Indians Struggling to Score on Consistent Basis

They say you don’t really know what you have or who you are as a baseball team until you’ve played 40 games. I’m not entirely sure who “they” are, but this has been the standard line of thinking for as long as I can remember. And don’t look now, but with 34 games played, the Indians are getting dangerously close to that 40 game benchmark.

I’m generally an optimist. This applies to a lot of things in my life – family, friends, work. It also generally applies to my favorite baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. However, after Tuesday night’s 2-0 loss at the hands of the White Sox, even I’m having trouble finding a silver lining. This marked the second time in three games they have been shutout, and if not for and RBI single by Jason Kipnis on Monday night, it could have been their third straight shutout.

This most recent three game stretch isn’t all that much of an aberration. Through 34 games, the Indians have been held to 1 run or less in 11 of those. All but one resulted in a loss. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Indians are currently one of, if not the worst offensive team in all of baseball.

Entering play this evening, the Indians are currently slashing .212/.295/.335. Their weighted on base average of .277 is second worst in all of baseball. Weighted Runs Created-Plus… tied for dead last with the Marlins.

The Miami Marlins… a team with no grand aspirations in 2019 and that might as well be fielding a Triple-A team… is the offensive equivalent of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians, I might remind you, fully expect to win their division and make a deep October playoff run.

It goes without saying, things could be better.

We know this especially if we compare this 2019 version of the Indians against last year’s version. Brace yourselves, folks. The numbers are staggering.

Compared to this same point in the season a year ago, the Indians have scored 39 fewer runs, hit 20 fewer home runs, and racked up 64 fewer hits. All of this a direct result of hitting 29 points lower, getting on base at a lesser rate, and hitting for significantly less power.

It’s not good.

Now there are some explanations for these numbers that should give us pause before declaring this season a failure and the 2019 Indians one of the worst offensive teams we have seen in this decade.

First off, Francisco Lindor, the driving force behind the Indians lineup, missed the first three weeks of the season after having no spring training due to injury. His absence and subsequent attempt to play his way back into game shape has been felt.

Second, Jose Ramirez‘s postseason slump carried over into his 2019 season. As far as slow starts go, his has been one of the slowest. While his current slash line of .197/.295/.291 is concerning, he has been considerably better 8 days into May, slashing .273/.360/.364. However, a trend that needs to change is his walk and strikeout rates. Ramirez has typically been a player who strikes out less and walks more. So for in 2019, he is striking out 14.4% of the time while walking only 11%.

Third, because of injuries, the Indians roster has been in flux since Opening Day. So far we’ve welcomed and waived goodbye to he likes of Hanley Ramirez, Max Moroff, Brad Miller, Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow, and Eric Stametz through DFA’s or options to the minors. We’ve likewise welcomed Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Freeman, and the aforementioned return of Francisco Lindor and also Jason Kipnis from injury. As a result we’ve seen multiple different lineups with players who started the year in the top three now down in the bottom three and vice versa. The only consistency has been the lack of consistency.

Due to this constant shuffling of the deck, so to speak, it’s likely that Terry Francona is correct. This team will improve offensively as the weather heats up. Kipnis, Lindor, Ramirez, even a slumping Carlos Santna and others should improve over time. Baseball is a game based on numbers and averages. Things tend to even out.

The real question, though, is what is level? While it’s easy to sit here and say that this team will improve offensively based on what is here, it’s hard to say how much based on what is not.

The Indians lost a significant amount of offensive fire power this offseason. Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Lonnie Chisenhall, Yan Gomes, Yonder Alonso, Brandon Guyer, and Yandy Diaz… gone. All gone.

Sure, the Indians replaced all of these players in some way, shape, or form, but only in so much that there are players manning their positions and spots in the lineup. In terms of talent and production, that’s debatable. The players expected to fill these holes – Jake Bauers, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jordan Luplow, Roberto Perez, etc. – have not set the world ablaze.

So what does this all mean? Honestly, I think it means we are in store for more nights like Tuesday night. A night where an Indians starter does everything you could possibly want by holding the opposition to three runs or fewer and still somehow taking a loss. Games that are going to be decided in nail biting fashion.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Tito is right. I hope this team gets hot as we get into the summer months, puts its foot on the gas and steamrolls the rest of the AL Central. Unfortunately, without a major change or significant changing of the tide it’s hard to see that happening. Not anytime soon, at least.