couple of weeks ago, a hot streak could propel Cleveland back in the hunt for a playoff berth. If the team is floundering at the trade deadline, the team could be sellers; with Masterson and Cabrera the likely trade chips.
To his credit, Terry Francona has been the symbol of stability. His calming presence and willingness to stick with struggling veterans has fostered a tremendous amount of loyalty from his players. How much Francona can impact his team’s success the remainder of the season is not easy to quantify. When one or more players underperform, others will step up; but for this team to be successful, all cylinders must be firing at once. Despite the won-loss record, one thing is certain: the Cleveland Indians are a true nature of a team.
Scott Duhaime is a New England Sports fan and former resident, transplanted to Ohio. Despite his new address, his passion for sports hasn’t diminished, but rather broadened to now cover the Cleveland sports scene. Scott’s sports commitment is best evidenced by his creation and continued contributions to Banner Day Boston and Banner Day Boston Radio .
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