Despite still being within striking distance of both the AL Central and the wild card, the Cleveland Indians are running low on time. With just over a month left in the season, the Tribe needs to start stringing a lot of wins together if they plan on returning to the playoffs. The problem, though, is the club looks like it’ll be nothing more than their .500 record indicates.
At 60-60, the Indians are your perfect “ebb and flow” kind of team. They’ll triumphantly win four straight over tough competition, then quietly bow out the next four games against league bottom feeders. They’ll explode offensively and hang double digit runs on an opponent one night, then lose 1-0 the very next day. Beyond Corey Kluber, their rotation is full of pitchers who look unhittable just one outing before they appear to be throwing at a home run derby.
For Cleveland fans, it’s incredibly frustrating. While the team eventually recovers from a string of miserable games, they also fall right back into a lull after a rousing winning streak. The Indians just don’t look like a club who can to contend, and yesterday was a perfect example of this.
Heading into a doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team currently 16.5 games back in the NL West, Cleveland was looking to put together a couple crucial wins. After taking two of three from the New York Yankees over the weekend, the Indians had to see this as an opportunity to keep the streak alive.
The first game featured some fireworks, thanks to a walk-off home run from Zach Walters. Acquired at the deadline from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera, Walters came through in the clutch for his new team. However, any hopes the excitement from the dramatic victory would carry over into the night-cap were dashed. As it would turn out, Walters’ home run was the last time the Indians would score yesterday.
The Tribe was shutout by Arizona for 12 straight innings in the second game, eventually losing 1-0. Cleveland left ten men on base, spoiling a decent night by pitcher Josh Tomlin, who bucked his trend of giving up at least one home run per start.
An exciting walk-off win, followed by an offensive dud. The doubleheader against the Diamondbacks was about as perfect a look as you’ll get at how this season has gone for Cleveland, all in one day.
The Indians are 120 games into the season, and they still can’t seem to figure out their identity. Are they the out-of-nowhere playoff team we watched last year? Or are they on the level of the 2008 club, which followed a postseason run with a season where the wheels completely fell off?
Things obviously aren’t as miserable now as they were then, but the team still can’t seem to win enough games to make them appear as anything more than decent. And while being decent isn’t the worst thing in the world, it likely results in watching the playoffs from home.
People can point to the manageable gap between Cleveland and a postseason berth all they want, but until the team can figure out how to maintain success, it’ll mean nothing. Sure it’s great that, despite the team waffling their way through the season, the Indians are only 5.5 games back. At the same time, nobody will be pointing to that deficit if it’s the same come October.