Second Thoughts: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
A look back at the month of April for the Tribe
For the most part, it was an "it could be worse" type of start to the season for the Indians. They had problems on the pitching staff, the offense and the defense, but still managed to keep their heads above water around the .500 mark, thanks mostly to a tightly-packed AL Central race.
It appeared the team was finding a groove during their last home stand as they took three of four games from the Royals and won four out of five to end the home stand. However, whatever momentum they had when they headed west completely dissolved as the Tribe dropped six straight in back-to-back sweeps by the Giants and Angels.
Cleveland finishes April at 11-17, which puts them last in the division and five games behind Detroit.
The Good - The Bullpen
This shouldn't come as any surprise to a lot of folks with less inconsistency in the bullpen thanks, in part, to the offseason departures of Chris Perez and Rich Hill. After April, the Indians relievers are only second to Oakland in the league in ERA at 3.24 and WHIP at 1.31. They are also in the top five in saves (8), strikeouts (84) and batting average-against (.222).
CC Lee, Vinnie Pestano and Blake Wood are the only Tribe relievers in 2014 to have an ERA over three.
John Axford has had a few ups and downs to start the year, but overall, he has proven to be effective as the new Tribe closer thus far racking up a league-leading eight saves in nine opportunities. The only real area of improvement needed is in the walks department. He has struck out nine in 10.2 innings, but also issued seven free passes.
Cody Allen allowed just his first earned runs of the year when Brandon Hicks hit a walk-off home run to complete a three-game sweep for the Giants. Other than that, he has stepped up and become the dominant set-up man the Indians and skipper Terry Francona hoped he would be. He currently is tied for fourth in the league in strikeouts with 16.
Probably the biggest unsung hero in the bullpen this season has been Bryan Shaw. Quietly, he has pitched 13.2 innings while allowing only three earned runs. He has also only walked three batters in that time and struck out 14, compiling a WHIP of only 0.95. He appears to have settled into the seventh inning role nicely.
A major area of improvement for the Indians bullpen so far this season has been its effectiveness against left-handed hitters. Marc Rzepczynski and newcomer Josh Outman have combined for an 0.97 ERA in such situations and have held southpaw hitters to a combined .182 batting average-against.
One of the more surprising stats for the bullpen in April is that even with the inconsistency of the starting rotation, Indians relievers have only logged 83.1 innings of work, which is the fifth fewest in the league.
The Bad - Carlos Santana/Hitting w/ RISP
The offensive struggles of Carlos Santana have been well-documented as he currently owns the third worst batting average among qualifying players in the major leagues at .151. The one saving grace amongst his struggles has been his plate discipline. He has drawn the fourth most walks amongst those same big league qualifiers with 22.
Last season, the Indians were among the better teams in the league when batting with runners in scoring position and scoring position with two outs. So far in 2014, the Tribe has been only the second worst team in the league at hitting with RISP (.220) ahead of the Astros and the worst team in the same situation with two outs (.136).
Will those numbers improve? Most likely just because of the law of averages and the length of the season, but Santana getting back on track at the plate will be key to their success moving forward. Having a cleanup hitter batting .151 will not accomplish anything no matter how many walks he draws.
It became clear during this last road trip that not even Michael Brantley and David Murphy can carry this offense forever. Maybe the arrival of Jose Ramirez in Cleveland in the wake of Jason Kipnis's injury can provide a spark.
The Ugly - The Defense
Probably the most compelling statistic from the Indians' first month of the season has been the team ERA vs. FIP. Their combined ERA is middle-of-the-pack in the league at 4.28, but their fielding-independent pitching (3.45) is tied with Detroit for second best in the AL.
The Indians defense has not only committed the most errors in the league (26), they have accounted for 17 unearned runs. The infield defense alone has commited 20 of those errors with, surprisingly, Yan Gomes leading the way with seven.
Last season, the Tribe finished fifth in the league with 98 errors. So far, their current pace of miscues puts them on pace for 150. Again, law of averages and the length of the season make that result unlikely, but as long as the errors are piling up, the harder it will be for these guys to relax. The same could be said for their struggles on offense.
Up next: Indians (11-17) vs. White Sox (14-15) @ Progressive Field. First pitch at 7:05 pm ET.
The Indians return to Cleveland in hopes that some home cooking can snap them out of their skid. Danny Salazar is coming off his best start of the season against San Francisco where he pitched seven innings while only allowing one run. He will take the mound against the White Sox on Friday. His first start against them in Chicago did not end well for him as he allowed five runs in three and two thirds innings.
Left-hander John Danks will match up against Salazar and the Tribe for the second time this season. He earned the win in that start allowing only three runs in six innings. He took the loss in his last outing against Tampa Bay allowing four runs in five and two thirds innings of work.
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Over the last 3 months (last 2 of 2013, first of 2014) he now has thrown 43.2 innings and has a 1.01 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, .176 BAA and 2.06 ERA.
He really turned it on after the All-Star break last year, was the Ubaldo of the pen last September.