Cleveland Indians: Hey, April Didn’t Suck!

Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

In so, so many ways, this has been a typical April, the sort that makes the NFL draft the highlight of the month for Cleveland Indians fans:

  • The two most important relief pitchers, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, have ERAs that look like zip codes and have lost four games between them.
  • Corey Kluber once again gets almost no run support.
  • Carlos Carrasco briefly pitches like a Cy Young winner, then sustains what initially looks like a devastating injury.
  • Michael Brantley talks about being ready on opening day, than misses almost the entire month as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
  • The annual mysterious early season personnel decision. This year’s winner of what we can call the Elliot Johnson award:  after auditioning approximately six hundred outfielders in spring training, the Indians bring north Collin Cowgill, who in 689 major league at bats has given no indication that he can hit major league pitching.  As usually happens, it takes all of twelve at bats for Cowgill to confirm this fact, and he is cast aside.
  • There are the mysterious yet utterly predictable faceplants, including two walkoffs to a Minnesota Twins team that has only won six other games all season and getting swept by the Philadelphia Phillies, whose roster consists of 24 players you’ve never heard of plus the rotting corpse of Ryan Howard’s career.
  • The attendance has resembled a high school field hockey game.

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    And yet, April is over, and after a few days of May the Indians have a winning record.  Not only that, but if the season ended today they would be the second wild card in the American League.  Their run differential per game is second best in the American League and indicates that, if anything, better times are ahead.  If the past three seasons of the Terry Francona era are any indication, anything better than a dumpster fire in April is a good sign, so being in the race right now has to be cause for optimism.

    The underlying reasons for the good start indicate that it is not a mirage:

    • There are eight guys with at least fifty at bats and an OPS above .700, which means that the Indians can put out a lineup with very few holes on a nightly basis. That doesn’t include Yan Gomes or Michael Brantley, so the potential is there for the offense to get even better.
    • Three of the four veteran free agents are among those eight, doing about what should have been expected of them. The fourth, Juan Uribe, is not far off, but if he doesn’t get it going, Giovanny Urshela is up to .293 at Columbus after starting the season in a brutal slump.
    • The six guys currently in the bullpen not named Allen or Shaw have a combined ERA of 1.02. If Allen and Shaw are your biggest worries in your pen, you should be OK.  Even if they don’t get it together, other guys have made themselves viable options for the eighth and ninth inning.
    • Carrasco’s injury, which initially looked like a season ender, should only keep him out until early June. With two more days off in May, he may miss only three or four more starts.
    • The third starter, Danny Salazar, has a 1.91 ERA after dominating the Royals on Friday. The fourth starter, Josh Tomlin, has won all four of his starts and has walked two in 23 innings.  Add those two to Kluber and Carrasco and you have the makings of a dominant rotation.  It will be interesting to see how the fifth spot plays out between Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson once Carrasco comes back, but those are good options to have at the back end of the rotation.  If more is needed, Mike Clevinger is 4-0 at Columbus.  Aside from Anderson, Cleveland starters have given up more than three runs in a game once since April 17.

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    So this could actually work out. Even though I’m not sold on the Chicago White sox yet, this is not a year when 85 wins will take the Central, so languishing around .500 until Labor Day and hoping to get hot is not a viable plan.  But the things that concerned us in March appear to be coming together, and the things that gave us hope in March are living up to it.