A missing offense and the balance of patience in a 60-game season: Walk-Off Thoughts

Ryan Lewis
rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com
Cleveland Indians' Franmil Reyes hits an RBI double against the Chicago White Sox during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020.

Here are six Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night, dropping their record to 10-9.

1. The Indians' offense is lost. The team might as well put up wanted posters with a bounty to bring it back, preferably alive.

Nineteen games is hardly a proper sample size to start making drastic moves. And yet, with only 60 games on the schedule, teams are in danger of waiting too long to come around, even if it is the wise baseball decision. Indians manager Terry Francona has often used the term "getting to their levels" when it comes to struggling veteran players. It often has proven beneficial for the Indians. Younger players with strong pedigrees as prospects and veterans with solid track records will go through slumps. Give up on them too early, and you lose the benefit of the inevitable correction. It's why the Indians still must display at least a portion of that patience event though the lineup will eventually need to support the pitching staff if the Indians are to really make a run in October.

2. Through the team's first 19 games, the Indians have scored more than two runs only seven times. The Indians, after Wednesday night's game, have a .192 batting average, which ranks last in the league. Their .304 on-base percentage ranks 24th. Their .294 slugging percentage? Last in the league. And their 35.9 hard-hit percentage ranks 29th, ahead of only the St. Louis Cardinals, who have played only five games.

3. By wRC+, which aims to find a player's offensive value to a lineup, the Indians have four players above 100, which is considered league average (not including Delino DeShields, who has only 15 plate appearances). Carlos Santana (129 wRC+) is drawing walks at such a high rate — to the tune of a .453 on-base percentage — that he can overcome his .196 average. Jose Ramirez (124) has produced a bit from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Cesar Hernandez (118) has been a solid free-agent addition in the leadoff spot. And Bradley Zimmer, while he has recently slowed down at the plate, has a 108 wRC+. Everyone else in the lineup is below league average.

That means Francisco Lindor (83). It still means Franmil Reyes (92), although Reyes has been on a hot streak the last few days and seems to be coming out of it. Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado, Sandy Leon and others have negative wRC+ figures. Indians catchers, as a group, have one hit in the month of August. The bottom of the Indians lineup has had two or three quality games and a great deal of silent nights.

4. It isn't necessarily a collective issue, as each hitter is dealing with his own mechanical or approach issues. The frustration, though, is a group effort. The Indians have been riding this slump in the hopes that some corners can be turned sooner rather than later.

"I’d love to see us get 18 hits and score a bunch of runs, but that doesn’t mean there’s not effort," Francona said on a Zoom cal. "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 next day’s starter kind of had his way with us. We do have guys with good track records and they are healthy. 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. It’s going to be hard tomorrow, but Friday we’ll see if we can do better."

5. Even with a sky-is-faling offensive situation, the Indians ended Wednesday night one game out of a playoff spot by winning percentage. That is in part due to an American League landscape that includes only three teams with records more than two games above .500. There is a logjam, both in the AL Central and the AL as a whole. Major League Baseball expanding the postseason from five playoff teams in each league to eight afforded all the contenders at least a portion of room for error that didn't perviously exist. The Indians and their sluggish offense stand as one of the teams that might take advantage of that format. Any increase in a sense of urgency, though, can't affect what happens on the field.

"I’m sure guys know, they’re aware. But the game’s still the game," Francona said. "You’ve still got to play the game. You can’t really treat things differently. I know that some things are. But you’ve still got to play the game. We’ve talked since the beginning, whoever handles adjustments the best gives yourself the best chance to win."

6. The Indians' rotation has been solid night after night, propping up a hapless lineup and leading to an over-.500 record despite one of the league's worst offenses. But as long as this collective slump continues, what happens on a night when that game's starter doesn't have the feel for a pitch or two? Right now, it means trouble.

That was the case Wednesday night. Starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco struggled from the moment he took the mound in the first inning, laboring through a few longer innings. He was unable to finish the fifth, one night after Adam Plutko was done after the fourth. He finished the night with three earned runs on four hits and five walks to go with seven strikeouts. The walks were killers. The three runs were all the Cubs needed, even before the Indians' bullpen was knocked around. Carrasco didn't have the feel for a few pitches and had to fight through those command issues.

"I didn’t control myself in there in that situation and I was trying to do my best and it was on and off, man," Carrasco said no a Zoom call. "I couldn’t find where the ball goes today — my changeup, slider all that kind of stuff. I tried to keep the game really close, 1-0, but I run out of pitches, I don’t know 90 or something pitches in there. But I think this is something that I learned, when you don’t have your best stuff you have fight through and that’s pretty much what I did, man."

After the Indians opened the season with 17 consecutive games of allowing four or fewer runs, they have now allowed more than four runs in back-to-back games, the first of which was at least partially due to Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac being placed on the restricted list, which forced Adam Plutko into a start on short notice Tuesday night.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Indians at www.beaconjournal.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.