Tigers Success Shows Indians Strength

Now that it has been over two weeks since the Wild Card game and the Detroit Tigers are officially out of the playoffs it is time to look back at what the Tribe accomplished in 2013.  The Cleveland Indians did some things this year that are nothing short of amazing, a lot of it even before the regular season started.  They spent money on free agents, made some big trades, and signed a new manager.  The most impressive though has to be that they won 24 more games than last year going from 68 – 94 in 2012 to 92 – 70 this year.

Consider that accomplishment while checking out some of these numbers in 2013:

  • The Tribe lost 16 games by one run (only one of those at the hand of the Tigers)
  • The bullpen blew 22 save opportunities (by 7 different pitchers; Perez, Pestano, Smith, Shaw, Allen, Hagadone, & Hill, 2 of them vs. the Tigers)
  • They were shut out 8 times (9 total if you include the Wild Card game vs. Tampa Bay and just once versus the Tigers)
  • They lost 15 of 19 games vs. the Detroit Tigers

Looking at these stats makes it even more amazing that the Indians did what they did this season. How did they pull off 92 wins with those numbers?!  If they didn't blow one of those saves, if they only lost 14 games instead of 15 to the Tigers or if they had scored one extra run to tie one of those one run loses they might have the same record as the Tigers. They kept it close until the end.

Let's take a minute and let that last stat sink in. The Cleveland Indians lost 15 games versus one team and it was the one team that finished ahead of them in the Central Division standings by only one game. Twenty percent of their losses were to the Detroit Tigers. Hindsight is a beautiful thing but I cannot get past this glaring number. Granted the Tribe did make it to the playoffs and Tribe fans are still pumped from the whole ride they took us on, especially the entire month of September to get them there, but the Detroit Tigers. With former Tribe-hands Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez sitting in the middle of their extremely formidable lineup no less. Included in the 15 losses to Detroit were 3 series sweeps as well a two game sweep (May 21st & 22nd), three game sweep (June 7th, 8th, & 9th) and four game sweep (August 5th, 6th, 7th, & 8th).

Here's how Tribe starters held up vs. the Tigers in those 15 loses:

Starter Starts IP ER ERA
Cory Kluber 3 18.1 11 5.69
Justin Masterson 3 18.2 15 7.42
Ubaldo Jimenez 2 7 9 11.57
Scott Kazmir 2 10.2 6 5.29
Zach McAllister 2 6 10 16.98
Carlos Carrasco 2 7.1 12 15.21
Danny Salazar 1 7.2 4 5.00
Total 15 75.2 67 8.02

The bullpen faired a little better with this stat line: 66.5 IP, 32 ER and a 5.14 ERA.

Not a very good showing at all by the starting rotation and not much better by the bullpen. Danny Salazar does get a pass here because he pitched a shut out against the Tigers into the 8th inning, but may have been left in just one batter too long when he faced Miguel Cabrera and Cabrera took him deep. 

Not one sub 5.00 ERA from any of the starters. You hate to make these games such a pressure situation, especially in the early months of the season but every game certainly does count and every loss suffered versus the Tigers this season stings badly. Every one of those losses almost felt like the game was lost before it even started. The Tigers had the Indians number from day one for whatever reason.

Say what you want about the streaky offense this year or the fact that the bullpen is most likely losing four arms (Joe Smith, Rich Hill, Chris Perez, and Matt Albers) this offseason, but the Tribe can deal with those things. They may sign a bat (possibly Cory Hart for right field) and they will make the bullpen work with some low risk/high reward veteran free agent signings mixed in with some young arms like C.C. Lee. The real problem facing the Tribe this offseason, much like every other offseason is the starting rotation.  Masterson, Kluber, McAllister, and Salazar do look good occupying four of five spots and Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer are not the worst guys to have providing depth.  "Depth" being the keyword here, not fighting for the fifth spot, just good depth options.  Teams generally need at least seven pitchers to get through a season and technically they have that, but only four of them being solid, reliable starters.  

The Tribe won't say it publicly, but they are very concerned about Bauer and his tinkering. I read in Terry Pluto's column that the Tribe may not reference Bauer at all for the time being to keep all pressure off of him. Terry Francona does appear to be a Tomlin fan and Tomlin should be considered a great depth option. Carrasco is out of options and would most likely open the season in the bullpen if another starter is obtained through a trade or free agency, which needs to happen.

Starting pitching is everything and we learned that the hard way against the Tigers this year. They demolished Cleveland and the Indians are possibly losing starters Jimenez and Kazmir to free agency. I appreciate everything Jimenez did for the Tribe this season, but I am not going to be upset when he leaves. You can point out that Tribe pitching coach Mickey Calloway "fixed" Jimenez all you want, but I do not buy it. The Tribe swears by looking at a player's three year history before they approach them with a deal and looking at Ubaldo's it's not pretty. There are too many moving parts in his delivery to trust and it seems like he is a bit of a head case. 

Kazmir doesn't even have a current three year history, but it seems he truly wants to stay and maybe the Tribe can work something out with him and they should at least try.  He appreciates the chance he received and may stay for less money or a little more money for less years.  Kazmir and one other starting pitcher need to be the top priorities for the Tribe this winter, period, end of story.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB