The Cleveland Indians were pre-season darlings and a fashionable pick to win the pennant, even landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The jinx was in full effect however, as the team stumbled out to a 7-14 start, and now sit in late July in last place with a 45-52 record. What happened?
While there may be some Sports Illustrated jinx or the Sports Gods really do hate the city of Cleveland, the fact is the Indians have not played good baseball in any facet of the game except for starting pitching. The Indians came into this season with a lineup featuring many good young hitters in the prime of their career, but the result has been the fourth-worst offense in runs scored despite the most walks and fifth-best on base percentage. The team has suffered a complete power outage with only the White Sox hitting fewer home runs in the league. The offense has struggled all season despite a career best season out of second baseman Jason Kipnis.
First baseman Carlos Santana has seen his power decline, off-season acquisition Brandon Moss has already reached the 100 strikeout plateau, and outfielder Michael Bourn has been benched after an awful start to the year. The team demoted third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall after a poor start, and has Nick Swisher back on the disabled list with knee problems. Former Silver Slugger winner Yan Gomes has struggled to hit after suffering injuries this season and outfielder David Murphy is hitting .182 this month and could be dealt during this series.
The Indians are a poor defensive team with -13 Defensive Runs Saved, but they have improved with the promotion of slick-fielding rookie shortstop Francsico Lindor. Carlos Santana, Ryan Raburn, David Murphy, and Brandon Moss are all remain big defensive liabilities however. The Indians are a good baserunning team with the second-most Baserunning Runs in the league, and have a good stolen base success rate of 75.9% on 58 attempts.
Corey Kluber has been one of the toughest-luck pitchers in the league this year with a 5-11 record and 3.59 ERA despite a 2.54 FIP. He is fourth among all pitchers in fWAR, and he is one of three Indians starters in the top ten in baseball in strikeout rate. The Royals have already beaten Kluber three times this year, scoring 15 runs against him in those starts. The enigmatic Trevor Bauer is still striking out hitters but has struggled with his command, leading the league in walks with the third-highest walk rate in baseball. He has allowed more home runs this year too, and has a 6.82 ERA over his last six starts.
Cody Anderson is a 24-year old rookie who was not on prospect radar screens much before the year, but skyrocketed through the system with a 1.89 ERA in AA and AAA combined. He has shown pinpoint control in the big leagues, walking just three hitters in five starts, but he was finally roughed up his last time out against the Brewers with ten hits and four runs in less than three innings of work.
The Indians have a middle-of-the-road bullpen, although they are second among relievers in strikeout rate. Cody Allen has converted 20-of-22 save opportunties and 14.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings, but has given up runs in three of his last four outings and has a pedestrian 3.57 ERA overall. Right-hander Zach McAllister and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski have both been better than the ERAs suggest, with very high strikeout rates. Outside of that trio, the Cleveland bullpen is very hittable.
The Indians have been a poor home team this year, going just 19-30 in front of light crowds in Cleveland. They have dropped five of nine against the Royals, a team they now trail by 14 games. The Royals should be energized by the acquisition of Johnny Cueto, but the rest of the starting pitchers still need to step up, because many of them are pitching to keep their job.