Series Preview: Cleveland Indians @ Detroit Tigers

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April From Hell Continues as the Cleveland Indians Head to Detroit

After 14 games it’s a little hard to say that the Indians’ ship has sunk. There are 148 left so there is no reason to think that the Cleveland Indians don’t have plenty of time to turn this thing around. However, it’s not too early to start worrying about where this season is headed and how they go about fixing the issues that are keeping a World Series contender locked in the AL Central cellar.

Apr 14, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez (11) fields a grounder hit by Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez (10) during the second inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Again, we’re only 14 games in, but there are some alarming things going on with this team that are a sign of bigger underlying issues that can not simply be solved by flipping the calendar over from April to May. These are deeper, more involved problems that are not isolated simply to the first 14 games of the 2015 season.

First, there is the defense. In 2014, the Indians defense was historically bad. This is supported by pretty much every advanced defensive metric available. The Indians defensive runs saved came in at an MLB worst -75. Many folks, myself included, felt this would be less of an issue heading into 2015. A full season of Jose Ramirez at short, a healthy Jason Kipnis, and Yan Gomes behind the plate on a full-time basis had to be better than 2014. Right?

Well, we couldn’t be more wrong. So far in 2015, the Indians are again near the bottom of with a defensive runs saved of -10 after 14 games. They appear to be well on their way of a repeat performance of 2014’s dismal defensive showing. Granted, they haven’t looked nearly as bad doing it, but a lack of range across the board at every position has made this team a turnstile defensively. Luckily for the Indians, the pitching staff, led by a dominant starting rotation, ranks among the best in baseball at striking batters out. They currently sit at fifth with 145 strikeouts. Starters account for 94 of those. In terms of k/9, the Indians lead the way at 10.58 k/9 with the starters racking up a major league best 11.28 k/9.

More strikeouts means fewer balls in play. Fewer balls in play means fewer chances for the defense to screw things up. It’s as simple as that.

A second and perhaps more alarming issue is the Indians hitting with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Indians are currently hitting an abysmal .186 in run scoring situations, third worst in baseball. In 2014, the Indians ranked 9th in run scoring situations at .264, but only after a second half surge that saw the offense finally pull things together. Unfortunately, it was too little too late as the Indians could not pull themselves up to the top of the AL Central heap. And yes, it’s a small sample alert, for sure, but the 44 runs scored, .220 team average, .282 on base and .337 slugging on add fuel to the fire.

Now, there is always the chance that the additions of Nick Swisher and Zach Walters when they finally return from injuries could help, but there’s no guarantee of that happening. Swisher has underwhelmed so far in two seasons as an Indians and Walters is a relatively unproven commodity in the grand scheme of things. Does that increase the likelihood of seeing Francisco Lindor, James Ramsey, or Tyler Naquin in the near future? Probably not, but the more the Indians struggle, the louder the cries for change will become.

In the meantime, the Indians will have to find a way to survive the Tigers. Yes, as if things couldn’t get any worse, the Indians now have to contend with a Tigers team that has lost three straight. That can be looked at in one of two ways. Either the Tigers are struggling and about to come down to Earth, or they will use the Indians to right the ship. With how things are going so far, the latter seems much more likely.

One thing working in the Indians favor is they will miss the top of the Detroit rotation. No David Price. No Anibal Sanchez. Instead, the Tribe’s struggling hitters will get to take a crack at Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon, and Kyle Lobstein. And while all three have pitched extremely well to start the season, they do not carry with them the sense of impending doom in the same way as Price, Sanchez, or a healthy Justin Verlander. This is a huge break for a team that is struggling.

Of course, none of that will matter much of the Indians continue to pitch to Miguel Cabrera. I’m all for challenging hitters and making them beat you, but at this point Cabrera’s performance against the Indians can be best equated to the beating of a dead horse. Just don’t do it. Walk him and move on. Live to fight another day. Make Yoenis Cespedes or J.D. Martinez beat you. But, under no circumstances should the Indians continue to allow Cabrera to pad his stats against a pitching staff he has owned ever since coming to Detroit.

Probable Pitching Matchups:

Danny Salazar (1-0, 3.00 ERA/1.33 WHIP) vs. Shane Greene (3-0, 0.39/0.74)

Trevor Bauer (2-0, 0.95/1.00) vs. Alfredo Simon (3-0, 1.74/0.87)

Carlos Carrasco (2-1, 2.38/0.88) vs. Kyle Lobstein (1-0, 3.27/1.55)

Next: #TBT: When the Indians Could Score Runs

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