Boy, do I look like an idiot right now. Waaaaay back in March I predicted the Indians would not only win their division over the mighty Detroit Tigers, but would win the American League pennant and, yea, the World Series, thusly ending Cleveland's 44 year title drought. Perhaps my seemingly misguided hope was influenced by last season's success in the regular season and playoffs. Perhaps I had one too many martinis.
Because, frankly, the Tribe stinks! At least that's what their 26-31 record tells me. Let's analyze just how pathetic they are.
It starts, and pretty much ends, with offense, considering the starting pitching has been basically unimpeachable. The bullpen is suspect at best, but let's face it: there haven't been many leads to hold.
Grady Sizemore. I said before I was disappointed in his season last year, when he led the league in strikeouts and batted a lackluster .277. This year? Try .254 through Monday. Grady has provided some pop (11 hr) at the leadoff spot, but he has put up way, way too many 0-5 nights to be a truly effective leadoff hitter. Singles, Grady. They're an effective weapon at the top of the order.
Still, Sizemore is only minor disappointment compared to his lodge brothers. Check out these numbers from other Tribe starters:
Travis Hafner. Ah, yes, the poster child of team's woes. The big slugger has been mired in a slump since basically April of last season. Now we understand that Hafner has a bum shoulder and has had since spring training. Why Tribe officials decided to hide that fact is beyond me, but Hafner playing through the pain just isn't working, as in a .217 BA, 4 HR, 22 RBI. Let's hope the rest he is taking restores his once mighty swing.
Ryan Garko. Again, I love Garko, and I love his swing and the way he puts the bat head on the ball. Except he doesn't. Not this season. Maybe his shoulder is gimpy too, because his numbers are very Hafner-like: .234, 4, 20. That's just awful from your number 5 hitter.
Casey Blake. His numbers are slightly obscured by his 2 home run, 7 RBI performance last night. Before last night, Blake was just as futile at the plate: .236, 4, 29. I will give Blake credit for hitting with runners in scoring position, which he has done all year. I'm grasping at straws here, aren't I?
Jhonny Peralta. Jhonny has provided some rare pop from the right side of the plate, matching Sizemore's 11, good for the team lead. Problem is: those 11 homers have produced a mere 19 RBI. His line for the season? .242, 11, 19.
David Dellucci. Ugh. His poor play in the outfield is matched only by his horrible numbers at the plate: .229, 6, 19.
Franklin Gutierrez. This one is the least surprising to me, as I have never thought much of Franklin's swing. Still, his .247, 3, 16 in a corner outfield spot is beyond execrable.
Victor Martinez. Don't let Victor's .289 batting average fool you, particularly since he was leading the league in hitting about two weeks ago. That's just how bad he's been lately. On the year the numbers have been grim, considering he's our cleanup hitter. Take a deep breath and behold: .289, 0, 18. That's ZERO homeruns from our cleanup hitter. That's 18 RBI. Or approximately 37 less than league leader Josh Hamilton has, and we're only in June. In fact, if you add the runs produced by our 3, 4 and 5 hitters combined, they still don't match Hamilton. Damn! Hit a home run, Victor!
Asdrubal Cabrera. Yes, he's young. Yes, he's inexperienced. Yes, you can live with one light hitting middle infielder. The problem is that every single starter on the Indians hits like a backup double-A shortstop. Cabrera leads the parade to the tune of: .191, 1, 14. Simply brutal. And if that isn't bad enough, check out his on-base percentage of .288. Holy hell. Good thing he can pick it, eh, because this dude is making Josh Barfield look like Rogers Hornsby.
I could go on to the reserves, but I think I'll end the bloodbath here. The one bright spot has been Ben Francisco since being called up from Buffalo. His numbers in about half the games played are .309, 3, 15.
Hey, we can't lay this all on the hitters. As I said, the bullpen has been pretty awful too, but it's hard to look past the endless string of games in which the Indians amass one run on two hits. Or no runs on four hits. Tribe hitters rarely get on base and almost never chase home a runner in scoring position. Frustrating? Try unwatchable. I don't know what fiendish curse has been laid on Cleveland bats, making them as potent as soggy noodles, but let us pray they are exorcised before summer gets too long in the tooth.
And what is the remedy? Fire batting coach Derek Shelton? Bring in more stopgaps from the minors like Michael Aubrey? Make a big trade? Or do we stick with our guns and hope these guys can start putting some good at-bats together? The latter seems most likely to me, though it may not be such a bad thing to import some firepower from somewhere, somehow. That discussion, along with the trade deadline, is still weeks away.
Look, I really believe in the law of averages in baseball, and the season is a long one. Two months are in the book, so we can pretty much determine that this club won't be an offensive powerhouse. Still, I know these hitters, and I know their track records. We rode them to 96 wins a season ago. They are not this bad. I believe the Tribe has a chance at the central division, which nobody, least of all the Tigers (would I trade our weak hitting for their atrocious pitching? Hell no!) seems to want to run away with. Do not, however, look for the Tribe to catch fire anytime soon. If the club should rise in the standings, it will be a slow and steady climb.
Oh, and I hereby revise my prediction. I think the Cavs, not the Indians, will break the curse, and they'll do it this year. But that's for another column. As I finish this one, the Tribe is putting the finishing touches on a 12-7 loss to the Rangers.