Inconsistently consistent is an odd way to sum up the first half of the season for the Cleveland Indians. But in this case, the shoe fits.
The Tribe is right where it needs to be as the team is in first place by 2.5 games in the American League Central after 87 games with a record of 47-40 at the All-Star break. On the other hand, it feels like the Indians should be much farther ahead especially with such a talented roster that includes five all stars.
But there are many bright spots as the Tribe looks to repeat as American League champions and make another run toward the World Series. This year the goal is to win it all and that’s the focus right now.
There are 75 games left for the Indians and they lead the surprising second place Minnesota Twins (45-43) and are three games up on Kansas City (44-43). Further back is Detroit (39-48) at eight games back and Chicago (38-49) at nine games behind.
The Indians have had modest winning streaks of five and six games each and yet they haven’t lost more than three games in row since the 2015 season. So the team is consistent in how they avoid longer losing streaks, but inconsistent in putting together prolonged periods of winning to open up a sizable divisional lead.
There have been many bright spots on the roster with only a few holes. With that said, I’m going to give a midseason review by general position, so here we go.
Outfielders (Grade A-)
The return of Michael Brantley has gone very well so far this season. He’s playing nearly everyday and is contributing as the team’s No. 3 hitter and was rewarded with a selection to the All-Star team. Brantley has played in 66 games and is slashing .304/.367/.440 (higher than his career averages of .293/.350/.422) with 17 doubles, 5 home runs and 37 RBI. The Indians continue to need Brantley to be great to be successful at the top of the lineup, rather than pretty good.
Bradley Zimmer has been everything the doctor could have ordered to fix the team’s center field defensive woes. He’s made diving catches, chased down fly balls with ease and thrown out seven runners. In 49 games, the rookie has slashed .285/.339/.450 and has surprisingly cut his K rate to about 28.4 percent, which is down from his minor league average of 30.6 percent.
Lonnie Chisenhall in right field is having a tremendous first-half and is slashing .305/.376/.578 in 64 games. In 187 ABs, Chisenhall has already hit 12 home runs and is only one home run away from his career season best of 13. He also has made a strong case to be an everyday player in right field and he’s actually hitting better against lefties than righties. His slash against righties in 166 plate appearance is .289./.343/.584 vs. .368/.489/.553 in 50 ABs against lefties. The only downside to his first half has been that Chisenhall is now on the DL for the third time and will open the second half of the season on it.
In 29 games and 74 ABs, Brandon Guyer hasn’t gotten off to the start he would have hoped. Injuries have hurt Guyer this season and he’s slashing just .197/.274/.288 with 1 home run and 6 RBI. And of course, he’s been hit by four pitches. If Zimmer and Chisenhall continue to play well, Guyer may see sparse playing time in the second half.
Abraham Almonte in 37 games and 100 ABs is slashing nearly the same as his career averages .240/.333./.350 with 1 home run and 6 RBI. He’s getting on base at a decent clip, but only has one steal. Daniel Robertson provided a brief spark for the Tribe in 32 games and 80 ABs before he was sent down to Columbus late last month. Tyler Naquin started the season in Cleveland, but was soon optioned to Triple-A after just six games played and 17 ABs.
Austin Jackson is expected to be out of action until the end of the month. But he’s done a nice job as a role player slashing .304/.383/.500 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 102 ABs.
The arrival of Zimmer and the good play of Brantley and Chisenhall have made this unit a top strength of the team. If Zimmer continues to improve and perhaps even eventually move into a leadoff role in the lineup, he could have a big impact moving forward and into the playoffs.
Infielders (Grade B)
Let’s start with All-Star 3B Jose Ramirez, who was voted in by fans as the starter in the Midseason Classic. Ramirez continues to prove that his great 2016 season wasn’t a fluke and he’s even better this year. With a slash of .332/.388/.601 along with 17 home runs, 27 doubles and 48 RBI, the versatile Ramirez has moved himself into the thick of the American League MVP discussion. He’s basically done everything expected of him in 2017 and more.
Shortstop Francisco Lindor got off to a nice start and has hit 14 home runs already this season and 25 doubles. Not bad considering his career high in home runs is 15 and the most doubles he’s hit is 30. But it seems to be coming at a price and he seems to be in a funk at the end of the first half. His on base percentage of .312 is about 33 points lower than his career average of .345. His batting average also is down to .252 about 50 points lower than last season when hit hit .301. He’s still a great shortstop, but something just seems a bit different this year.
Jason Kipnis has had a poor first half of the season and never has really gotten on track after he was on the DL to begin the season. He is again on the DL with a right hamstring strain and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. He’s slashing .232/.292/.402 – a line that is among the worst of his career. Essentially, Kipnis has had a tough time putting it together in 2017.
Erik Gonzalez will now get some significant playing time while Kipnis recovers. He’s appeared in 23 games and has had 52 plates appearances. The rookie is slashing an impressive .300/.314/.480 with 2 home runs and has made some fine defensive plays around the infield. He’ll get a decent look with Kipnis out and will be asked to be a contributor for the time being. This is his chance to make an impression.
Carlos Santana is playing first base almost exclusively except for an occasional spell by Edwin Encarnacion and even Chisenhall. Santana who can be a free agent after this season isn’t exactly having a good year leading up to that. His power is down with only 10 home runs in 320 ABs and his OBP is a career-low at .340 and his slugging percentage of .409 is below his career average of .441.
Giovanny Urshela has appeared in two games with just five AB. He might have a larger role depending on how long Kipnis is out and the makeup of the roster.
Despite the spectacular season by Ramirez and an average season by Lindor, Kipnis and Santana dragged down this unit.
Designated hitter (Grade B)
I’ll just put Encarnacion here in this category by himself. After a slow start that continued through much of May, Eddie has picked it up. With 18 HRs and 48 RBI in 85 games, he’s on pace to hit more than 30 home runs and drive in around 100 RBI. His slash line of .263/.374./.481 is about in line with his career averages. He can carry the team if he gets super hot in the second half.
Catchers (Grade C)
Yan Gomes has had a better season this year than in 2016. But considering how badly he played last year, Gomes was likely to improve his play. He’s slashing .222/.315/.365 in 2017. His OBP is higher than his career average of .290, but his slugging is about 50 points lower. Gomes still calls a good game and his defensive abilities remain among the best.
Roberto Perez is now in his fourth season with the Tribe. At age 28, he’s probably not going to improve much more in his career. He’s the definition of a backup catcher in the sense that he handles his position well despite less playing time and his offense is secondary. He’s slashing just .178/.264/.252.
The position of catcher is usually more geared toward good defense and that’s what these two provide, but offer not much on the offensive side.
Starting pitchers (Grade B-)
Kluber has once again been among the most dominating pitchers in baseball despite missing about one month of the season. The All-Star is 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA and racked up five consecutive games with 10 or more Ks. In a nutshell, Kluber is having another Cy Young worthy season.
Carrasco might be having his best season yet with a 10-3 record and 3.44 ERA in 104.2 innings headed into the break. He’s averaging 9.8 Ks per 9 innings and continues to put up quality starts. The Indians will need him to keep it up and hopefully carry it through the playoffs. Carrasco could be a difference maker in the playoffs.
Bauer remains an inconsistent starter for the Tribe with a 7-7 record and 5.24 ERA in 17 starts. He is striking out a career-best 10 batters per 9 innings but has given up 14 home runs.
Tomlin isn’t exactly having a good season with a 5-9 record and 5.90 ERA. He continues to give up home runs (17) in 93 innings and at times he’s looked downright awful. His quality starts are few and far between. He’s in danger of losing his spot in the rotation in the second half.
Clevinger has made 11 starts and has held his own so far. He’s 5-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 60 innings pitched. He seems more comfortable now that his role is more defined and could potentially grow into the team’s third starter.
Danny Salazar is having a nightmarish season in 10 starts and lost his spot in the rotation and was moved to the bullpen before he was placed on the DL. He’s now pitching to minor leaguers in an attempt to get his mojo back. If he can, Salazar would be a welcomed addition to the staff.
This unit is great when Kluber and Carrasco pitches, but after that it can be anyone’s guess on how they’ll perform. So far, it’s been more good than bad overall as a starting rotation. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Indians make a trade before the season ends to strengthen the rotation.
Bullpen (Grade A)
I’ll begin with closer Cody Allen (0-4), who continues to be great and a team player who doesn’t just pitch the ninth inning to pick up a save. He’s 16-for-17 in save opportunities in 35 games and 34.1 innings with 49 Ks and his ERA of 2.62 matches his career average.
Andrew Miller (3-2, 1.42 ERA) might just be the most dominant lefty reliever in MLB. He could be the closer for any team, if desired. But with the Tribe, he pitches in the most crucial situations in a game and does it mostly with ease, typically blowing away hitters with his devastating slider and blazing fastball. Miller has appeared in 37 games and pitched 44.1 innings with 67 Ks.
Bryan Shaw (2-3, 2.81 ERA) also is having an outstanding season. He’s already pitched in 42 games and thrown 41.1 innings. Shaw continues to receive criticism from fans who seem to forget his entire body of work.
Zach McAllister (1-0, 2.56 ERA) has quietly put together one of his best seasons to date. He’s given up just one home run in 30 games and 38.2 innings. He’s struck out 46 and walked 14 and for the most part is a reliable choice for Terry Francona in a middle relief situation.
Nick Goody (1-1, 2.16 ERA) in 31 games and 33.1 innings, Boone Logan (1-0, 5.30 ERA) in 35 games and 18.1 innings and Dan Otero (1-0, 3.41 ERA) in 31 games and 34.1 innings get the bulk of their work in low pressure or matchup situations. Shawn Armstrong (1-0, 4.26 ERA has appeared in 16 games and pitched in 19 innings and is currently pitching for Columbus.
Overall, the bullpen has been a strength of this team and mostly reliable. Miller, Allen and Shaw are among the most formidable Big Three relievers in MLB.