Where exactly has the Indians' offense gone?

Tribe shut out by White Sox, but Francona not panicking yet

May 8th, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The Indians expected a slow offensive start to the season as and both opened the year on the injured list and Carlos Gonzalez needed to get some time in the Minors before being called up to the big league squad. As the offense slowly returned to full strength, the team knew it’d take some time for the bats to come alive. It’s doubtful they planned to wait this long.

Lindor and Kipnis were the only Indians to record a hit Tuesday night as the White Sox walked away with a 2-0 victory at Progressive Field, handing the Tribe its third consecutive loss. In that span, the Indians have been outscored 21-1 in two games against Chicago and one against Seattle. White Sox starter Lucas Giolito gave up just three hits, three walks and struck out eight in 7 1/3 innings.

“There’s enough fastball where it’s getting past our barrel and then [he had a solid] changeup off of that,” Indians manager Terry Francona said when asked what they saw from Giolito. “A lot of times it’s in a fastball count, when we’re ahead, and we’re just not making the adjustment yet. We have hitters that will. We haven’t to this point.”

Despite the early struggles, Cleveland has been as much as five games above .500 but now has found itself creeping back down toward that mark with an 18-16 record, going 4-9 against the American League Central. Is this the point that Indians fans should hit the panic button? Not necessarily, though it’s certainly alarming.

Entering Tuesday, the Tribe had matched its best 33-game start since Francona took over as the team’s manager in 2013, which shows the club is very much in contention. But the record doesn’t hide the glaring issues the offense could continue to face as the season goes on. Let’s break down some of the most concerning stats through the first 34 games of the season.

Worst offensive start since 1910
The Indians are hitting a combined .212, which is the worst team average through a 34-game span since 1910, when they hit .197 through that time frame.

The Indians have been held to one or fewer runs 10 times so far this season, the most since 1991 when it happened 12 times through 34 games.

In the last six losses, the Tribe is just 3-for-38 (.079) with runners in scoring position, including an 0-for-5 performance Tuesday night.

The Indians entered the night with a team average of .213, which was the lowest in the Majors, and owned the fourth-highest strikeout rate (26 percent). They were tied for the worst wRC+ (68) and the second-lowest slugging percentage (.338).

Santana can’t always be the answer
While has single-handedly carried the Indians’ offense through the first month of the season, it’s hard to rely on his bat to get the job done every time. In Tuesday’s loss, Santana came to the plate with a runner on second in the fourth, runners on first and second in the sixth and the bases loaded in the eighth, but he failed to get a hit.

“That was actually our three chances to score tonight and he came up in all three,” Francona said. “I mean, he’s not going to hit in every game. He’s been so good, that’s kind of the way the game goes when you hit a little bit of a rough patch.”

The Indians never expected to be a power-hitting offensive machine this season. The club knew that it would need to rely heavily on what was projected to be one of the most dominant starting rotations in baseball. But now that Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber are both on the injured list, Cleveland’s offensive struggles have been put even further under the microscope. Jefry Rodriguez put together another solid outing, allowing two runs on seven hits through six innings, but the offense couldn’t push a run across, leaving seven men on base.

Tito’s answer to offensive struggles: don’t panic
While the numbers can be enough for fans to start breaking a sweat, Francona has a plan to start turning his team around.

“Not panicking. That’s not the easiest thing to do,” Francona said. “You show up and you want to win so bad, but sometimes you gotta be patient even when you don’t want to be. I do. I believe in our guys and you can’t just pat them on the back when things are going great. That’s the easy part. When it’s not looking so rosy, that’s when you gotta really keep at it and they ... If I don’t [believe in them], how do I expect them to? So that’s what we’re going to do.”