October 24, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
56°F
test

Chris Assenheimer: Indians fans, it might be time to panic

It might be time to panic, Tribe fans.

Yes, we’re a month and a half into the regular season, but the Indians, a playoff qualifier last year for the first time since 2007, sure don’t look as though they’re planning a repeat performance in 2014.

Sitting in last place in the Central Division — 8 1/2 games out — through Friday, the withering Wahoos have failed in practically every facet of the game out of the gate.

Cleveland’s offense, ranked third-to-last in the American League entering Saturday, has been inconsistent and largely unproductive, with projected contributors such as Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera struggling and all-star second baseman Jason Kipnis on the disabled list.

A team that produced a multitude of walk-off wins in 2013, has been atrocious in key situations this year, entering Saturday with just one walk-off victory and a .233 batting average with runners in scoring position — .164 with RISP and two outs.

Anyone following the Indians — and, the number is dwindling by the day — knows the defense has been even worse, with Cleveland sitting atop the majors in errors — 40 in 42 games through Friday — and on the bottom, with a .974 fielding percentage.

The Indians have even managed to put a negative spin on the only departments of the club that have shown positive signs.

In the pen, where the Indians have been solid for the most part, they’ve still had to replace free-agent acquisition John Axford with a closer by committee, thanks to the right-hander’s ongoing struggles to find the plate and keep the ball in the park.

Among the starting staff, the Indians have gotten multiple quality efforts from everyone — everyone except for suspected phenom Danny Salazar, who the Indians were expecting giant things from after a breakout late-season performance last year.

Cleveland’s starter in the AL wild-card game last October, now resides at Triple-A Columbus after struggling to a 1-4 record and 5.53 ERA in eight starts.

Needless to say, things have not begun well for the Indians — the league’s top wild-card team, which finished just a game behind Central Division Detroit in 2013.

Meanwhile, things have started swimmingly for the three-time defending division champion Tigers, who with a 6 1/2-game lead through Friday, appear poised to lay waste to a host of weak competitors in a notoriously lame division that includes one club above .500 (Detroit), one at .500 (Minnesota) and three others (Cleveland, Kansas City and Chicago) with losing records entering Saturday.

Can the Indians turn it around, as they did at so many points last season when they appeared dead in the water? Certainly. Do they look as though they are going to? I think that’s an easy answer, and not the one most Tribe fans envisioned when the season began.

Lindor time?

If you’d have told me three weeks ago that mega prospect Francisco Lindor would be making his major league debut before September, I’d have said you were nuts.

Now, the Indians might be crazy not to give him a shot before roster expansion during the final month of the regular season.

If they fall out of contention and the year is lost, why not give Lindor an early taste of the big leagues? Odds are good that if Cleveland is out of the race, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is in the last year of his contract, will be shopped around the majors for a potential trade.

Pretty sure we’ve seen enough of Jose Ramirez, who was promoted from Columbus to fill a roster spot when all-star second baseman Jason Kipnis went down with an injury. Why not make it Lindor the next time the Indians need a middle infielder?

Draft days

Though the MLB Draft (June 5) pales in comparison to the NFL or NBA, Indians fans still have reason for excitement. Cleveland has two first-round picks — No. 21 and a supplemental selection at No. 38.

With their first pick, Baseball America predicts the Indians will take Sean Newcomb, a left-handed pitcher out of the University of Hartford. Newcomb stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 240 pounds.

Here’s a look at the progress of some of the former first-round draft picks through Friday:

2013 — Outfielder Clint Frazier (fifth overall): .259 with a homer and eight RBIs in 27 games for Class A Lake County.

2012 — Outfielder Tyler Naquin (15th overall): .290 with a homer and 10 RBIs in 37 games for Double-A Akron.

2011 — Lindor (eighth overall): .292 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 37 games for Akron.

Harsh facts

The perception is that Swisher is a way better player than former Indians outfielder Coco Crisp, correct? He certainly makes a lot more money than Crisp — twice as much this year, actually, with Swisher set to earn $15 million to Crisp’s $7.5 million.

The reality is that Swisher entered this season as a career .256 hitter over nine years, while Crisp is at .272 over 11 seasons — three-plus with the Indians.

Swisher obviously has provided more power over the years, hitting at least 20 homers in each of his full seasons in the majors, though never driving in 100 runs. Crisp is no power hitter, but he did equal Swisher’s homer count in 2013, with 22, while driving in three more runs than Cleveland’s clubhouse leader.

Crisp is clearly the better defensive player and he also has a decided advantage in the stolen base department, where he has averaged 35-plus over the past four seasons.

If you want 10 more homers per season, then Swisher is your guy. If you want a better overall player, I think the choice is clear.

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

Like us on Facebook: