CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – It’s too bad that most of our time seems to be spent putting out social media fires of pure panic.
The arguments, takes or concerns aren’t always completely off base. But the over-the-top presentation? That often leaves something to be desired.
Offering thoughtful, well-researched opinions? That’s not how Twitter works, is it? And rarely do the pertinent issues get tackled with the type of attention and degree they actually deserve.
Following the Indians’ 9-0 loss to a tough Texas Rangers squad on Thursday night, more legitimate concerns were raised over Cleveland’s recent play — the defeat was their third in a row after a stretch of nine wins in 12 games — and some of them are absolutely warranted.
Then again, some of them weren’t.
But instead of wasting any time over the doom-and-gloom angles that seem to put some in a constant state of bliss and euphoria, let’s instead focus on some of the real issues facing the Indians recently and dive into how big of a concern they actually are — and more importantly, examine if they can be remedied.
1. What, oh, what are the Indians going to do with Josh Tomlin?
Before tearing too much into his horrific numbers over the past five starts, it should be noted that the Indians probably wouldn’t be in first place with the 4.5 game lead they currently hold over the Detroit Tigers without his consistent efforts over the first half of the 2016 campaign. Despite holding the team’s fifth spot in the rotation, there were many Tomlin outings earlier this season that resembled what teams expect out of their twos and threes. And he deserves a ton of credit for those contributions.
But, oof, that just hasn’t been the case recently.
You may want to shield your eyes from these crooked, ugly and disgusting numbers: 30 earned runs, 39 hits, nine homers allowed.
That’s the damage over Tomlin’s last 25 innings on the mound for Cleveland. A lot of those knockout blows have come in the form of multi-run homers, which have just killed the veteran righty lately. He gave up a pair of three-run bombs — Carlos Gomez and Adrian Beltre were the guys doing the assaulting in Thursday’s brutal outing in Texas, a matchup that never looked good on paper for the homer-prone hurler.
2. So, again, what are the Indians to do?
Well, should they so choose, they do have the 25-year-old rookie hurler, Mike Clevinger, able to step in and replace Tomlin in the rotation. Clevinger has been working out of the bullpen recently, but he did toss two scoreless innings on Thursday and has allowed just five earned runs over his past 14 big league innings (3.21 ERA). Cleveland has been excited by the prospect of having Clevinger available in relief down the stretch, but perhaps the ability to take the ball every five days could entice the club to make a switch.
Whether it comes in the form of a pitching change or improvements from Tomlin, one thing the team can’t afford is a continuation of these recent performances. It puts too much stress on the bullpen to pick up the slack and the other starters to be on their game when it’s their turn.
And Tomlin would be the first to admit — and he already has on numerous occasions — that he needs to give his team a much better chance to win. Unlike his tremendous first half, the second-half regression has featured a lot fewer win opportunities.
3. Now, how big of an issue is the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation?
Once you reach the postseason it’s not a concern at all. Teams typically use four starters in October and potentially trust three. Whoever occupies the final slot in the rotation won’t ever see the playoff mound — unless, of course, things have gone way off course.
The big issue — at least until then — is getting to October.
A 4.5-game cushion won’t remain forever, but part of the importance of building a big advantage is to help provide some insurance when playing through tough stretches. The Indians recently used a soft part of their schedule to extend their edge back to 7.5 games.
Now, Detroit and Kansas City are trying to flip the script.
4. Right now, the status of Danny Salazar is a much bigger concern.
For Cleveland to be the type of dangerous club many envisioned they could be in the playoffs, they need Salazar pitching like the All-Star he was in the first half, not the inconsistent, banged up and conviction-lacking hurler he’s been recently.
Since returning from a stint on the DL with right elbow inflammation, Salazar has given up nine runs in just five innings pitched. When you compare that to his final four starts before the trip to the disabled list (6.14 ERA), there isn’t much to feel positive about.
If we dig a little deeper, however, we do find one factor that probably indicates his right arm is healthy. Salazar’s velocity dipped noticeably in his final two starts before his DL stint, but the numbers have risen back to typical digits since his return.
The return in velocity is far more encouraging than anything else Salazar has demonstrated over his first two starts since activation.
5. The far more likely reason for the struggles?
Perhaps the team miscalculated how long it would take the righty to shake off the rust and get back in game form. Manger Terry Francona has even admitted that it’s a fair question to raise. The team has also worked to remind Salazar that making the All-Star team wasn’t the finish line for his success.
Why is this all so darn important? Isn’t that obvious?
Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar form a lethal combination for any team to face in the first three games of any possible playoff series. Add in Trevor Bauer in a potential fourth game (3.00 ERA over his last four starts), and the task looks even more daunting. Yes, a Kluber-Carrasco duo is impressive on its own, but for the Indians to perform at peak capacity, they need the dominant version of Salazar that emerged earlier in 2016.
Without that, Cleveland’s rotation gets a little more ordinary. And ordinary is a bad word when teams are looking to separate themselves from the pack in September and October.
6. Now, for some good news…
There’s still time for Salazar to get that figured out. Game 3 isn’t tomorrow. It isn’t the day after tomorrow. It isn’t next week.
Yes, the concern is legitimate. And, wow, of course it’s important. Among the several few question marks, the ones tied to Salazar probably hold the most weight. But the only way this issue will be worked out is through repetition, time and hard work.
Much like most of what ails the Tribe, a solution can be found. The rest is up to them.
7. Now, how about that offense.
Quick, list all the words you could use to describe the Tribe’s bats over the last four games: Scuffling, struggling, non-existent, stymied, disappearing, frustrating, maddening. And those are just the clean words.
All would be accurate. Cleveland has managed just three runs over the last four games, all coming via solo home runs (Carlos Santana, Chris Gimenez, Roberto Perez).
Is it just a bad stretch or cause for greater concern?
Even given their latest hiccup, the Indians rank fifth in the Majors in runs (619). Only one AL team has scored more runs than Cleveland this season (the Boston Red Sox). Are we to throw away roughly three-quarters of a season of production and put more trust in a four-game sample size being the more accurate depiction of the Indians’ offensive capabilities?
That’s not even me being a smart aleck. I am genuinely curious…
8. All of the numbers would indicate Cleveland is in the top third among offenses in baseball.
But they haven’t consistently looked like a top 10 offense over the past week. Sure, they received some well-timed production in last weekend’s series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Without it, the Indians would be suffering big time.
Then again, how can they be punished for coming through in some extremely crucial situations?
Do you trust in the entire season sample size? Or do you put more stock in the last four games as a bigger indication of what’s to come for Cleveland’s bats? The answer to that question probably helps separate the eternally hopeful from the openly cynical moving forward.
Which are you?