August 30, 2014

Elyria
Mostly sunny
89°F
test

Indians: Tribe still standing but doesn’t look like playoff contender

I know the Indians are still in the race for a postseason spot — and at 7 1/2 games back through Friday — are even still alive in the Central Division title hunt. But it sure doesn’t feel like it.

As the 46-46 record entering Saturday’s mid-afternoon affair with the Chicago White Sox indicates, the Indians have been an average team throughout the first half of the season — i.e. not a playoff team.

And the mediocrity has permeated nearly every phase of the game.

A rotation that was expected to be headlined by “ace” Justin Masterson and up-and-coming phenom Danny Salazar, has instead been led by unheralded right-hander Corey Kluber and a handful of young pitchers — Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and T.J. House.

That’s made for a pretty average starting staff, one that ranks below average in the American League with a 4.55 ERA (13th among 15 teams).

The offense, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the AL with a .256 batting average through Friday, has been held back by a lack of production from pretty much every component in a mega-starless lineup — most notably, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis.

But because the Indians have seen the emergence of All-Star Michael Brantley and a surprising surge from third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, and they don’t rely on a handful to carry the weight, they’ve been able to tread water.

As anyone who has watched this team can attest, Cleveland’s defense has been deplorable — laughable on far too many occasions. But that’s been cancelled out to a point by a top-shelf bullpen for much of the season, a relief corps that has had to endure the deposition of free-agent closer John Axford shortly into the year.

It’s all added up to a pretty mediocre stretch as we head into the All-Star break on Monday.

Some might say that with all things considered the Indians are fortunate to be in any postseason race, let alone still alive in the Central Division, where three-time defending champion Detroit has allowed them to hang around.

Those people would be correct. The Indians are fortunate to still have something to play for in the second half.

But they do, and as they displayed all last season — Cleveland’s first first playoff year since 2007 — they are are a resilient bunch.

The Indians are still standing despite injuries to key players — Michael Bourn, Kipnis, Swisher, Masterson and Zach McAllister — and performance issues from nearly everyone on the roster.

That alone is something to celebrate, though it’s not enough going to lead any parades down Carnegie Ave. and Ontario Street.

That scene is still a possibility, with plenty of time to turn things around.

Masterson has to come off the disabled list and at least come close to the durable and reliable frontline starter he has been. The Indians have to continue to get front-line efforts from Kluber and effective outings from others as well.

Cleveland clearly has to clean up its defense. The Indians don’t have to lead the majors in fielding percentage, but they can’t be last.

The offense has to perform on a more consistent basis, with slumping position players such as Swisher, Santana, Kipnis and Cabrera producing way more than they have to this point.

Simply put, the Indians have to play better than they have through the first 92 games.

That’s not out of the question, but as we’ve seen through the first half of the season, it’s been a tall order.

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

Like us on Facebook: