It is not a good time to be a fan of the Cleveland Indians. After watching them hang within a few games of the Detroit Tigers for most of the season, their most recent stretch of baseball has left them bloodied, beaten, and seemingly left for dead in the standings.
That sentiment is natural given the situation. After being swept by the Tigers in what can only be described as the biggest series of the season to date, the Tribe has lost seven of their last eight games and watched their promising playoff hopes begin to crumble. Over the course of a week the Indians went from three games back of the Tigers and tied for one of two AL Wild Card spots to seven games behind the Tigers, third place behind the Royals, and four and a half games back in the Wild Card race.
In the pantheon of great sports movies, the current situation most closely resembles the fight between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. The Indians, in the role of Apollo, have taken one head shot and body blow after another while all of us watch in horror while having the internal argument with ourselves as to whether or not it is time to throw in the towel. For anyone not knowing what I’m talking about, just watch the video below and it will all make sense.
All kidding aside, things do not look good at the moment. When the Indians needed to play their absolute best baseball they fell into one of their patented cold spells. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. This has been a season full of streaks, both good and bad for the Indians.
At various times this year the Tribe has gone through stretches where they won 18 out of 22, 15 out of 20, 6 out of 8, and 9 out of 11. On the flip side, they have also had stretches where they lost 10 out of 13, 7 out of 8, 9 out of 10, and now 7 out of 8. At their best, the Indians have won eight straight games and gone on streaks of five or more wins three times. At their worst, they have lost eight straight games and lost five or more in a row on three separate occasions.
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Simply put, the Indians are a streaky team. This is what streaky teams do. They go streaking. This is especially true of young teams looking to find their way and learn how to deal with success. They are just as susceptible to the long, agonizingly painful losing streak as they are to the wonderfully enjoyable winning streak. At an average age of 28.3 years, the Indians fall in the middle of the pack (16th) in terms of average age of the roster. Remove Jason Giambi‘s 42-plus years and that average plummets to 27.7, making them the seventh youngest in baseball.
So besides blaming age, what has caused the most recent run of depressing baseball for the Indians? Glad you asked.
First, the offense has been abysmal over the past week. Heading into last night’s game the Indians were batting .214/.262/.372 as a team. Those numbers are even worse following last night’s two hit shut out at the hands of the Twins. A .258 team BAbip certainly hasn’t helped things any. And for as easy as it would be to say that the Indians have failed time and time again in situations with runners in scoring position, the fact of the matter is that the opportunities just did not present themselves with any type of regularity given the overall lack of successful plate appearances.
Second, the pitching and run prevention has been equally as bad. In the past week they have been out scored 45 to 21. As a pitching staff they have posted a 4.86 ERA and defensively have committed nine errors as a team. That’s not going to get the job done at any level of baseball, let alone in the big leagues. Adding insult to injury, the Indians even saw their ace, Justin Masterson, get roughed up on both of his starts. He posted a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 innings of work against the Tigers and Angels. That’s not exactly the top of the rotation caliber of pitching we have come to expect from the big side slinging righty.
So what does that all mean exactly? It means that there isn’t one specific thing to point to as to why the Indians have played so poorly over the past week. It has been a team wide effort. Sloppy play in the field combined with poor hitting and even worse pitching all contributed to the recent back slide out of the division race.
But here’s the thing. All of those problems are correctable and will certainly fall back in line with what we have seen from this team throughout the season. They are not as nearly as bad as they have made themselves appear to be over the past week. That’s a lesson we have learned time and time again this year with each and every peak and valley we’ve experiences.
That said, while the division race is seemingly all but lost at this point, the Wild Card is still very much in play. Four and a half games to make up in a month and a half is more than doable. And given the Indians propensity for going on streaks, it stands to reason that we will see another seven or eight game winning streak before this is all said and done. Combine that with the adversity that the teams ahead of them are sure to encounter in the final weeks and the Tribe’s odds of making the playoffs are as good as anyone’s.
So is it time to throw in the towel on the 2013 Indians? Absolutely not. Now, where is our music montage?