November 26, 2014

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Indians commentary: It’s time to save the ship, Tito

Whether he liked it or not, Terry Francona was viewed as a savior when the Indians hired him in the offseason.

As a two-time world champion manager, Francona was brought aboard to change the landscape in Cleveland and rescue the Indians from insignificant, playoff-less oblivion.

Well, Tito, you’ve got some savin’ to do.

Francona’s Indians are in the midst of a substantial tailspin — losers of a season-high seven straight games after being swept by Detroit, and 15 of their last 19 — that could put an end to the exciting notion of contending for the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Cleveland’s hitters aren’t producing, its rotation isn’t pitching and its bullpen isn’t relieving. And — not surprisingly — the Indians aren’t winning.

Compounding matters big-time is that the Indians are trying to emerge from the abyss without the services of injured players Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez and Zach McAllister — two of them two-time All-Stars.

Perez certainly didn’t make things easier on Francona by getting charged with possession of marijuana Friday.

Is this whole season going up in smoke? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

If there’s anyone that can handle this sort of mess, the Indians say it’s Francona, a well-respected players manager who brings instant credibility when he walks into a big league clubhouse.

The Indians talked about contending while Manny Acta was the manager, but didn’t get serious until they fired Acta and hired Francona, providing their new manager with plenty of groceries from a rare offseason spending spree.

Well, right now, Francona and the Indians are in serious trouble.

A little side note here: Acta had better records — 34-28 and 32-30 — through 62 games with far less talent over his last two seasons in Cleveland.

Francona said he met briefly with the team in Cincinnati (May 27-28) but hasn’t felt the need to address his players again, saying he was a proponent of team meetings only when they are necessary.

“I don’t feel like yelling at the guys, if that’s what you mean,” Francona told a reporter prior to Sunday’s loss. “When I was young (managing in Philadelphia), I would be screaming, and the only person it helped was me.

“I don’t think anybody is happy with the results in here, but I don’t see any lack of effort.”

It’s tough to fault the Indians’ effort. They are in games … they’re just not winning many of them.

Already trailing the Tigers by 5½ games and closer to last place than first, the Indians have to turn it around quickly or call it another season that began promisingly, but ended in disappointment.

Francona is considered as good as it gets when it comes to managers. We’re going to find out how good he is over the next three-plus months.

Tiger time

Even if the Indians are able to turn things around, they still have to go through two-time defending Central Division champion Detroit, which is a formidable task.

“A couple things jump out,” Francona said of the Tigers. “One, every day they send a pitcher out there, he’s good. And then the middle of their order (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez) … it’s tough to get through that without getting nicked up. That’s what makes them so good.”

Francona has hefty praise for Cabrera, last year’s American League MVP, who entered Sunday batting .368 and leading the majors in practically every offensive category, including batting average, RBIs (67) and hits (89).

“He’s hitting in one of the worst hitters ballparks I’ve ever seen,” Francona said. “To be a power hitter here and to put up the numbers he has. Jog out to right-center. It’s a haul. And he doesn’t get any leg hits.

“So what he’s doing is unbelievable. If you’re a baseball fan, it’s awesome. If you’re trying to beat him, it’s not so good.”

Silver lining

One thing that could benefit the reeling Indians is their schedule the rest of the season.

Starting tonight in Texas, Cleveland plays just nine series (30 games) against teams with winning records, as opposed to 22 (70 games) against clubs with records under .500.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.