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Tribe Notes

Commentary: No Corey Kluber may mean no division crown for Indians

  • Indians-Marlins-Baseball-2

    Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber, left, walks into the dugout with head athletic trainer James Quinlan, right, during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Wednesday in Miami. Kluber was hit on the right arm by a line drive hit by Miami Marlins' Brian Anderson.

    LYNNE SLADKY / AP

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Two days after the best day of the season for the Minnesota Twins, the news on Corey Kluber was ominously vague: he does indeed have a non-displaced fracture of his right arm, and he's out indefinitely.

The best that can be said about that prognosis is that at least it's better than "out for the season." But only slightly better.

As Freddie Kitchens might say, "Whoopty hell."

For now, for the Indians, the immediate, Corey Kluber-less future seems as bleak as bleak can be. Forty percent of the best starting rotation in baseball is on the injured list. One of the injured thoroughbreds was leading the majors in ERA (0.00) when he got hurt. The other injured starter has won two Cy Young Awards.

With Kluber and Mike Clevinger both out indefinitely, the onus falls on - gulp! - the Indians' hitters to pick up the slack. If you care about this team that's exactly where you DON'T want the onus to fall. Nobody does.

Except for the Minnesota Twins.

The current incarnation of the Indians' onus-plagued, so-called offense is so feeble that Friday night, for the first time in perhaps forever, the Indians' starting lineup had their designated hitter hitting exactly where the pitcher would have hit if there was no such thing as a designated hitter: ninth.

In other words, if your DH is batting ninth, isn't that sort of like playing with NO designated hitter?

Yeesh. The Indians, with two elite starting pitchers on the injured list, with not even a ballpark estimate on when they might return, are now counting on the worst offense in the American League to keep the team afloat in the AL Central.

If you care about this team, here's what you're hitching your wagon to: The Indians' team batting average of .215 is not only the worst in the league, by 12 percentage points, it's worse - by 19 points - than any team batting average in Indians' history. The lowest full-season team batting average by any Indians team is .234, done twice, 47 years ago and 51 years ago.

Where's Matt LaPorta when you need him?

It's tough - fruitless? - asking an offense for which scoring runs is like pulling teeth - wisdom teeth - for a little more production, please. That, however, will be asked of an Indians team with a league-low slugging percentage (.343) that is 31 points worse than the next closest team and 155 points lower than Minnesota's league-leading .498.

But, wait! Just as the fandom is about to slip into a full-blown post-non-displaced fracture funk, here comes the Indians' Paul Revere, clippety-clopping out of the darkness offering a rallying-the-troops battle cry:

"This," said Terry Francona, "can be our time to shine."

"Or not," you're thinking - right?

This is why managers - especially THIS manager - make the big bucks.

Just to make sure his scrappy little band of offensively challenged hired hands are all on the same tattered page, Francona called a team meeting Friday, prior to facing a Seattle team, whose No.4 hitter belted 32 home runs and drove in 107 runs last year - for the Indians.

Francona said he wanted to remind his players, "who we are and what we stand for. How you handle adversity decides how your season goes. Now it's getting thrown at us, and teams aren't going to feel sorry for us."

This, a baseball barrister might argue, is a case of the Indians getting what they deserved, after dangerously diminishing their roster with a radical payroll-slashing offseason. The hope - "strategy" might be giving ownership too much credit - was apparently that the elite pitching staff, anchored by the five-star rotation, would be enough to cover for the popgun offense.

Now, with an injury-riddled rotation, the margin of error that was slim even for a full-strength rotation, becomes even more dangerously slender, with two understudies taking rotation turns for the foreseeable future, backed by the same lightweight lineup.

There is, moreover, no indication that there is any inclination to trade for any significant help during the season, a season launched with that risky mandate to somehow win more with less.

But now, suddenly, the opening day rotation is much less than it was projected to be, and the offense is even worse than it was feared to be.

Other than that, it's all seashells and balloons.

The great X-factor, of course, is Francona himself. If there is a manager who can manage his way out of harm's way, it's the future Hall of Fame skipper. That's an advantage the Indians have, and will need, barely one month into a season in which they seem tied to the tracks, from which they can hear that lonesome whistle blow.

"Our job is to believe we can win tonight by one run," Francona said prior to Friday's game. "We're not thinking about July."

Not when May looks ugly enough.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com


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