Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Wheels are starting to fly off the Tribe’s party bus

tribe train wreckWhat a difference a week makes for the Cleveland Indians.

The Tribe headed into last week’s two-game series with Detroit riding high, winners of 18 of their past 22 games following a four-game sweep of Seattle that, while entertaining, sent up enough warning signs that the Tribe was living on borrowed time. The Indians were also in first place, 2.5 games in front of the Tigers.

Now, after seven losses in their past eight games, including five in a row, some of the shine has rubbed off Francona Ball. The Tribe comes home tonight for a two-game series with Cincinnati, 2.5 games behind the Tigers and once again nursing a Detroit hangover.

After a strong April that saw him hit .301 with eight home runs and 22 RBI, many Tribe fans were calling for a contract extension for Mark Reynolds. A .211 batting average with just four home runs in May has cooled that talk considerably. (Although Reynolds is still finding a way to drive in runs as he has 18 RBI this month.)

Carlos Santana is in the same boat. After hitting .389 with five home runs and 13 RBI in the season’s opening month, Santana is hitting .200 with 25 strikeouts in May.

The offense as a whole continues to show any kind of consistency as the Tribe has scored three or fewer runs in almost half their games (23 out of 51).

Then there is the ongoing situation with the pitching staff.

Despite the same claims that we have been hearing for three years now that Ubaldo Jimenez if finally “fixed,” he is still the same inconsistent pitcher that he’s been ever since he arrived in Cleveland. A five-inning pitcher at this point in his career (and doesn’t that just scream “Ace” to you?) Jimenez was so bad in April (a 7.13 ERA) that his mediocre May has improved his season stats.

Brett Myers, on the disabled list since April 20, is having his elbow re-examined after struggling in his last rehab start at Akron … closer Chris Perez is on the disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder (we’re sure it’s nothing more serious than that) … and set-up man Vinnie Pestano has lost 5 mph off his fastball and recently spent time on this disabled list with a sore elbow.

Yep, nothing to worry about here.

Things have gotten so bad so quickly in the past week that even radio announcer Tom Hamilton has started to lose it and move ever closer to John Sterling homer territory.

It’s been evident this year that Hamilton drank deep of the front office’s Kool-Aid and bought into the notion that the same front office that gave us a lefty-dominated lineup and a left field tandem of Shelly Duncan and Johnny Damon last year is suddenly filled with people who’s every move is the right one.

Hamilton has been extra feisty this year and the recent losing seems to be wearing on him, and the ninth-inning of Monday’s game may have pushed him over the edge. Hamilton took umbrage after Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman threw a fastball near the head of Nick Swisher. We were watching the game and didn’t hear Hamilton’s call until later, but calling for Swisher to smack a line drive off Chapman’s head is a bit extreme. And it overlooks the fact that if Swisher hadn’t over-reacted to the first pitch – which was nowhere near close to hitting anything other than the backstop – then Chapman wouldn’t have thrown his second pitch with a purpose. (Not to excuse Chapman, what he did was still crap, but the two events are tied together.)

But that’s part of what makes Swisher the type of player he is, and you can’t really expect the team’s announcer to criticize the player who signed the biggest free agent contract in franchise history. Or question why someone who grew up in Columbus can “come home” to Cleveland.

Even though we just passed Memorial Day, it is still relatively early in the baseball season. Last year, none of the teams that led their divisions in the American League on Memorial Day were still in first place when the season ended – and two would miss the playoffs. (Care to guess one of those teams?) In 2011, half the teams leading their divisions on Memorial Day would not win the division. (Want to guess one of the those teams?)

OK, time to wrap this up before we lose the plot completely.

And as good as they were in April, Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have been just as good (and in some ways better) during the month of May. Despite their problem scoring runs on a consistent basis, the offense can still get hot enough to ring the Mario Coin on any given night.

More than likely, the Tribe’s recent slump is just the team coming back to normal. As much as fans wanted to believe this team was better than it really is during that 18-out-of-22 streak, the reality is that if everything breaks right the Tribe is probably a .500 ball club.

So while they are probably not as bad as they have looked over the past week (we’re certainly not expecting a 5-24 slide like we saw last August) they probably need to start showing that.

Because while the calendar may say that it is still early, if the Tribe is not careful it’s going to get late in a hurry.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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