Tuesday, July 16, 2019 Elyria 73°
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Jim Ingraham

Commentary: What you see might be as good as it gets with the Indians this season

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    The Indians' Kevin Plawecki reacts after striking out in the eighth inning against the Oakland A's on Wednesday in Cleveland. The Indians' offense has struggled all year and there's no certainty any help will be arriving.

    AP

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Cheer up. It’s not like everything has gone wrong.

Oh sure, there was Francisco Lindor starting the year on the injured list with a sprained ankle and strained calf, and Jason Kipnis also starting the year on the injured list with a strained calf.

Once the season started, Mike Clevinger almost immediately went on the injured list with an upper back strain. Hanley Ramirez, who the Indians signed hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, but instead caught a .184 batting average in a bottle, was released.

Then, oh, by the way, Corey Kluber was placed on the injured list with a broken arm and Jose Ramirez has a broken swing. He hit .318 two years ago. This year he’s hitting .196. The outfield, manned on most days by players who would all be extra outfielders on a championship-caliber team, has been even worse than expected — and not much was expected.

Trevor Bauer, who was supposed to take over rotation ace duties following the injury to Kluber, is 0-2 with a 7.04 ERA in four starts since Kluber went on the injured list.

The run production remains spotty, and that’s on its good days. They’ve scored three runs or less in over half their games (25 of 48), and — not that this is a season wrecker — are the only team in the American League that has not hit a triple.

All that when the division-leading Twins are on a pace to win 108 games.

So the Indians’ timing is as bad as their run production.

Wednesday, prior to a garden variety 7-2 loss, their third in a row to Oakland, the Indians countered with another roster move. They told veteran outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and his .210 batting average (.120 with runners in scoring position) that he and it were being designated for assignment.

Gonzalez, a former National League batting champion, was signed by the Indians near the end of spring training, hoping he could provide some punch to their punchless outfield.

Gonzalez is now gone, and the Indians’ outfield is still punchless.

“It was so hard, because you love the way he carries himself, and his professionalism,” said manager Terry Francona, of Gonzalez. “But we weren’t seeing the offense we needed.”

Gonzalez appeared in 30 games, and had 105 at-bats. He had 22 hits, and 19 of them were singles. He was easily the Indians’ best defensive outfielder, and great in the clubhouse. But at some point, there have to be some hits.

“Would the offense come in 100 more at-bats? We don’t have a crystal ball,” Francona said. “He had a big impact on a lot of guys. When he spoke, guys listened.”

When he didn’t hit, the Indians said see ya.

A month before the Indians signed Gonzalez to a one-year $2 million contract, Pittsburgh signed ex-Indian Melky Cabrera to a one-year $1.15 million contract.

Today, Gonzalez is gone, and Cabrera is second in the National League in hitting with a .338 average.

The Indians outfield remains a vacant lot.

“We’re at a point where we need to find out about these young guys,” said Francona of the team’s remaining outfielders. “If we don’t find out about them, that would be a mistake.”

That comment sounds dangerously close to what you might hear from the manager of a team in or about to enter a rebuild phase.

“We need to find out if these are guys we can win with,” Francona continued. “Not knowing is not good.”

Judging by that comment, it doesn’t sound like the Indians are leaning toward any midseason trades to bolster the American League’s least productive outfield. If that’s the case, get ready for a heavy dose of what you’ve already seen.

The left fielder in Wednesday’s loss was Mike Freeman, whose listed position is shortstop. Oscar Mercado, recently called up from Columbus, appears to have some potential. Leonys Martin is Leonys Martin.

The outfield stable also includes Jake Bauers, Jordan Luplow and, at some point in the days ahead, the return of Greg Allen from Columbus, and Tyler Naquin from the injured list. Maybe even, eventually, Bradley Zimmer. Remember him?

The bullpen has been stellar. But the rotation is starting to wobble, and the Twins are not. Almost nothing has gone right for Cleveland and almost nothing has gone wrong for Minnesota.

Amazingly, with all that said, the Indians still have a winning record. Despite getting swept at home by Oakland, the Indians are still above sea level at 25-23. But the Twins are 7 games ahead of the Indians in the AL Central.

This is a classic case of a borderline contending team needing some roster help. But the Indians seem to be in roster contraction, not construction mode. So help may not be on the way.

What we’re seeing is who they are.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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