BALTIMORE -- The Indians have had to figure out how to navigate a handful of injuries to key players while balancing having to develop young, inexperienced players at the big league level. However, the team has proven that it can still contend despite those hurdles. The biggest thing holding Cleveland back is its performance against sub-.500 teams.
A problematic trend that the Indians have seen through the first two-plus months of the season is struggling to find consistent success against opponents with losing records. That continued in Sunday’s 18-5 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards. It marked the first time Cleveland dropped a series to Baltimore since July 22-24, 2016. The club hadn’t allowed at least 18 runs since April 1, 2006, against -- you guessed it -- the Orioles. The Indians also hadn’t allowed at least 20 hits since Sept. 1, 2014.
The Indians entered Sunday with a 16-14 record against teams with sub-.500 records, which put them in a tie for 18th in the Majors. The series finale loss dropped that winning percentage to .516, which, based on the records entering Sunday, would shift them down to a tie for 21st. In comparison to the rest of the American League Central, the White Sox (20-8, .714), Royals (18-11, .621) and Tigers (6-5, .545) all entered Sunday with a better winning percentage against teams with losing records.
Cleveland is preparing for a stretch of 30 games in 31 days, beginning Friday and ending with the All-Star break, and Sunday reminded the team of one dilemma it must address, but also a reason to be hopeful.
First, let’s take a look at the problem.
Sunday started with the Indians’ lack of rotational depth, as Cal Quantrill attempted to make his second start since making the transition out of the bullpen. After Zach Plesac’s thumb injury and demotions to Logan Allen and Triston McKenzie, the Indians have been left scrambling to piece together a solid starting five. However, Quantrill’s splits as a starter and reliever grew more severe, as his career ERA as a starter increased to 5.53 (66 earned runs in 107 1/3 innings). His career ERA as a reliever is 1.97 in 59 1/3 frames.
“You know, we knew he wasn't terribly stretched out,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We got a nice little fly ball to center that falls, then we get the comebacker that we don't convert. … It just kind of compounded on us.”
“Gotta be able to put guys away,” Quantrill said. “A couple soft hits, I make an error, bad start for the game. Definitely didn’t give the team a chance to win, so on to the next one.”
Since Plesac’s injury on May 23, the Indians have struggled to fill the void. Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale have combined for a 3.18 ERA (12 earned runs, 34 innings) in that span, while the rest of the starters have collectively pitched to a 7.62 ERA (24 earned runs, 28 1/3 innings). And with this upcoming stretch of no days off, the team will be looking for some length from its starters to help avoid overtaxing the bullpen.
But here’s the bright spot, even if it’s dim after Sunday’s drubbing.
Maybe the starters won’t have to try to be as perfect if there’s a little more offensive production, and Bobby Bradley is trying to show that he can bring a much-needed spark to this lineup. He went 3-for-4 with a double, a single and a homer in his first full game in the Majors this season, with his homer flying over the opposite-field wall against a lefty.
“That’s when I’m going at my best, is when I’m able to take the left-handers and drive them into the left-center gap and things like that,” Bradley said. “Fortunately, I got one to get up over the wall.”
Even when he’s at his best, Bradley can’t be the one and only fix to this offense, but he surely can help. It was a long two-month wait for Indians fans to get a glimpse of Bradley’s power, but the threat of his bat could now play a tremendous role in helping Cleveland reset and have a strong finish to the first half of the schedule, especially against sub-.500 teams.
“I mean, it’s great for the confidence, getting in and getting off to a good start,” Bradley said. “Just fitting right in with the team and doing everything I can to help these guys win. I mean, it’s just great for the confidence.”