Courtesy of MCT
As the end of May approaches, the Cleveland Indians sit atop the American League Central Division of the MLB with a record of 27-21 on the year, a half-game ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox. While this might be welcome news for Indians fans, it is not necessarily a good predictor of where the team will finish in the division come September. Here are five reasons why the Indians will not be the American League’s Central Division champions at the end of the season.
1. Run Production
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera leads the team in batting average (.301), on-base percentage (.395) and is third on the team in hits (46). He is the only player on the team hitting above .300 or that has an on-base percentage above .390. Second baseman Jason Kipnis leads the team with eight home runs and 30 RBIs, but he has struck out 34 times. As a team, the Indians have a minus-15 run differential and are the only division-leader in baseball who has scored fewer runs than they have given up so far this season. The next closest is the Cincinnati with a margin of plus-11.
2. Inconsistent Pitching
The pitching staff has been less than impressive in 2012. The lone bright spot in the starting rotation has been new-addition Derek Lowe, who is currently 6-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 10 starts. The other five pitchers who have started at least one game are a combined 13-13 in 38 starts. Justin Masterson, last year’s team leader in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, is 2-3 with an ERA of 4.62. Last offseason’s major acquisition, Ubaldo Jimenez, has struggled as well. Jimenez has a 5-4 record in eight starts, but his ERA is 5.79, he’s given up a team-leading eight home runs, and has walked more batters (42) than he has struck out (33). As a team, the Indians are 26th in MLB with an ERA of 4.40. They have allowed the fifth-most runs (224), the third-most walks (184) and are 28th in strikeouts (296).
3. Performance at Home
Most teams feel like playing at home gives them an edge on their opponent in terms of playing in front of supportive fans, in a ballpark that the players are familiar with and not having to travel to play. That doesn’t seem to be the case for the Indians this year. This year’s team has a 15-12 record at home. Winning at home is a crucial part of a team’s success throughout an entire season, because while the games aren’t necessarily easier themselves, the atmosphere at home usually seems to make things easier on the players. Luckily, the Indians have performed well on the road this season, posting a 12-9 record thus far. They can’t expect that to continue long-term and will need to pick up more victories at home if they expect to compete for the division crown.
4. Player Distractions
While things happen throughout the course of a season that distract a team from the game itself, the Indians seem to continually find ways to get distracted year after year. Recently, relief pitcher Chris Perez made comments questioning why Indians fans are not filling up Progressive Field to see the first-place team and why there are often boos directed toward the home team during games. Perez does have a point. The Indians are ranked last in MLB in attendance with an average of 16,374 fans attending home games. However, Perez has created a rift between the team, management and the fans. While he should be worried about playing baseball and winning games to keep the Indians in first place, he is more worried about fans showing up to watch the games. Baseball has the longest season, in terms of games played, of any of the major professional sports in this country. Players should be focused on things they can control instead of those that they cannot if they want to continue playing into October.
5. Recent History
Since 2002, the Indians have led the AL Central at this point in the season three different times, including last season when they led the eventual division champion Detroit Tigers by seven games. In that stretch, the Indians have won the division only once, in 2007. The Indians finished second only twice, 2005 and 2011, and have finished third or fourth in seven of those 10 years. It can be argued that each season is its own entity with different factors playing in, such as different players, managers, injuries and so on, and I will not dispute that fact. However in sports, the teams that sustain success over a period of time often seem to rise to the top when a title is on the line. The Cleveland Indians are certainly not one of those teams.