The 2012 Ohio Cup, Round 2: Cleveland Indians vs. Cincinnati Reds

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For the first two months of the 2012 season, the Indians looked like one of the best teams in the American League, if not all of baseball. Since then, it’s been a completely different story. When they hit, they don’t pitch. When they pitch, they don’t hit. Then there are the games with they do both relatively well and the defense falls apart. Needless to say, they’re having a rough go of things right now and they’re about to get a whole lot tougher.

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You see, the Indians welcome the Reds to Progressive Field for a three game series starting tonight. For those of you with short memories, the Tribe was swept by the Reds in a three-game series down in Cincinnati just last week. They come into play leading the NL Central by four games over the Pirates with an overall record of 38-27.  They’re also red hot, having won seven out of their last 10 games, and have been one of the best teams in all of baseball since mid-May. Basically, they seem to be on the opposite track of the Indians right now.

If the Indians want to flip the script on the Reds this week they need to pitch better. In their past two series against the Reds and Pirates, the Indians’ pitching staff has surrendered 42 runs total. That’s an average of seven runs per game—including the Justin Masterson-led shutout—and it isn’t going to get the job done. The most perplexing part of all is that the Tribe’s pitching slump has effected the entire staff with the exception of Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez. Right now it doesn’t seem like Manny Acta knows what he is going to get out of any of his other starters or his relievers.

The stats help support this. The Indians now find themselves ranked 28th in ERA, 26th in walks, 22nd in batting average against, and 27th in WHIP. Still not convinced? How about the fact that the Indians are also 28th in strikeouts per nine innings and 29th in strikeout to walk ratio? Everyone wants to go on and on about how it’s the offense that’s dragging the team down, and in some games that’s true. But it’s the pitching staff that is continually letting this team down, especially of late. Right now, the only pitching staffs in the game that are worse than the Indians are the Twins, Rockies, and Astros.

That’s not to say that the Indians’ offense doesn’t also need to turn things up a notch. They’re getting into a bad habit of out-hitting their opposition but scoring fewer runs. That’s indicative of poor situational hitting. They’re getting runners on and into scoring position, but they’ve lost the ability to bring them home. Some of it is bad luck, but a lot of it is poor at-bats and trying to do too much. They also aren’t sustaining rallies by stringing together hits. Instead they’re relying on productive outs and RBI groundouts. The “big inning” has become something of an urban legend at this point.

So are the Indians really as good as they appeared after sweeping the Tigers back in May? All signs appear to point to no, but it’s highly doubtful that they’re really as bad as they’ve looked so far this year. The truth is this team probably falls somewhere between those two extremes. However, they can’t keep playing the way they have been of late and a big series against the Reds could help get them back on the right track.

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