CLEVELAND -- September is the time for teams out of playoff contention to evaluate their rosters and begin formulating blueprints for next season. If there’s anything the Indians have learned since the calendar flipped into the final month of the season, it’s that the offense is not yet ready to help them be a contender in 2022.
The Indians avoided getting no-hit for consecutive days, but that was far from a reason to celebrate, as the team mustered just four hits on the day and seven total during the three-game series against the Brewers that ended with an 11-1 loss at Progressive Field. It was the first time Cleveland suffered a sweep (and a series loss) to Milwaukee since June 15-17, 2009.
“The Brewers have a very talented staff,” Indians backstop Ryan Lavarnway said. “Credit where credit is due. Good job for them. They made a couple good defensive plays. We hit the ball hard a few times before that hit dropped. They just ended up in gloves. I’m glad we finally got the hit. Obviously, the result of the whole game wasn’t what we wanted.”
Cleveland was held hitless through five innings -- the seventh time this season the offense has failed to record a hit in the first five frames, which is tied for the most of those instances in MLB with the Cardinals -- before Lavarnway made sure his club wouldn't become the first to be no-hit in back-to-back contests.
The Indians knew this series wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, as the Brewers arrived in Cleveland more than 30 games over .500, but it’s not something they would’ve expected to result in 15 consecutive no-hit innings for their offense. Cleveland became the fifth team -- joining the Mariners (2019), Rockies (2013), Twins (2012) and Astros (2008) -- in the last 25 years to be held hitless for at least 15 frames, and it was the Indians’ longest hitting drought since at least 1961 (previously 12 consecutive innings), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“About  innings too long for us to go hitless,” Lavarnway said. “I know personally, I just try to take it one pitch at a time. It’s such a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. All the innings that we went without hits, they don’t count in the inning that we’re in, so you just have to find a way to stay present and attack what we’re doing in the present.”
At times, the offense found its stride throughout the warmer months, especially in June and August, but the team’s biggest problem has been consistency over the last few years. The bats struggled early in the year, resulting in two no-hitters in the span of 21 games, and have again hit a tremendous cold stretch. Entering Sunday, the Indians were tied for the fourth-lowest average (.213) and the second-highest strikeout percentage (26.6 percent) and owned the worst wRC+ (68) of all 30 clubs in September. And now, the team has dropped eight of its last 10 contests.
“We have seen signs, and we’ve had different points of the season where we’ve played well and scored runs but have yet to have that consistency,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said prior to the game. “There have been months where we have been towards the bottom [among the league in runs scored]. Other months, we have been towards the top.”
If the Brewers are an example of a contending team, the Indians have some work to do over the offseason to get themselves ready for 2022. Milwaukee plated 24 runs, while surrendering just four in a span of three games. Cleveland logged just seven hits and committed seven errors during the series.
The team saw struggles from Eli Morgan and Aaron Civale (who made just his second start since coming off the injured list), with Lavarnway and shortstop Amed Rosario collectively being responsible for more than half of the defensive blunders on the field. But as the club has navigated those types of hiccups all season long, it’s clear that there’s nothing more crucial than addressing the offense.
“Again, we had periods where we’ve been productive offensively,” Antonetti reiterated, “but probably not as consistent as we’d like.”