“I’m just average, common too”
Chris Perez said something the other day during the Tribe’s short-lived stint in the national media (a product, naturally, of their annual visit to the Bronx) that rightly caught the attention of one of the astute writers over at Let’s Go Tribe.
And no, it had nothing to do with LeBron, the Browns or attendance.
This is what Perez told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, when pressed to explain the Indians’ ability to stay in the AL Central race despite what is currently a minus-51 run differential (second-worst in the league):
“It’s been kind of weird, honestly,” Perez said. “If we’re ahead after five, we win. And even if we’re down by one or two, it seems big. It’s just one of those anomalies.”
With all due respect to Perez, who remains this clubhouse’s go-to guy for catch-all (and sometimes controversial) quotes, there’s nothing weird or anomalous going on here. As easy as it is to be negative at a time when the Tribe has just been handed its hat by basically the worst (Astros) and the best (Yankees) baseball has to offer, roughly 46 percent of the season has been played, and certain conclusions can be drawn.
Here’s one conclusion I’m willing to reach at this juncture: The Indians are a very average team in a very awful division.
Now, keep in mind, this is not necessarily a deal-breaker. Baseball, after all, is set up in such a manner that all you have to do is set your foot in the door in October and anything can happen. This year, there will be added value to a division win, in that it will grant you a first-round best-of-five with a Wild Card entry that just exhausted its best available pitcher in a one-game play-in. The winner of what is currently a sluggish Central (where a .533 winning percentage currently gives you a 2 1/2-game edge and four of five teams have a negative run differential) will have a distinct advantage over the runner-up in, say, the vastly superior AL East (where a .533 winning percentage places you 6 ½ back and four of five teams have a positive differential).
Unfortunately, the division in which they reside is the best thing these Indians have going for them these days, because these are the facts — the excruciating minutiae, to use one of our old favorite phrases here — staring them in the face:
- Dating back to May 1, Indians pitching has a 4.83 ERA, worst in the American League and better only than the 5.80 mark posted by the Rockies. (You know, the guys who regularly pitch in Colorado.)
- Tribe starters, in that timeframe, have a 4.85 ERA, fifth-worst in the game.
- Ubaldo Jimenez has been better – much better – in June, going 2-2 with a 2.78 ERA in five starts. Likewise, Justin Masterson, who has a 2-3 record and 2.06 ERA in five starts. But this has been countered, in a big way, by the drastic steps back taken by Derek Lowe (6.44 June ERA), Josh Tomlin (6.75) and the newly demoted Jeanmar Gomez. Really, at any given point this season, the Indians have basically been two-deep in the rotation, in terms of reliability. Combine that with the pedestrian assemblage in Columbus, and it’s going to be awfully difficult to be counted as a contender without a rotation upgrade from the outside.
- Indians relievers not named Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano or Joe Smith have a 5.54 ERA.
- To borrow a line from Rick Pitino, Grady Sizemore is not walking through that door. Not anytime real soon, anyway. At last check, he’s still not even running.
- Carlos Santana has nine extra-base hits in his last 177 plate appearances. He’s hitting .177 on the road. The Indians have so much of their future wrapped into Santana’s development that his continual decline is jarring and unacceptable, particularly considering he’s one of only two switch-hitters in an otherwise left-leaning lineup.
- Oh, and that lineup, you probably noticed, has a collective .624 OPS against lefties. It’s hard to put together any kind of sustained winning streak when 33 percent of the league pitches with its left hand. The Indians are, famously, 5-16 when the opponent uses a left-handed starter — even when that left-handed starter breaks his ankle midway through the game.
- The Tribe’s depth (or lack thereof) is such that Aaron Cunningham (.484 OPS) has survived on the roster all year. It’s apples and oranges, sure (and I’m not trying to pick on Aaron Cunningham, just the lack of depth), but I’m compelled to randomly point out that Cliff Lee has a .542 OPS.
There are other negatives, and there are certainly positives not being mentioned here. But the Indians are 16th among MLB’s 30 teams in runs per game and 28th in ERA. They are not a bad baseball team, but they are not a very good one, either. They are exceedingly average. And in the AL Central, to date, that’s been enough. I’m not sure how long that will be the case.