To get ready for the upcoming games against the Cleveland Indians, we sat down with Katrina Putnam of Wahoo’s on First to talk about Terry Francona‘s club – which draws comparisons to the young Chicago Cubs.
1) Corey Kluber struggled initially – what has been the key behind his turnaround?
In April, Kluber suffered from an acute case of high expectations. Last year, he had a 4.14 ERA with just 35 strikeouts in 37 innings during the first month of the season.
This April, it was 4.24 with 36 punch-outs over 34 innings. Kluber has been a slow starter historically, and panicking over his early stats is never a good idea.
Since then, he’s lowered his ERA to 3.54, with a league-leading 111 strikeouts. Even in April, Kluber had a couple of very good games.
His biggest problem is entirely out of his control, and that’s his 3-8 record. The Tribe just isn’t scoring runs for him, even in one-or two- run games, and that’s making his season look like it started much worse than it actually did.
2) What does the promotion of Francisco Lindor mean to the Indians?
To hear the fans talk, Lindor’s promotion is the difference between a sub-.500 season and World Series rings.
As the Tribe’s top prospect, the shortstop is under a lot of pressure to do well. He seems up to the challenge, though. Opening Day shortstop Jose Ramirez had just a .180 average and a .487 OPS when he was sent to Triple-A Columbus last week, so being an offensive upgrade won’t be hard.
After a very slow start and some minor injury trouble, Lindor hit .400/.429/.600 for the Clippers in June, before finally being called up, and he got a hit in his very first start.
Fans can look forward to a .240 average, which plenty of extra-base hits, but his real strength is defense. Third base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who got his own callup last week, should combine with Lindor to make the left side of the Indians’ infield almost impenetrable.
3) What is the sentiment amongst Cleveland fans? Can this team make a postseason push in a loaded AL Central?
The sentiment was decidedly negative until Lindor arrived this week.
That doesn’t mean the Tribe is out of it – Cleveland is seven games back in the division race, but there’s no reason they can’t get on a winning streak and make the playoffs.
The AL Central is a strong division, with all of the teams still in the hunt, but Cleveland will have to make their move quickly. Detroit just got Justin Verlander back, and they’ve won six of their last ten games.
Thankfully, the Twins have returned to normal, dropping out of first place. It’s going to be incredibly difficult, but it’s hard to argue against a rotation that includes four of the top pitchers in the American League, and a lineup that contains Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley.
Get ready for the comparisons between Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant. They’ll be on full display this week.
4) It seems, to most Chicagoans, that the Michael Bourn signing was a bust. What are your thoughts on the deal a couple years in?
Anyone who would argue today that Bourn was a good signing is deluding themselves. That said, anyone who didn’t see the pitfalls of signing an aging veteran who relied heavily on speed is just as guilty of having their head in the sand.
Bourn was over 33, which is not exactly the best time to sign a player known for swiping bags and chasing down home run balls in the outfield.
Terry Francona has already eliminated his at-bats against left-handers, using him as part of a complex outfield platoon. He dropped from first in the lineup to the very bottom, which actually helped him to get his average up to .245.
He’s not stealing bases, but he is a much better outfielder defensively than anyone else the Indians could pair with Brantley, and the defense suffers on days when he’s not patrolling center field.
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There is a lot of talk amongst Cleveland fans about designating Bourn for assignment or trying to convince a team to trade for him if the Indians pay most of his salary, but that’s pretty unlikely.
The Tribe owes him the money either way, and because they’re a small market team, it makes much more sense to get whatever value they can.
5) Is there any frustration with Francona? Did fans expect annual contenders given his success with Boston?
The frustration with Francona is certainly not at a boiling point, but it does seem to be simmering beneath the surface.
There were high expectations, made higher by the fact that he took a statistically average club and made them Wild Card winners in his first season.
It was a storybook year that made it seem like he could do anything with the players he was given, in a the-sum-is-greater-than-the-parts way.
There’s also some bitterness about how he uses his bullpen, which has led to the breakdown of pitchers like Bryan Shaw. Shaw had 80 appearances last season, finishing with a 2.59 ERA, but he’s seemed fatigued this year.
A lot of people – myself included – have questioned whether he was overworked. Shaw has managed to get his ERA back to 2.53, but it was a rough start to the year for someone who should have been a very good setup man.