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Tribe Notes

Jim Ingraham: Indians can forget about the World Series until they get their bullpen problems fixed

  • Indians-Dan-Otero

    Indians relief pitcher Dan Otero wipes his face after giving up a two-run double against the Angels' Rene Rivera on April 3 in Anaheim, Calif. A problematic bullpen has been the primary reason for the Indians' struggles this season.

    AP

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They could have won the World Series in 2016.

They should have won the World Series in 2017.

At the rate they’re going, they won’t even sniff the World Series in 2018.

What team are we talking about? That’s right, not the Cavs.

For the Indians so far, the most exciting subplot to their subterranean season is speculating on whether Jose Ramirez can break the franchise record for most home runs by a player 5-foot-9 or shorter (the record: 32, by 5-9 Earl Averill in 1931 and ’32).

Because when it comes to wins and losses, the Indians have been only so-so. Hit or miss. Easy come, easy go. Never up, never in. Nobody loves me but my mother, and she might be jiving, too.

In other words, the team that won an American League-record 22 games in a row last year is 23-23 this year through Wednesday.

Since April 14, over a month ago, the Indians’ longest winning “streak” has been two games. Two. And they only did that once. Once.

For most of those days, for most of the season to date, the Indians have clung to the .500 mark like a tremulous 5-year-old to his parent’s leg, on the first day of kindergarten.

Should this be a cause for concern? Yes and no.

No, because through 46 games last year they were just 24-22, but still went on to win 102 games, the second-highest win total in the 117-year history of the franchise.

Yes, because, well, they’re 23-23! The teams against whom the Indians rightfully measure themselves have records far better than that. Is this any way to sniff the World Series?

No.

The Indians return tonight to play just their fourth home game in their last 17 games. It’s their bad luck that they’ll be facing the Houston Astros, a team the Indians measure themselves against. One that last year not only sniffed the World Series but played in it — and won it.

This is not a stretch of the Indians’ schedule for which a .500 team is best equipped: nine consecutive games against the last two World Series winners — the Cubs and Astros.

The Indians’ entire season series against the sleek, powerful Astros will be played in the span of nine days. The Indians lost two of three last weekend in Texas, and tonight is Game 1 of a four-game series against the Astros, and their scorched-earth starting rotation.

Houston and Cleveland rank 1-2 in the American League in starting pitchers’ ERA, but the Astros lead by so much that the Indians can’t even see the “A” in their ERA. Houston’s 2.26 is more than a full run better than Cleveland’s 3.35.

But starting pitching is the least of the Indians’ problems.

Their bullpen is the most of their problems, and it’s one that is probably not going away until Indians officials aggressively address it. Like starting now.

With the exception of closer Cody Allen and, when healthy, the artist still known as Andrew Miller, the rest of the bullpen has produced the kind of results that gives the term “the rest of the bullpen” a bad name.

Fortunately for the Indians, the hazardous materials portion of their bullpen has not yet sunk their season. The Central Division’s decrepitude has made sure of that.

With a 23-23 record, the Indians would have been in fifth place in the AL West, roughly seven games behind first-place Houston. But the Indians call the homely AL Central home. It’s the division with the construction barrels around it. The division where a record of 23-23 puts you in first place.

In reality, however, the Indians aren’t competing against the AL Central teams. They are competing against the teams they could potentially face in the postseason, primarily the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox.

Those three teams rank 1-2-4, respectively, in AL bullpen ERA. That’s the category in which the Indians rank 15th — a distant, decrepit last in the league, with a blimpish 5.65 ERA, nearly three full runs higher than the Indians’ league-leading 2.89 bullpen ERA last year.

The Indians have a flawed roster, but it’s fixable. Starting like now. If it ain’t fixed, fix it. Indians officials have a track record of constructing good bullpens, but they are going to have to take a mulligan on this year.

Allowing Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith to leave as free agents and not replacing them with able arms, coupled with Miller’s injury-plagued two months, has turned the late innings into a horror show for manager Terry Francona when he trudges to the mound to hand the ball, the lead and the hearts of baseball’s most deprived fan base to the latest flavor-of-the-day reliever.

That’s not good enough.

The trade deadline isn’t until July 31, but the Indians can’t afford to wait that long. Not when the losses are piling up as fast as the wins.

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



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