Yesterday, Lewie argued that it’s too soon for Indians fans to panic about the team’s slow start. In the spirit of joining Lewie in his optimism (and because I have tickets to today’s game), here are five more reasons why I’m not too worried about the Tribe.
1. Justin Masterson: He’s allowed just one earned run in thirteen innings so far. Most importantly, Masterson has shown a knack for getting the one big out that turns a 3-2 loss into a 2-1 win. Even at his best in 2011, that was lacking. If Masterson keeps pitching like this, even our worst streaks have a good chance of ending every fifth day. It also means that one more decent pitcher would make the Indians a .500 team; two more would make them a real contender.
2. Depth: When guys began to struggle last year, there was no other option, so we ended up with the Johnny Damon Farewell Tour and wondering what Manny Acta saw in Derek Lowe that we were missing. This year, there are at least nine starting pitchers and as many as ten relievers between Cleveland and Columbus who could appear in a game without causing me to switch the channel. Scott Kazmir will be in the rotation soon. If Brett Myers continues to struggle, we will see Trevor Bauer again. Nobody has even talked about Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he has been solid in Columbus. We may go through a couple of weeks of auditions before Francona decides who he can count on, but by the end of April he will find at least four guys who can get through six innings.
Same thing on offense. If Jason Kipnis needs to sit for a while, Mike Aviles can do the job. There are decent options everywhere but catcher in case of injury or slump. The depth can also be used in trades if that becomes necessary to fill a lingering hole. Francona will be patient with guys who are doing the right thing but not getting results, but I would be surprised if he lets poor performers linger much past May 1.
3. Terry Francona: I trust this guy to fix what can be fixed. We have now seen good Ubaldo Jimenez and his evil twin; I fully expect Francona to use the results of the first two starts and know what to watch for before the next start spirals out of control. I also expect him to make better decisions than Acta about who deserves more patience and who needs to be cut loose. Finally, I expect Francona and the veterans on this team to exhibit the leadership that will keep everyone working hard and fighting for wins even when times get rough, so that this doesn’t become a repeat of last August.
4. Speed: An underrated benefit of speed is that it can steal you game when nothing is going right. It doesn’t help much when you are down seven after three innings, but there will be games this year when we are tied in the eighth and the ability to score with a walk and a bloop hit, as opposed to needing three line drives like last year, will help us break out of slumps.
5. Math: Given some of the raw numbers right now, a 3-5 record is actually overachieving. Eventually things always regress to the mean, which means Asdrubal Cabrera will not be hitting .133 this time next week and Nick Swisher will get his slugging percentage back to where it has been every year since 2006. This is not a team that is hoping for guys to replicate their Triple-A numbers, or to get back to the level they were at in 2009. These are guys with consistent track records who will eventually perform at those levels again.