In My Ohio

On The Last Place Cleveland Indians

(www.abcnews.go)
Darren C. Demaree
After a brilliant, revolutionary career as a novelist and de facto spiritual guide for the Russian people, Leo Tolstoy (confusingly) spent a large chunk of his life learning how to read, translate, and re-configure the story of Jesus. He called it “The Gospel in Brief” and he undertook such a painstakingly different path from what had led him to fame and fortune, because he thought that if he could rid the story of all the extra fluff and distraction the story might expand beyond Christianity. He thought if the working class people of Russia could find motivation from the story, then it didn’t necessarily matter what religious framework it was attached to. The inspiration and sacrifice, that’s what the Russian people needed, or so he thought. What they really needed was more food, less winter, and a government that thought more about unifying an enormous country. Now, I am not Leo Tolstoy, but I find myself mired among my compatriots, watching our burgeoning summer quickly become an interminable winter. I find myself looking for a text, canonical or other, that could explain and revive what is quickly becoming the sad tale of the Cleveland Indians.

So, let’s begin where Tolstoy began with the New Testament. Let’s get rid of the fluff. Let’s see just what distractions are more bluster than blunder.

The Bullpen

John Axford has had one bad week of the season so far. It was a really, really bad week, and it cost the Indians at least two games, but overall he has shown the stuff to be a quality closer. He will find himself in that role again soon, and the rest of the bullpen has performed admirably. Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Josh Outman, and Marc Rzepczynski have all performed well. Innings six, seven, and eight have rarely been a problem this year.

The Starting Pitching

Justin Masterson is looking like an ace. Corey Kluber has been very good. Who knew his stuff could miss that many bats? He has an incredible strikeout to walk ration (66 K’s 13BB’s). The rest of the rotation has been a mixed bag. Zach McAllister looked good, and then looked awful. He has relied too heavily on a fastball that isn’t overpowering, and rarely finds the edges of the plate. Josh Tomlin is a stubborn pitcher, but he didn’t have terribly good pitches before the surgery. Trevor Bauer will be joining the rotation this week after being dominant for Columbus. I think he comes up to stay this time. Any rotation that can boast three reliable starters and two that aren’t completely lost will hover around .500 for most of the year. If only one more of them figures something out, they could improve the ten or so needed games to make a playoff run.

Some of the difficulties being experienced are bad signs, but fixable or simply a downturn in the epic that is a 162 games.

Injuries

Jason Kipnis going down with the strained oblique has been an issue. You take a bench strength in Mike Aviles and make him your everyday second basemen, and the whole game plan shifts. Aviles is good in small samples, but there is a reason he is mostly a utility player. He has glaring holes in his game. He can get hot, but he can disappear for a month if overexposed. Nyjer Morgan’s knee is a smaller difficulty, but apparently there’s not an overabundance of speed on the team, so he is missed as well.

Terry Francona

Terry Francona is probably the best manager the Indians have ever had. Sorry Mike Hargove, but Francona’s ability to turn a team into a family is incredible. He’s a good game manager, as well. He rarely appears to be caught by surprise, and on that occasion he counter-punches well. However, replay, the execution part of challenges, seems to have him befuddled. I don’t care about not winning challenges. I care that it seems to be too much of a distraction for him. He always looks like he’s swimming in molasses after the event.

A few of these things are simply bad. I don’t see any fixes for these. These situations require actual revolution.

The Lineup

Lonnie Chisenhall, David Murphy, and Yan Gomes have been nice surprises. Michael Brantley (Weak Michael) is doing what he is destined to do, hit .280 and drive in 80 runs. The rest of the team is completely lost. I don’t care if Carlos Santana is leading the league in walks. You can’t have your cleanup hitter batting .156 and slugging .293. It’s not getting better either. If the Indians didn’t have the investment in Santana that they do, he would probably be given a chance to figure things out in the minors. As they are now, I don’t see him contributing anything the rest of the season.

Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher

Sure, technically they are part of the lineup issue since they front the lineup, but they are so much bigger of a problem. These two players are failing and getting paid an outrageous amount to do as much. Bourn has been unreliable, a non-factor in the running game, and appears most of the time to be sulking. Nick Swisher, leader of the Brohio Nation, has done very little to contribute. The new haircut is nice I suppose, but that really doesn’t do anything to get him on base. A good smile looks like a clueless smile when the team you’re on is in last place.

The Defense

The Indians have been a nightmare in the field. If you are the scrappy insurgency, the mid-market, middle of America go-getters, you cannot kick the ball around the field. Even Yan Gomes, who looked like a gold-glove catcher last year, keeps airmailing his throws to second. They have been bad, worst-in-the-league bad on defense. Michel Brantley (and this is the only reason he deserved that much of a contract) has performed incredibly well in left field, and been an adequate replacement in center field when Bourn needs another day off to nurse his hamstrings.



I write the 9 Word poems about each Indian’s game because the baseball season tailors itself so well to poetry. It’s an epic played out in 162 skirmishes. There is drama, injury, outside forces, warring brothers, and ultimately a victory or more than likely a defeated group of embattled men. Right now, like Tolstoy, I have very little advice that comes from my own heart. I have been reliving the last few seasons, searching for a clue to help turn around this bunch. I suppose if I need to rewrite a religious text to do it, I will just have to start learning ancient Aramaic. Hopefully they will find some momentum on their own, because that could take me some time and we are all getting pretty cold around here.