Sunday, May 14, 2017

On Deck Circle 5/14/17: Stay Optimistic, Tribe Fans!

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

Corey Kluber is on the DL.

Danny Salazar has not been pitching well.

Trevor Bauer has been atrocious, and that’s putting it lightly.

Edwin Encarnacion has been struggling with providing the power that all Indians fans hoped for.

Jason Kipnis is still trying to get back in the groove after starting the season on the DL.

The defense is just down right bad.

So, with all of these problems, why should Indians fans stay optimistic? There’s only 1 reliable starter, poor defense being played, and offense that ranks in the lower 3rd of the league in majority of categories. That normally would spell out a team that has too many deficiencies to overcome and reason to not buy in to their squad.

Many reasons, the first one being that despite all of their current issues, they are still 18-17 and only 2 games out of first in the AL Central. And I know it’s way too early to start dissecting the playoff picture, but they are still right in the thick of things as a wild card team. This is essentially saying that if only half of the issues mentioned turn around then the Indians will have no problem with taking control of the division and regaining their place atop the entire American League.
If Kluber comes back from the DL and starts pitching well along with Salazar finding his groove then that will be more than enough, add in that Mike Clevinger very well may take Bauer’s starting spot in the rotation and now the starting pitching is exponentially better. Or if the Indians start getting that big pop from Encarnacion’s bat and Kipnis raises his batting average, the offense improves and these 3-2 or 2-1 losses turn into 5-3 or 3-2 wins. A lot can change still, the season is still relatively young and it’s too soon to throw in the towel on this team just because things aren’t going as planned right now.

This leads right into my second reason, this is a proven team with proven players. It would be a bit different as far as optimism goes had this team not gone to the World Series last season, if they were just a .500 team last year then likely there wouldn’t be a sense to stay positive about this team. But this team is good, with a lot of returning players from last season and got even better in the offseason.
There’s reason to keep faith in Kluber and Salazar pitching well because we know they can, just like there’s reason to believe that Encarnacion’s bat will be there. This isn’t a team that’s just hoping that they can get production from some unlikely places, gone are the days of pinning their hopes on Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Giambi to provide the pitching and hitting even though they are well out of their prime. Getting production out of Mike Napoli was great, but he eventually bottomed out so they replaced him with a guy that has hit at least 34 home runs in 5 straight seasons. This is a real good team, probably the best 25 man roster in the AL, they are weathering the storm right now and keeping themselves in a position where there’s little no ground to make up once they start clicking, which they will.

Aside from all the negatives, the one main constant positive is how great this bullpen is. That has been the Indians’ saving grace so far, the fact that if they have a lead through 5-6 innings then the bullpen is a steel trap and protects that lead no matter how small it may be. Andrew Miller and Nick Goody still have not given up an earned run this season, Cody Allen has saved 9 games and has not blown a save, and Bryan Shaw, who has been a target of frustration for fans, along with Boone Logan have held their own in relief opportunities. This is all happening with some poor starting pitching, once the starters turn it around then this is going to be an incredibly scary pitching staff as a whole. The bullpen alone should keep Indians fans optimistic, they will win every game that gets turned over to them while in the lead. They’ve been the reason why the record is what it is right now and will continue to be a solid part of the team going forward.

And finally, the biggest reason may just be the division that they play in. There are no teams in the division that are as good and talented as the Indians, Cleveland looks like they are sandbagging right now and no team in the AL Central has been able to capitalize on it. The only other quality team that could give the Indians a run for their money are the Detroit Tigers, and they have just as many, if not more, glaring issues than the Indians do right now. There’s no team like the Houston Astros or Washington Nationals in this division, no team that just looks stunning on paper that the Indians will struggle with. If the Indians are able to compete in the division currently with all of that they are lacking from key players, just imagine what they will do when those problems get resolved and those key players start performing accordingly. It’s a good spot to be in for the Indians, they’ve been given a nice buffer to work out all the kinks since no team is starting to run away with the division. This is still Cleveland’s division to win, they are the favorites to be crowned AL Central champs so there’s no reason why any fan shouldn’t be optimistic about this team making the playoffs still.

So there you have it, tribe fans. I know watching these games can be painful at times and I know that there were high expectations going into this season and the team has not played up to those expectations, but there’s plenty to remain positive about this team as the season goes on. This team will win the division and make the playoffs and will be a favorite to win the American League pennant, just keep the optimism flowing as the season continues.

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