The Cleveland Indians make their long awaited return to Progressive Field tonight after an impressive 7-2 road trip. In fact, the Tribe played so well on their nine-game trip west that many of the worries that had crept into fans’ minds have been squashed. Playing like the contenders many thought the Indians would be in 2012 will have that effect on a fan base. They’ll have the opportunity to keep the positive momentum when they return home to face off against the Kansas City Royals in a three-game series starting tonight.
In sweeping the Kansas City Royals and taking two of three from both the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, the Tribe’s long-dormant offense finally showed up. The Indians now rank seventh and fourth in baseball in runs scored and on base percentage, respectively. They also raised their team batting average more than 70 points are showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
The pitching, though not spectacular, was more than adequate to get the job done. Josh Tomlin was amazing and even Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez answered the call, but the less-than-stellar outings from both Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson were not what we expected. If the rotation can its their collective act together, this team might turn into an unstoppable force.
As for the Royals, things couldn’t be going any worse for many people’s 2012 sleeper team. Instead of making a positive step forward from a successful 2011, the Royals have regressed (and then some) and have started the year off with a whimper rather than a bang. They come into Progressive Field having lost eleven in a row and their first nine home games of the season to fall to 3-13.
What has gone so terribly wrong so far for the Royals? They got off to an okay start against Los Angeles and Oakland, but the Indians’ sweep sent them reeling and they haven’t been able to recover. The Royals faced off against a very tough Detroit team and then the Blue Jays had their way with them. This is a very flawed team, or at least that’s how they’ve looked in the early stages of 2012.
First and foremost, the pitching has been a disaster. The Royals weren’t expected to challenge the Indians or Tigers in terms of starting rotation and bullpen dominance, but no one thought they’d be this bad. The staff ranks 26th in ERA (4.68), 28th in WHIP (1.46), and 25th in batting average against (.266). They can’t get anyone out and are doing a terrible job of limiting the damage once things start going south. We saw that firsthand when the Indians were in Kansas City.
Then there is the Royals’ offense, which has been downright offensive. As a team, Kansas City is hitting .254/.315/.408 and their 57 runs scored ranks 25th in baseball. The Royals can get runners on base, but they’ve done an awful job of bringing them around to score. To make matters worse, the Royals aren’t getting the type of performances they expected out of the young core of their lineup. Alex Gordon (.177/.282/.306) and Eric Hosmer (.203/.282/.422), expected to be among Kansas City’s best hitters haven’t been able to get anything going. If they can’t turn things around the Royals will continue to struggle.
The lack of hitting and the shoddy pitching have resulted in the second-worst run differential in baseball, tied with Boston at -24. Only the Twins are worse with a -28 differential. Is any of this fixable? Probably. Things have a way of averaging out in the end so the Royals probably aren’t as bad as they’ve looked thus far. However, the Indians have the chance to bury a team many thought would threaten them for second place in the AL Central. As the old adage goes, “You can’t win a pennant in April, but you can lose it.”
Trivia: The Royals have lost 11 consecutive games. Who holds the record for most consecutive losses in a single season? (Answer at the end)