After watching the Indians play this weekend, it is easy to worry about what direction the team will take the remainder of the season.The Tribe was swept by the Oakland Athletics losing in the series-finale 13-3 Sunday at Progressive Field. The A’s outscored the Indians 30-6 during the three-game weekend-series, dropping the Indians 10-games back of the first place Tigers in the AL-Central Division. The doubt extends beyond this past series, though, as fans have witnessed the Indians lose five of the last seven games while Tigers have won six out of seven.
Don’t look now, but the Tigers come to Cleveland looking to bury the Tribe early in the season. All hope is not lost, however. There are some reasons to be optimistic about this team moving forward.
Here are three reasons why the Indians record will improve from this point forward. All are strong indicators that the current regression will not last forever.
1.) Terry Francona will recognize the need to make changes to the batting order.
Switching the starting lineup around is the oldest trick in the book for a manager to try and light a spark under an offense. Typically, doing so does not make that big of a difference in net win total compared to what it would be if the manager made no changes. However, there are some Indians hitters who deserve to get more opportunities to bat during the course of a game and thus should be bunched together and moved higher in the order. With a minimum of 80 plate appearances, the top three Indians hitters according to OPS are:
Lonnie Chisenhall .880
Michael Brantley .815
David Murphy .786
Ironically, two of these players have reduced roles in the lineup: Chisenhall is a part-time player while Murphy has hit fifth or less most of the season. To see an increase in offensive productivity, Francona should consider Chisenhall as the full-time DH in more than just a platoon role. Doing so will get him into the lineup everyday and provide a much needed offensive spark. Along with the aforementioned move, the skipper should also consider moving Brantley into the leadoff spot. Doing so will give your best overall hitter the chance to bat more times throughout the course of a game.
Francona gave us a tease on Sunday. Hopefully there is more to come.
2.) The starting rotation is destined to improve.
With a minimum of 30 innings pitched so far this season, four of the five Indians starters have higher- than- league average ERA’s. When you compare the ERA’s with the xFIP’s of each starter, we learn the defense has played a large role in these skewed numbers:
Corey Kluber 3.38/2.68
Zack McAllister 5.36/3.97
Justin Masterson 4.31/3.45
Carlos Carrasco 6.03/3.74
Danny Salazar 5.53/3.82
What the difference in these numbers tells us is that the defense has allowed an unusually high amount of BABIP this season (.313); a stat that is likely to regress towards the mean. As that happens, you will see starters ERA also dip closer to their xFIP numbers.
3.) It’s still early.
It’s a fact that the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint. Although Memorial Day weekend has traditionally been the cutoff point to getting a gauge on how a team will be the rest of the season, there is still a lot of baseball left to determine the final outcome of a divisional race.
Also, the new wild card format will allow the Indians to remain in contention in the playoff race even if it is not for the division lead.