MLB: Five Things the Cleveland Indians Need to Contend After the Break

Evan VogelContributor IIIJuly 12, 2012

MLB: Five Things the Cleveland Indians Need to Contend After the Break

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    At 44-41 in the All-Star break, the Cleveland Indians are positioned to battle the first place Chicago White Sox and third place Detroit Tigers for the AL Central crown over the next 77 games. Sitting just three games back, the Indians are in a nice spot when the season resumes on Friday.

    The first 11-games after the break are against pretty tough AL East foes, at Toronto (three games), at Tampa (four games) and at home against Baltimore (four games). The Indians are just 7-11 against teams from the AL East, but those 11-games are very important, because they go on to play the Tigers (six times), the Twins (six times) and the Royals (three times). Those 15-games will go a long way in determining where the Tribe will settle within the division.

    So aside from winning more games than the division-rival Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, what does the club need to do to win and compete in the AL Central? 

    I'm glad you asked...

Will the Real Carlos Santana Please Stand Up?

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    Remember that guy that posted a .351 on-base percentage while ripping 35 doubles and 27 home runs in 2011? That same guy has a .339 on-base percentage with 13 doubles and five home runs so far in 2012.

    Carlos Santana was given an extension after the 2011 season for five-years, $21 million, and a 2017 option for $12 million. It was an excellent contract for the youngster, giving him financial security, as the Tribe protected themselves from the sometimes dangerous arbitration years.

    That said, Santana hasn't really blossomed like almost everyone thought he would to this point in the season.

    The lineup would be dynamic with a Carlos Santana player hitting at a better rate. Due to his number and his great hitting ability out of the catching position, Santana's .675 OPS leaves him longing for the unreachable Victor Martinez jock-strap that he can't seem to carry right now.

    There is light at the end of the tunnel for Santana to reach expectations or to at least improve in 2012. Santana's BABIP has always been low: a career .266 BABIP, the same as his 2012 BABIP. If the "average" BABIP is .300, Santana should see a statistical bump in the second half of the 2012 season.

    With his ability to get on base, throw out runners (36%), and drive the ball (64 extra-base hits in 2011), Santana is a huge part of the Indians' future.

    For the sake of the organization and the fans, lets hope that he finds his groove soon.

April-Version of Derek Lowe...Come Back!

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    On June 1, I wrote an article titled "Ways the Indians Can Stop the Slide", where I said that the Indians should trade Derek Lowe. My main point in doing so was this:

    "Lowe has made ten starts and has a 3.25 ERA over 61 innings, posting a 6-3 record. Lowe's statistics show that he really hasn't been as good as his results, as his FIP is 4.01 and his xFIP is 4.37. His K:BB is 18:18, and his strikeout rate is the lowest of his career."

    Well since June 1, Lowe is 2-3, with a 6.20 ERA over 40.2 innings, a 16:13 K:BB and a 1.72 WHIP.

    I would like to humbly declare my brilliance through the use of statistics at this moment.

    So for the guy who said "I feel dumber after reading this. I guess you would like to see the Indians ship away Santana and Kipnis too?" and the guy who said "Why on earth would you want to trade Lowe, the only true veteran presence we have in the starting rotation?"...here is where I gloat.

    Surely, the Indians don't have the rotation depth to replace Lowe, but he has very little value to both them and every other team, especially with the way he has been pitching his last seven starts.

    Are the Indians going to give Jeanmar Gomez his rotation spot? Please...

    Derek Lowe of April (4-1, 2.27 ERA in six starts), where have you gone?

    With the veteran that Lowe is, pitching the way that he has, who needs him?

    Maybe he can look to Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez for guidance, as they were a combined 4-5 with a 2.41 ERA over ten starts in June.

    Regardless, if the Indians are going to win, they need Lowe to get into veteran-presence, playoff experience mode. Now.

A Bullpen

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    A bullpen must be more than two to three solid arms.

    The Indians have struggled to find the pieces to surround the two primary pieces, closer Chris Perez and set-up man Vinnie Pestano. Joe Smith has been very good too, but what else is there?

    Esmil Rogers has been very effective since he was plucked off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, posting a 2.03 ERA in 11 games with an 18:1 K:BB in 13.1 innings.

    Can he be the next piece to the puzzle, or will he fall apart like Nick Hagadone did from June on, when he had a 14.00 ERA over nine innings from June 1 on, and a 2.21 ERA over 16.1 innings prior to June?

    Jeremy Accardo has been solid, posting a 3.47 ERA in 18 games and 23.1 innings. He and Rogers have both been in mop-up roles, so with the struggles of the other pieces, it is possible that these two get the ball more.

    With Rafael Perez injured and Tony Sipp struggling (5.65 ERA in 34 games), the Indians need another left-handed relief pitcher. Scott Barnes has been up and down, also struggling (7.71 ERA in five games, 7.0 innings).

    With the Cincinnati Reds possessing Sean Marshall and Aroldis Chapman at the back-end of their bullpen, they could deal Bill Bray, especially with a crowded bullpen with Nick Masset coming back.

    Regardless, Acta and company need to figure out how to use Sipp if they don't get another left-hander.  His .946 OPS allowed against right-handed hitters in 56 at-bats is terrible compared to his .577 OPS allowed against left-handed hitters in 53 at-bats. He is just a lefty-specialist, guys.

    Just a note:

    Pestano, Perez and Smith:

    2.73 ERA over 105.2 innings with a 107:36 K:BB

    All others in the bullpen this season:

    6.28 ERA over 123.1 innings with a 131:61 K:BB

    Lord help the Cleveland Indians if Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano or Joe Smith get hurt or become inconsistent.

Hit Left-Handed Pitching

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    The Cleveland Indians are last in the American League and 29th in MLB (30 teams) for average against left-handed pitchers in 2012. Their team slash of .222/.308/.354 is horrid. There is a severe limitation to this issue due to the inability to turn over an entire roster on July 12.

    The Indians have been rumored to be in on Carlos Quentin and Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres and Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs. I also mentioned Franklin Gutierrez as a good fit in a previous article.

    Some of the Indians' every day players have been miserable against left-handed starters:

    Shin-Soo Choo: .204/.328/.327 in 98 at-bats

    Jack Hannahan: .157/.271/.235 in 51 at-bats

    Travis Hafner: .171/.327/.463 in 41 at-bats

    Carlos Santana (switch-hitter): .216/.348/.257 in 74 at-bats

    Jason Kipnis: .219/.295/.325 in 114 at-bats

    Casey Kotchman: .232/.303/.362 in 69 at-bats

    Shelley Duncan (the lefty masher?): .224/.338/.433 in 67 at-bats

    No wonder the Indians are 9-16 against left-handed starters.

    With the White Sox possessing Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and, potentially, John Danks in their rotation, the Indians are in trouble. Management needs to get moving on this issue or a very quick fade, similar to 2011, is on tap in 2012.

Decide What They Are Now

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    There are less than three weeks left before the MLB trade deadline. That period consists of 19 days and 18 games before the roster is basically set for the remaining schedule.

    Based on the issues discussed before, management and ownership can't wait to figure out whether the team will be buyers or sellers.

    The Indians played it cheap this past offseason, waiting until the middle of April to sign Johnny Damon, going with Jack Hannahan and Casey Kotchman at the corners and hoping for the best in left field with Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham before Damon's arrival.

    If they are going to matter on July 31, now is the time to act. If they are planning on not taking any actions and hoping that the current roster will get them there, they may as well start dumping guys now.

    The current roster isn't a playoff team.

    Even if they were, would they compete against the Angels, Red Sox, Rays, or Tigers in a one-game playoff when those teams can run out a Chris Sale, Jered Weaver, David Price or Justin Verlander in the new wild card format to get into the playoffs?

    If it is Sale or Price, you can put your house down that they lose, considering that they are dominant left-handers.

    If ownership and management have any ambitions to be contenders, they need to make a deal right now. No more of this waiting for the market to work.

    Think about the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008.

    The Brewers acquired C.C. Sabathia on July 7, 2008 from the Indians. Sabathia went 4-0 in five starts with a 1.81 ERA from July 8 through July 28.

    You think those four wins didn't matter much? The Brewers won the NL wild card in 2008 by one game over the New York Mets.

    The time to act is now. Otherwise, the Indians may as well pack it in.

Conclusion

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    Sitting three games back is not the end of the world.

    However, a club must make some changes when it has such glaring faults, especially if it is to make up the difference.

    The Indians have glaring faults. Weak bullpen, a lack of rotation depth, an inability to hit left-handed pitching and several under-performing talents.

    Right now is a time of need for the Cleveland Indians.

    To contend, the Tribe needs several things to happen, including players to perform up to their abilities, players to perform above their abilities and hope for injuries to not be a major factor in the second half.

    You can't count on any of those things, though.

    To contend, the Indians must be pro-active. If management isn't making calls right now, they are not doing their job. The sooner they make potential deals—whether acquiring pieces or dealing them—the better.