So what kind of month was April for the Indians?
Could have been better, could have been worse. There wasn’t much to regret, but there is room for improvement. That’s probably what most everyone in the organization believes.
The Tribe finished April under .500 but not much (11-13), and the leading indicators seemed to spike as the old month ended and the new one began.
Looking at the offensive numbers can be deceiving, because of the herky, jerky path the hitters took to reach those numbers. Consistency wasn’t part of the equation, except for Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds.
Santana (through the Phillies series) was batting .395 with nine doubles, five home runs and 13 RBI. His on-base percentage was a dazzling .483 and his OPS a stunning 1.194. More important than the last two statistics — which not even Babe Ruth could maintain — is that Santana sprinted out of the gate (6-for-13 in the first series) and never looked back.
Obviously at some point, he will level off, fall into a slump or two, but maybe only briefly. More important, for the first time in ages, Santana is attacking pitchers like a man trying to protect his family from Freddy Krueger.
There is no timidity, no tentativeness in his swing. Santana gets after pitches with a vengeance. But if they are off the plate, he lays off. Santana always has been willing to take a walk.
Reynolds has come as advertised. When he makes solid contact, the ball looks like it has been fitted with a jet pack. If he hits eight home runs every month, as he did in April, he will approach 50 for the season. He’s never hit 50 and he probably won’t this year, but it’s clear he is not a player plagued by diminishing skills.
The other distinguishing characteristic of his career has been a penchant for striking out more than almost anyone. Coming into this season, Reynolds had struck out an average of once every 2.6 at-bats. So far, this year, he has gone down on strikes once every 3.8 at-bats.
Even if he continues to strike out at his current pace, he won’t be among the toughest American League batters to whiff. But it is a significant improvement, the difference between striking out 212 times in 550 at-bats and striking out 145 times, a reduction of 67 that might translate into six more home runs or 20 more hits.
There is reason to believe that few if any Indians will have to go through lengthy slumps because nobody can fill in for them. Before manager Terry Francona has to watch a player fight his way through a 4-for-50 skid, Mike Aviles or Ryan Raburn will have come to the manager’s rescue.
Between them, they can fill in at every position on the diamond except center field and catcher, and they are accomplished hitters who would be playing every day on some teams.
Look at it this way: This year, it’s Aviles, Raburn and Ezequiel Carrera; last year it was (at various times) Jason Donald, Brent Lillibridge, Aaron Cunningham and Vinny Rottino.
How has the offense measured up to expectations?
Power figured to be a priority, and only one team in the league has hit more home runs than the Indians, but the emphasis on running hasn’t turned into reality yet, as the Tribe is only eighth.
The team batting average and on-base percentage each rank fourth; the Indians are first in slugging percentage and third in extra-base hits. Maybe the biggest surprise is that seven teams have gone down on strikes more often than the Tribe, even though Drew Stubbs and Reynolds have led the league in strikeouts.
All of this sounds pretty good, but keep in mind that in the club’s first 25 games, the offense scored three or fewer runs 14 times and eight or more runs seven times. This feast or famine approach is not a winning formula. Consistency has to improve, especially for a team that isn’t likely to stock the All-Star Game with starting pitchers.
What about the starting pitching? It was worse than anticipated for at least half the month, but lately things have been looking up. That doesn’t help much in trying to figure out whether the rotation will hold up over a full season or come apart at the seams.
Not many days ago, Francona had only two starters he could count on: Justin Masterson and Zack McAllister. The most depressing aspect of this state of affairs? It was predictable.
Ubaldo Jimenez had been a horrid underachiever since the trade that brought him to Cleveland in the middle of 2011; Scott Kazmir was an unknown quantity, who hadn’t been successful in years and was coming off a season pitching in an independent league; Brett Myers had a fitful spring and pitched out of the bullpen last year.
Jimenez and Myers fulfilled the club’s worst fears in the first two weeks of the schedule, so there was little hand wringing when Myers suffered a shoulder injury that probably will keep him on the disabled list for most of this month.
Kazmir started the season late because of an injury and was shaky in his first start. But in his follow-up appearance, he gave up two runs in five innings and resembled the steady performer he had been in spring training. Then last Monday night in Kansas City, Jimenez shut out the Royals for seven innings, throwing 94-96 mph fastballs for strikes.
Maybe Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer can be part of the solution at some point in the season.
So what is real and what isn’t? Maybe we’ll find out this month. If Jimenez and Kazmir can consistently outperform their recent pasts, it could turn the Indians into legitimate contenders for the postseason. If not, it won’t be the first time the team’s best option was to wait until next year.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.