KANSAS CITY, Mo.: More than 85 percent of the season remains, but the Indians have established a couple of disturbing patterns.
By far the club’s most serious deficiency is an unreliable rotation. Maybe General Manager Chris Antonetti can do something about it, but that won’t be easy.
The other frustrating problem is a spate of minor injuries that have denied manager Terry Francona the use of five players for a total of 31 games.
Asdrubal Cabrera missing a game because he jammed his wrist falling down the dugout steps in Houston is hardly noticed.
But these seemingly trifling gashes and sprains have continually punched holes in the lineup. In the final game against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday, Francona was missing Carlos Santana (illness), Michael Bourn (cut on his right index finger) and Cabrera (a tweaked quad).
Missing one-third of the lineup was not a good thing, especially when Jose Quintana, who manhandles the Tribe, is on the mound for the Sox.
Francona insists that he is comfortable using the bench when his everyday players can’t answer the bell. And yes, Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles are light years more dangerous at the plate than last year’s collection of overmatched never weres.
But a little more than two weeks ago, not only was Santana out for few days, but backup catcher Lou Marson also strained his neck in a collision at the plate and went on the disabled list. How many times have you seen a team call up two catchers simultaneously?
Jason Kipnis spent five days out of the lineup, and Bourn will be on the DL until at least Tuesday. The absence of Bourn in the leadoff spot has made the biggest dent in the lineup, because Michael Brantley, who has batted at the top of the order before, happened to be in a slump when he was asked to replace Bourn.
These kinds of injuries won’t necessarily continue, but they have contributed to the Indians’ inconsistent offense and might have cost the club a couple of wins.
There’s no might have when it comes to the rotation. Inept starting pitching has by far been the biggest factor in expanding the Tribe’s list of losses.
At the moment, the Indians have two capable starters: Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister. Masterson’s 4-1 record and 1.85 ERA is no fluke. He has pitched THAT well. McAllister’s 1-3 record is a fluke; he deserves better, having compiled a 3.52 ERA, but McAllister hasn’t received much support.
A team cannot win consistently with only two proficient starters. And even if a third member of the rotation were to begin making a positive impact, the Tribe would be up against it 40 percent of the time.
So far, a reliable third starter hasn’t stepped out of the shadows. However, I still give Scott Kazmir a fighting chance. I know that spring training isn’t the ideal place to judge players, but Kazmir displayed a live arm and consistent command. Those factors shouldn’t change just because the season starts.
Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers have a combined record of 0-5 and never mind calculating their ERAs. It is sufficient to say that the numbers aren’t pretty.
Worse, there is no reason to think they will get better. Jimenez has been with the Tribe for almost two years, and his workmanship has been painfully consistent. For whatever reason, Jimenez continues to underachieve. He should be much more effective, but he’s not.
Myers is on the disabled list with a sore elbow. He probably won’t return to the rotation for at least a month. It is difficult to lament his absence. Not that any member of the Indians’ hierarchy would say this publicly, but this might be an opportunity to find a replacement without worrying (for the time being) about what to do with Myers.
That is one of the problems with dumping Jimenez, if it comes to that. What do you do with him? You can’t send him to the minors unless he clears waivers; he is tradable, if Antonetti is willing to accept little or nothing in return.
A temporary solution might be to fake an injury (pardon me, but I know a club would never do that) and get Myers out of the way for a while. Like he is now.
Equally problematic is this: Who takes the place of Myers and (if necessary) Jimenez? There are two options at Triple-A Columbus. Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer have been pitching well at Triple-A. Does that mean they are ready to make an impact in Cleveland?
I only see their numbers, so I have no clue. Carrasco has pitched relatively well in the big leagues before, but he is coming back from elbow surgery and needs time to regain a fine edge. Has he had enough starts to do that?
And of course, there’s the nagging issue of his eight-game suspension. But there is no way around that.
Bauer is a kid with lots of talent and little experience. In his only start for the Tribe, he walked the first four batters he faced. How likely will something like that happen again?
As former GM John Hart would say, in a perfect world, you would like to give a 22-year-old more time to develop. But nothing in the Indians’ universe is close to being perfect.
Antonetti can start looking for trading partners — he probably already has — but the Tribe has few prospects to trade and with the possible exception of Cabrera, he has no excess talent on the active roster.
Should Antonetti do nothing but keep the hand he holds? No rational observer expected the Indians to contend for the postseason in 2013. The GM embarked on what is a two-year program to become competitive, and he did as much as could have been expected in a single offseason.
Maybe one more winter will produce enough talent to deliver a playoff berth. It could be worth the wait. Besides, there might not be another choice.
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.