The Cleveland Indians were one of baseball’s great stories for most of the 2011 season. They raced out to baseball’s best record through May and stayed in the playoff race until fading over the season’s final month. Certainly, not many expected last year’s Tribe to be where they had been. So when the 2012 version spent much of the first half at or near the top of the AL Central standings, most took it as confirmation that last year was no fluke.
But a funny thing happened en route to another contending season. The Indians stopped winning.
Indians have never gone 5-28 in any 33-game stretch in their history. They’re 5-27 over last 32, playing Rangers tonight in Cleveland.
— DKnobler (@DKnobler) August 31, 2012
The Indians have gone so bad, so fast that one has to wonder if manager Manny Acta’s job might be on the line. Acta was praised for his guidance of a young and undermanned roster in 2011, but it seems that even though the roster is improved talent-wise from last year, the results have been drastically different.
In 2011, the Indians overcame injuries to many of its key contributors including Shin-Soo Choo, who missed much of the season and was generally ineffective when he was playing. They won games with timely hitting and outstanding pitching, from the starters all the way through the back of the bullpen. The 2012 team has kept the bullpen in tact and they continue to produce excellent results. The offense has seen a return to form from Choo, a breakout campaign from Michael Brantley, and a full season of Jason Kipnis. Unfortrunately, that’s just about all of the good news.
Cleveland expected a much better contribution from a handful of sources. Catcher Carlos Santana authored an .800 OPS season and 64 extra-base hits a year ago, but has seen his slugging percentage drop dramatically in 2012. DH Travis Hafner has been effective when healthy, but has managed to play in only 60 games this year. Meanwhile the starting pitching, which had been solid if unspectacular last season, has been nothing more than poor in 2012.
Justin Masterson was the surprise ace of the staff in his first season in the rotation, posting a 3.21 ERA over 216 innings pitched, and while the acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez didn’t go as well as they had planned, the hope was than those two right handers would lead the staff going forward.
Unfortunately, the only thing they’ve lead the staff in this season is losses.
The Indians overachieved in 2011 and they are probably underachieving a bit this year. Simply put, the Tribe didn’t do much in the off-season to fill their holes and the moves they did make (signing Casey Kotchman, re-signing Grady Sizemore, and trading for Derek Lowe) didn’t work. There wasn’t enough talent here to overcome many injuries or to win when some of their key components were having down years. To me, that’s not something you can blame on the manager, but GM Chris Antonetti will look to change the voice in the dugout first if he’s worried about his own job.
I don’t know how much a manager truly makes a difference. I think that if you have a bad fit, like Bobby Valentine in Boston, the situation become pretty obvious pretty early. Acta seems like a guy that players like to play for and I don’t think Cleveland’s problems lie in the manager’s office.
The real issue with the Indians is the composition of their roster. There are too few right handed hitters in the lineup, too few power arms in the rotation, and too few smart decisions made by the front office. With a payroll as low as Cleveland’s (fourth-lowest in the league), you cannot afford to miss on trades and free agents. Chris Antonetti has been missing on both an awful lot.
That’s not Manny Acta’s fault, but that doesn’t mean it won’t cost him his job.
For more on the Tribe, see Wahoo’s on First.