For Tribe, the good, bad and reasons to hope

August 13th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are still searching for a way to escape the rut their offense has fallen into. Though a few players have begun scattering more hits throughout each game, the team’s struggle to push runs across the plate continues.

In 12 of the Tribe’s 19 games, the club has been unable to score more than two runs, including its 7-2 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday night at Progressive Field. Being held to two or fewer runs in 12 of their first 19 contests is tied for the most in that span in franchise history with the 1910 squad.

“I’d love to see us get 18 hits and score a bunch of runs,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “but that doesn’t mean there’s no effort. Some of it is confidence. I think the other night everybody hoped that 10-run inning would open the door and get everybody loose. Because that’s a good way to hit. And it didn’t really work that way.”

The Tribe’s pitching staff has been the reason the team’s record is still sitting above .500 (10-9), though Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac going on the restricted list on Tuesday due to violating team protocols caused the staff to get thrown a little bit out of whack. Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first two times Cleveland has given up more than four runs in a game all season.

While the offense has yet to find its spark, that doesn’t mean it’s time to hit the panic button just yet.

The good

Let’s focus on the hitting, since we know just how sterling this pitching staff has been.

Don’t let the offense as a whole overshadow the fact that ’ bat is heating up. If the team is going to claw its way out of the hole the bats have dug, it’s going to have to start somewhere, and Reyes has been on a steady climb over his last six games.

It’s a small sample size, but the 25-year-old slugger watched his batting average escalate from .163 on Aug. 5 to .292 after Wednesday’s loss. In his last 22 at-bats, Reyes has logged 12 hits (.545 average), including two doubles, a homer and six RBIs.

“There’s always going to be a lot of all-or-nothing with him,” Francona said on Tuesday. “That’s part of who he is. But he’s taking more good swings.”

Aside from Reyes, César Hernández and José Ramírez have been the only other hitters in Cleveland’s batting order who have remained mostly consistent despite the team’s shaky offensive start. Hernández boasts a .279 average and a .733 OPS, while Ramírez is sporting a .264 average with an .842 OPS.

The bad

This pretty much consists of the hitters not named Hernández, Ramírez or Reyes. Other than tying a franchise record by being held to two or fewer runs 12 times in its 19 games, the Tribe has also been held to five or fewer hits in 10 contests this year. While the infielders have been able to scatter a few hits inconsistently, it’s the club’s catchers and outfielders who have been the slowest out of the gate.

With a single in the fifth inning, backstop Sandy León snapped an 0-for-24 stretch that dated back to July 30 against the Twins. That single in Minnesota had been the most recent hit the Indians had received from a catcher (including Beau Taylor) until Wednesday. As a group -- including Roberto Pérez, who is on the injured list -- Cleveland backstops have batted .066 (4-for-61).

Tribe outfielders entered Wednesday batting an MLB-worst .152 (25-for-165) with only three homers and 13 RBIs this season. That average went down to .148 after left fielder Mike Freeman, center fielder Bradley Zimmer and right fielder Tyler Naquin put forth a 1-for-11 effort in the loss to Chicago.

The silver lining

Friday will mark the Tribe’s completion of the first third of the 60-game season. So, why isn’t it time to panic just yet? With the help of a stellar pitching staff, Cleveland has been able to stay afloat with a 10-9 record. Despite the laboring offense, the team is just two games behind the first-place Twins in the American League Central. The Tribe is currently tied with the White Sox for third in the division and sits one game back of the Tigers, whom Cleveland will battle in a three-game series beginning on Friday in Detroit.

“We do have guys with good track records and they are healthy,” Francona said. “They’re going to hit. I’ve said this to you guys for eight years, guys get to their level. That’ll be fun to watch and it will really help us. I hope it starts Friday.”