Inbox: Did Tribe get past slow start issues in '16?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Indians fans' questions

May 2nd, 2016

At almost .500, did the Tribe do enough this April to overcome the "slow start" of the past couple of seasons?

-- @AZPaulPete

Following a string of tough one-run losses for the Tribe, I've seen a lot of, "Here we go again," from Indians fans over the past week. Under the circumstances, though, Cleveland's showing this April could be described as admirable, at the very least.

Carlos Carrasco (left hamstring) was lost to injury. Michael Brantley missed most of the month while coming back from right shoulder surgery. Closer Cody Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw have had a rough start. The offense has sputtered more than it has churned. And yet, Cleveland has kept its head above water.

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Last year, the Indians went 7-14 in April. The year before that, the club was a 10-17 mark in the first month. This season's 10-11 April record is more reminiscent of the 11-13 ledger turned in during the opening month in '13. A hot finish to that season netted a spot in the American League Wild Card Game. So it hasn't been an ideal start for the Tribe, but April has hardly derailed this season.

Lacking Brantley and his career 91.5-percent contact rate for most of the season certainly hasn't helped, but yes, Cleveland is striking out more than usual right now. Entering Monday, the Tribe had the sixth-highest strikeout percentage (24.7) in the Majors. Overall last year, Cleveland had an 18.9-percent strikeout rate. The main culprits have been Mike Napoli (39.3), Jason Kipnis (29.6), Rajai Davis (27.5) and Yan Gomes (26.4). Napoli, Kipnis and Davis are each at least 10 percent above their career rates, so expect those percentages to drop as the season wears on. You can deal with strikeouts if there is strong power production to go with it, but right now, the Indians are middle of the pack in both slugging percentage and isolated power.

While we haven't seen as many sacrifice bunts early on by the Indians, who led the AL in that category last year, Cleveland has been extremely active on the bases. Entering Monday, the Indians led the league in extra-bases-taken rate (54 percent, per and the team's 4.9 baserunning rating (per led the AL. Cleveland ranked third in the AL in stolen bases and was one of the hardest teams to get to ground into a double play. So in its efforts to manufacture runs, the Tribe has been one of the most productive teams on the basepaths this season. What needs to improve is the production once those runners get on and move over.

What is the likelihood of the Indians upgrading the back end of the bullpen prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline?

-- Matt H., Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The Indians are only four games back of the first-place White Sox in the loss column. I'd say it's a little too early to start talking about the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline. I know where you're coming from on this, though. The collective April showing of Allen and Shaw hasn't been pretty. They have a combined 8.24 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP, while the rest of the Tribe's bullpen has turned in a 2.08 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. Think back to one year ago, though. Allen had a rough April, and then he spun a 2.02 ERA from May on. Shaw had a tough April, and then spun a 2.86 ERA from May on. That track record means it's too early to jump ship on Cleveland's back-end duo. Now, if their issues persist through May and into June, then it will be time to start looking at what other options exist.

Any chance Giancarlo Stanton breaks a scoreboard panel in Miami's visit this year?

-- Patrick R., Boynton Beach, Fla.

On April 30, 1997, Mark McGwire blasted a pitch from the Indians' Orel Hershiser over the left-field bleachers and off a Budweiser sign that was located just below the old scoreboard. The new video board now covers the spot where that ball struck, so it is possible to get a baseball up there. Per, that ball had an estimated exit velocity of 117 mph, and the spot it hit was roughly 70 feet above and 431 feet away from home plate.

On April 30 this season, Stanton crushed a pitch in Milwaukee that was measured by Statcast™ at 116.8 mph off the bat, and he sent it 462.3 feet to center field, where it caromed off the scoreboard at Miller Park. Needless to say, the Miami slugger has what it takes to reach McGwire territory in Cleveland. Last season, Stanton had five homers with an exit velocity of 115 mph or higher, and three of those shots had distances of 430-plus feet. It would take a perfect storm (and maybe the wind blowing out), but Stanton could reach the Progressive Field scoreboard.