There were a number of question marks coming into this "retooling" year for the Indians, many of which revolved around the pitching staff. Would Fausto Carmona return to top form? Could Jake Westbrook pitch effectively after a nearly two-year absence? How would the youngsters Masterson, Huff, and Talbot pitch? What about the bullpen?
After only nine games, though, pitching is no longer the pressing question. The new question is: When will the Tribe start hitting the ball?
The Indians sit at or very near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. In short, their offense has been, well, offensive.
Tribe hitters are dead last in Major League Baseball in batting average, hitting .211 over the first three series. They are 13th in the American League in total at-bats and last in hits (63), total bases (96), and on-base percentage (.303). They are next-to-last in the AL in total at-bats, slugging percentage, and OPS. Their power numbers are right at the bottom, where they rank 12th in the AL in home runs and runs batted in and 13th in extra-base hits. They have struck out the third most of any team in the AL. These anemic numbers have translated into a paltry 29 runs in nine games, trailing only Seattle and Baltimore among AL teams.
Aside from right-fielder Shin-Soo Choo, Indians hitters have had trouble reaching base. Scoring runs starts at the top of the line-up, and new lead-off man Asdrubel Cabrera has a scant .244 on-base percentage and has struck out eight times versus only one walk—unacceptable numbers for a lead-off hitter. The problem is, nobody is doing any better. Former lead-off hitter Grady Sizemore, already struggling with injuries, is hitting .241 and has struck out 11 times in his 29 at-bats. Other possible candidates for the lead-off spot, Michael Brantley and Luis Valbuena, are both hitting under the Mendoza line.
Aside from Austin Kearns and Choo, all other Indians are hitting at or below .250 on the young season. Of note, production from the catcher position is virtually non-existent. Lou Marson and Mike Redmond are a combined 3 for 30. Their defense has been underwhelming to say the least, so we can't even say, "Well, what they lack in defense they make up for at the plate." Carlos Santana couldn't possibly do much worse.
Manny Acta and hitting coach Jon Nunnally need to figure something out quickly. Acta has shown that he is patient with his players, so it's unlikely that he'll make any drastic changes to the batting order. Patience could very well be the key. Indians hitters have been taking opposing pitchers deep into counts and fouling off a lot of pitches, so Acta could just believe that the hits will start coming with quality at-bats.
Patience is a virtue they say. But even this virtue has its limits before it turns into vice. If Cabrera doesn't get it going soon, Acta must make a change at the top of the lineup.
Who will replace him, though? This roster doesn't have dynamic, Kenny Loftonesque players. With his speed, Brantley is one candidate for the job. Despite his slow start this year, he hit .313 in 28 games last season, so we know he can put the ball in play. Moving Cabrera to the two spot and dropping Sizemore to fifth could lead to more runs being generated. Grady hasn't been terrorizing pitchers this year, but having him behind Travis Hafner would provide a bit of protection for the Indians' DH.
Mid-April is hardly the time to start panicking. It is, however, a very good time to take account of the team's weaknesses and address them before the time to panic finally rolls around. The pitching has been solid thus far, but no matter how stellar the staff is, teams can't win when they don't score runs. And teams don't score runs when they don't put people on-base. The Indians need to figure that out and revive this moribund offense before the season gets out of hand.
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