Cleveland Indians: 6 Biggest Barriers Standing in the Way of a Division Title
The Cleveland Indians are now a handful of games into the season and are sitting at a lackluster 3-5. The season started off fantastic with two solid outings from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez but has fizzled since. Some might agree that the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the starting pitching, while others might point to scheduling or injuries.
Whatever the case may be, the Indians have done a terrible job of showcasing the talent they hoped they would have to win the AL Central this year. However, we must remember that we are a mere eight games into a 162-game season. The alarms should not be sounding in your household yet, but I would check the batteries just in case.
Baseball is a volatile sport, and each team always has a chance for that improbable run. If the Cleveland Indians are planning on doing it this year, they'll have some serious barriers standing in their way.
Carlos Carrasco was only on the Opening Day roster because he had to serve a six-game suspension from 2011. Had Scott Kazmir not injured his right ribcage muscle playing catch, Carrasco would probably not have made this list. In fact, on Wednesday, the team demoted him to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, but this probably won't be the last we see of him this season.
Quickly becoming known as a head-hunter, Carrasco threw at Kevin Youkilis’ head Tuesday night immediately after Robinson Cano homered off of him. The move got him ejected by home plate umpire Jordan Baker.
Sounds a bit like deja vu, right?
You might remember Carrasco doing almost the same thing to Billy Butler back in 2011 after Melky Cabrera took him for a grand slam.
Starting pitching has to be solid, consistent and composed. A hot head like Carrasco is going to do nothing but wear down your bullpen and cost you games. Hopefully, Scott Kazmir can reclaim the fifth spot in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list.
I know it seems like I might be picking on the starting rotation—and I am to a certain degree—but it's not without good reason. You won’t hear me say anything about Justin Masterson or Zach McAllister, but the other three weren't so lucky.
Jimenez shined bright in his season debut against the Toronto Blue Jays, throwing six strong innings and allowing only one earned run while striking out six.
However, as I mentioned before, starting pitching relies on consistency.
When the Indians returned to Cleveland this week Jimenez didn’t even make it out of the fourth inning after giving up seven earned runs.
A lot of people hoped that the Indians were getting the Jimenez who put up a 56-45 record in 845 innings with the Colorado Rockies. Instead, they received a pitcher with control issues who has a hard time putting his team in a position to win games.
If anyone knows about patience, it is Cleveland fans. Unfortunately, Jimenez has been wearing it thin since his arrival.
Did you think I was done with starting pitching? Brett Myers got shelled by the Toronto Blue Jays in his debut, and every Cleveland Indians fan hoped it was just a fluke.
Not the case.
Myers came in for the ejected Carrasco on Tuesday night only to pick up where he left off in Toronto. In 5.1 innings of work, he gave up seven earned runs and three home runs. Also, Myers had spent his time on the hump as a reliever last season, so you would expect him to be comfortable in the position.
His earned run average now sits at a lofty 12.19 after only two games. I’m sure the Indians were glad Myers was able to relieve Carrasco without running their bullpen ragged, but his first two appearances should have Indians fans worried.
I don’t think I need to explain that when you're sitting in the dugout instead of rounding the bases, your run totals will suffer.
This could be a big barrier for any team to surpass, but the Indians know far too well how quickly injuries can derail a team. They lived it for years while watching Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner play hopscotch between the disabled list and the active roster.
So far, 2013 hasn’t been easier for the Tribe.
Kazmir and veteran Jason Giambi were the first victims put on the disabled list, and now, after the first week of the season, they have company.
Catchers Lou Marson and Carlos Santana were beat up this week behind the dish. Marson suffered a stiff neck after a collision at home plate against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, landing him on the disabled list. Santana sustained an injury to his thumb while catching during the home opener.
Marson's stint on the disabled list should last fewer than two weeks, while Santana should only miss a couple of days. Even though these aren't major injuries, it still shows just how fast and devastating injuries can kill a team's chances.
This is probably the biggest barrier of them all. The defending AL Central champions only got stronger this offseason. They not only have Victor Martinez back after an ACL injury sidelined him for the entire 2012 season, but they also have the reigning Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera.
If that wasn’t enough, they have arguably the best pitcher in baseball with Justin Verlander. Oh, and we can't forget the power-hitting Prince Fielder too.
It seems the only hope the Indians have to overtake the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central crown is to hope the Tigers' bullpen fails them early and often.
So far, so good.
Their closer-by-committee system hasn’t been working the best with Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit handling the duties, and the future doesn't look bright.
How bad is it?
They recently re-signed former closer Jose Valverde to a minor league contract.