The Suburbanite
  • Tribe seeking to avoid another mid-season fade

  • Many of the faces are different, but the challenge facing the Cleveland Indians is the same as it has been each of the last three years as the calendar flips to June.

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  • Many of the faces are different, but the challenge facing the Cleveland Indians is the same as it has been each of the last three years as the calendar flips to June.
    As they did in both 2011 and 2012, the Indians began June in the heart of the American League Central race. In 2011, the Tribe led the division by five games entering April and led Detroit by five games with a 32-20 record. The following year, a 25-18 record and lead of 3.5 games over Chicago on May 23 turned into a 27-23 record by month’s end, but the Indians were still within 1.5 games of first as the month ended.
    In both cases, strong starts to the season gave way to disappointing second halves that left the Tribe below .500 and well out of the playoff race. With an overhauled roster and new manager, the question for 2013 is whether the outcome will be different.
    Once again, a late-May division lead and a winning record were reality. At 27-19 on May 23, the Indians led the division by .5 games over Detroit. Since then, offensive struggles and a steady decline from the pitching staff have resulted in a five-game and eight-game losing streak.
    Since May 23, Cleveland has lost 14 of 19 and gone from above .500 and in first place to 33-33 and 4.5 games out of first. That stretch has included road sweeps against the Tigers and New York Yankees and has seen the Tribe score more than five runs just once. In eight of the losses, opponents have held the Cleveland offense to three runs or less.
    Manager Terry Francona and the slew of new additions to the roster may not have been around for the swoons of the past two seasons, but the task in front of them is similar.
    High-priced free-agent additions Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn have delivered mixed results thus far. Swisher, a clubhouse favorite in nearly every place he has played, is hitting just .235 and with seven home runs and 23 RBI, and his production at the plate hasn’t matched the four-year, $56 million contract he signed prior to the season.
    Bourn, who missed 21 games in April and May with a lacerated finger on his right hand, arrived in Cleveland with a reputation as a speedster who would be able to create offense with his legs. That has not proven to be the case through his first 41 games, as he has stolen just nine bases and in what would seem to be more than a coincidence, just two since the team’s offensive and overall downturn began on May 23.
    While Bourn and Swisher have delivered hit-and-miss results, the most productive acquisition has been veteran infielder Mark Reynolds. A career .235 hitter, his average peaked at .302 on May 4 and has receded to his career mark since then. Still, Reynolds’ 13 HR and 42 RBI have bolstered the middle of the order at a time when the team was playing its best baseball. His 72 strikeouts are the 11th-most in baseball, but he has always been a free swinger who hits for power with plenty of swings and misses mixed in.
    Page 2 of 2 - Yan Gomes has been another difference-making newcomer for Francona’s lineup, providing a break behind the plate for Carlos Santana while displaying a solid bat (.271 avg., 6 HR, 17 RBI in 28 games). The Sao Paolo, Brazil, native has functioned well in a part-time role, giving Francona a chance to slide Santana to first base or DH and keep his bat in the lineup.
    The results have been equally varied for the pitching staff in terms of new additions and signings. Behind No. 1 starter Justin Masterson (8-5, 3.65 ERA), Scott Kazmir and Brett Myers haven’t added much to the rotation in their first season with the Tribe. Myers, who made four starts before suffering an elbow injury in mid-April, was 0-3 with an 8.02 ERA before going on the disabled list. Kazmir has had a few shining moments, including allowing one earned run in seven innings in a 7-1 win against Cincinnati on May 30, but both his ERA (5.33) and WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched, 1.59) go a long way toward explaining why the Indians have lost four of the last six games he has started.
    There is also the looming question of the fate of closer Chris Perez, who is rehabbing his right shoulder after an MRI in mid-May revealed tendinitis, and also finds himself in the middle of off-field drama after Rocky River police charged him and his wife with misdemeanor drug possession following the delivery of suspicious packages to their home.
    A quick look to the north is enough to remind Indians fans that another constant must be overcome if their team is to reverse its recent misfortune and claw back in the postseason race. The team the Indians are looking up at is once again Detroit, with a $148.4 million opening-day payroll, according to the Associated Press, and three high-priced stars in ace starter Justin Verlander, first baseman Prince Fielder and 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
    To compete with the Tigers and the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, Cleveland ($76.2 million payroll) will need its signings to pay off and for players such as Swisher, Bourn and Reynolds to outplay the deals they signed. Doing more with less is the mindset the Tribe must embrace and employ to ensure that 2013 doesn’t end the same way as the two preceding seasons.
    Reach Andy at 330-899-2872 or
    On Twitter: @aharrisBURB

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