Let’s start with the good news: I traveled across Ontario last week, starting in Duluth, Minnesota; and ending up in Buffalo. I picked up every Indians game on the flagship station in my car. My wife would have preferred NPR, but I thought it was cool. It would have been cooler if we’d scored some runs.
So how does this happen? The Indians have played 64 games this year against teams that currently have better records. They have won 22 of those games. Take out a 10-3 record against Texas and Oakland and your get a record of 12-39. That’s ’62 Mets territory. Against teams that are currently behind the Indians in the standings, the record is 50-23. That’s a winning percentage nearly identical to the ’95 Indians. To put this in perspective, the Indians have a lower combined winning percentage against Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Baltimore than either Houston or the White Sox, who are about as bad as you can get and still call yourself major league.
At one point this looked like a coincidence, just an aberration based on a small sample size. But last week the Indians just looked like they were in over their heads. Consider that the Indians missed Atlanta’s top two starters, Julio Teheran and Mike Minor, and that Max Scherzer did not pitch for the Tigers. If anything, the matchups worked out as well as possible for the Indians, but they were still helpless.
It may be too late to fix this enough to impact this season. If anything the fact that the last 23 games are against the Mets, Royals, White Sox, Astros, and Twins gives us some reason to believe that the Indians may have one more streak left, but they would need to win eighteen of their last 25 to get to ninety wins, and it’s hard to see them making the playoffs with fewer than ninety wins, given how many teams are ahead of them.
So are there any trends that we can look at, things we can work on before next year so this doesn’t happen again? Actually, no. In April the Indians were shut out in back to back games against the Rays, then gave up back to back double-digit outbursts to the Yankees. It has been that way all year. There have been blowouts and nail biters. The bullpen has blown some games, and the starters have been knocked out early in others. The pitching was bad early, and the offense has been stagnant lately. The constant seems to be poor fundamentals , as several games have been lost to bad defense and base running. Not enough to turn a 12-39 record into anything respectable, but enough to more than make up the difference between the Indians and a wild card spot, the way things stand today.
So are these guys just overmatched? I don’t think so.
Aside from the Tigers, I don’t think anyone in the American League has significantly more talent than the Indians. There’s no way you can look at the Yankees and say they are better. The Rays have great pitching, but their lineup was not as good as Cleveland’s when the two teams met early in the season. You have to give props to Boston for what they’ve done this year, but this is not the star-studded lineup or rotation that used to scare us to death when the Red sox came to town.
I was going to do a detailed analysis of all 34 losses to identify trends, but I couldn’t get through April without wanting to throw my laptop out the window, so I’ll just say this, without any stats to back it up: there has been a significant difference in the aspects of the game that the Indians can control, like throwing strikes, working the count, being aggressive, and playing good defense, when they play against the better teams. I can’t think of a single player who has played as well against the contenders as he has against the bad teams. Maybe Danny Salazar, but that’s it. That’s disturbing, because the core of this team has been around long enough that big games should not get to them.