When an offense goes silent, the defensive side of the diamond becomes increasingly more important. The Cleveland Indians‘ defensive troubles continued Saturday afternoon as starting pitcher Corey Kluber was tabbed with five runs (four earned) in a losing effort to the Toronto Blue Jays. As the bats sort things out at the plate, the Tribe needs to tighten up defensively to survive this cold stretch.
Poor defensive play began early in the first inning when Melky Cabrera’s deep fly ball to right field was misplayed by David Murphy sparking a mess of an inning. In the same frame, first baseman Nick Swisher botched two plays that resulted in one run credited to the right-handed Kluber. The first one came from a weak fly ball in shallow right off the bat of Jose Bautista that Swisher had sized up until he refrained from turning around to get squared off with the ball.
The power-hitting Bautista moved into scoring position off an avoidable passed ball by catcher Yan Gomes. Two batters later, catcher Dioner Navarro wreaked more havoc on the Indians when he poked a briskly hit ball directly where Swisher was standing as he booted it off his foot plating Bautista. In a snap of a finger, the struggling Indians were stuck in a 2-0 hole that could have very well been a tied game heading into the bottom half of the inning.
This erratic start set the tone for a Mark Buehrle outing Cleveland fans are all too familiar with. The 35-year-old lefty made quick work of the Indians lineup pitching seven innings and three walks on only three strikeouts. Buehrle only allowed four hits in his fourth start of the season, bringing his ERA to .64, making him one solid start away from the stat resembling a realistic blood alcohol level.
The seventh inning drew similar comparisons to the first when Gomes continued his early stretch of meager defensive play. After missing a catchable pop fly behind home plate to end the inning, Kluber then walked Bautista aboard which led to the Blue Jays fifth and final run of the game.
Cleveland ranks 26th in MLB in errors sitting at 16, while the Baltimore Orioles place first with only three. That is a big disparity only 17 games into April, while many of the Tribe’s mistakes, such as the ones made this afternoon, haven’t been qualified as errors.
Manager Terry Francona must put an end to this reoccurring theme of handing out runs as they continue to cost the team wins. This dilemma is nothing new as the Indians finished 20th last season in errors with 98 in 5925 total chances (.983 Fielding Percentage). While the Tribe waits patiently for the offense to regain its natural state, the defense needs to play above their standard rate during a time when runs are coming at a premium.