"George, I am really gonna make some changes."
Let's talk a little about this offense.
Aside from the occasional random outburst, we've seen the bats struggle to get hot all season. The Indians have only had 13 games in which they've scored more than four runs. They've scored 108 runs in those games and only 186 for the season. So 58.1 percent of their runs have come in 13 stinkin' games.
Obviously, the offense has been a concern all year. But this road trip has taken matters to new levels. What we're seeing now is an utterly lifeless approach. For all the Tribe's struggles early on, the club was batting a somewhat respectable (given the circumstances) .275 with runners in scoring position, heading into this trip. But in the last five games (all losses, as you know), they've hit .108 (4-for-37) with RISP, lowering the season mark to .259.
In other words, things are getting worse, not better. And we're 46 games into the season. The Tribe has the best starters' ERA in the big leagues, and it's going to waste.
Clearly, it's time for changes, but what do you change?
Do you fire hitting coach Derek Shelton? If you're one of the dozens of angry e-mailers writing into my inbox on a daily basis, you do. Personally, I'm not convinced that's the answer. As I wrote in this week's mailbag, it's difficult to discern how much credit to give a hitting coach when things are going well and how much blame to give him when they're going poorly.
Being around this team on a daily basis, I see the way Shelton works with the hitters, how he goes over the scouting report on that day's pitcher with each guy before each game and has them recite their expected approach, and I've seen how he generally has a good working relationship with the members of this lineup, as well as the other coaches.
Dismissing Shelton -- while a possibility, of course -- would seem to me to be more of a message-sender than anything else. And if these guys don't get the message by now, when will they ever? They see the standings. They've seen quality start after quality start wasted. And they've seen one of the more popular guys in the clubhouse sent packing for Pittsburgh.
The only messages that absolutely should be sent should come in the form of playing time -- or lack thereof. I liked Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto's suggestion that Michael Aubrey should be stealing some starts against right-handed pitching away from Travis Hafner (.193 against righties) and Ryan Garko (.214). Aubrey's spot on this roster is considered tenuous, but there's no reason it should be at the moment. He's a fine defender, he's homered in his first two starts and he's done nothing but hit when he's healthy in the Minors. Give him a shot.
On the other side of the infield, I am past the point of believing Eric Wedge has any intention of giving Andy Marte another legitimate shot at third base, so it's time to cut bait. When Joe Borowski returns from the disabled list tomorrow, try to sneak Marte through waivers, rather than dumping Aubrey.
Up the middle, Asdrubal Cabrera simply has to go to Buffalo for a little while to get his bat straightened out. I know he adds quite a bit to this club defensively, but he takes away quite a bit offensively, especially against lefties. Bring up Josh Barfield and have him share the second-base starts with Jamey Carroll for a while. Let's see how much Barfield has matured as a hitter in the past year, and let's give Asdrubal a little time to right himself.
Cabrera, if he hits, is this team's starting shortstop of the future. So start dangling Jhonny Peralta. See what kind of interest is out there. He's been around too long to have the mental lapses he shows at the plate and in the field. His contract would be attractive to some teams.
Speaking of trades, as the market heats up in the coming weeks, I would hope the Indians would explore interest for Paul Byrd, Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, as well. Byrd, of course, wouldn't have much value at this point, and Sowers is still something of a project, so Laffey is the most appealing trade bait of the three. You hate to part with starting depth, and you have to like the way Laffey has handled himself at the big-league level, but the Indians need help -- particularly in the middle infield and at third base -- and Laffey would have to be attractive to other teams right about now.
I appreciate the Indians' respect for the length of the season, but this division is utterly winnable. And with the starting pitching the Tribe is getting this year, there is no reason for this club to be patient to a fault.
Those are some of my suggestions. Feel free to share yours.
And here are the lineups for tonight's series and road trip finale with the Sox...
INDIANS (22-24): CF Grady Sizemore, LF Ben Francisco, DH Travis Hafner, C Victor Martinez, 1B Ryan Garko, 3B Casey Blake, SS Jhonny Peralta, RF Franklin Gutierrez, 2B Asdrubal Cabrera. LHP Laffey on the mound.
WHITE SOX (25-20): SS Orlando Cabrera, 2B Alexei Ramirez, LF Carlos Quentin, RF Jermaine Dye, DH Jim Thome, 1B Paul Konerko, 3B Joe Crede, CF Nick Swisher, C Toby Hall. LHP Mark Buehrle on the mound.
EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY...
Twenty-five percent of Peralta’s hits (32) are home runs (8). Now, if he had 60 or 70 hits, that would really be impressive.
If the Indians are swept in Chicago today, it would be the first time since Sept. 2003.
How about LHP David Huff? A day afer being named the Eastern League Player of the Week, he gives up a run over seven innings in a 4-1 win over Altoona last night. He’s now 4-1 with an Eastern League-best 2.03 ERA. He has a 1.01 ERA over his last seven starts.
Gutierrez is batting .128 (5-for-39) in 13 May games.
Martinez is 3-for-his-last-25. And homerless. Still.
Don’t forget that strikeout promotion from the other night. If you’re buying tickets online at Indians.com for the June 10 Dollar Dog game against the Twins, you can save $9 on lower reserved, upper box, mezzanine and bleacher seats. You can enter the promo code STRIKEOUT through midnight, Sunday, May 25.