Sunday, June 12, 2011

Going down

If the bloom isn’t off the Indians’ rose, it’s fading as rapidly as it appeared.

Just when they showed signs of being a real contender in the American League this season, the Indians unveil the big tease.

You know what the tease is. In this case, it’s winning 30 of the first 45 games of the season, attracting the attention in baseball and then performing a swan dive into the tank.

Some call it the big buildup for an even bigger letdown. It’s something Cleveland sports fans are used to.

It’s like the Cavaliers winning 137 games in two seasons, only to fail miserably in the playoffs. It’s like the Browns – the old Browns, that is – approaching the precipice of the Super Bowl a few times only to stumble. It’s like the Indians fighting to within one pitch of a World Series championship only to lose.

Granted, this tease isn’t as bad as those. It’s just the most recent.

Everything seemed to be going right for the Tribe in the first 45 games of the season. The starting pitching was sharp, the bullpen was lights out, the defense was solid and the clutch hitting was among the best in the league.

Then it was as though the Indians looked at the standings one day, saw they were sitting comfortably atop the Central Division, and said, “Is this for real? Is that really us up there?”

So in the next 18 games, they went out and started playing like the team most experts picked for the umpteenth time to finish in the basement this season.

It hasn’t been an all-of-a-sudden plunge. This little journey toward baseball has stretched over a span during which the Indians have won just four games. That includes a 1-8 record at what once was a friendly Progressive Field.

They’re still in first place, hanging on by the tiniest of fingernails. The Detroit Tigers have caught them with the Chicago White Sox coming more and more into focus in the rearview mirror.

The spiral has been pockmarked with bad pitching, worse hitting, especially in the clutch, and shoddy defense. At one point, they went nine straight games with at least one error. They were beating themselves.

In the last 18 games, the Indians’ offense has become an oxymoron. It has produced just 52 runs, 20 coming in two games. Take out those two games – one was a loss – and the Indians have scored 32 runs in 16 games.

The pitching has surrendered 113 runs in that span, an average of almost 6.3 a game. In other words, they have been outscored by roughly four runs a game on the average.

In their latest losing stretch – six straight and nine of the last 10 – they have scored a measly 21 runs, seven of those in one game, a loss. Shutting down the Indians these days isn’t a feat. It has become routine.

They have reverted to the old put-’em-on, leave-’em-on days. Base paths, these days, is where Cleveland Indians go to die.

To break down their clutch hitting is an exercise in futility. All you need to know is that when Indians clog the bases these days, their batting average plummets to heretofore-unknown depths.

As it has turned out, this club is just as bad as most experts believed back in April. It has a roster dotted with journeymen.

For example, why are Austin Kearns, Jack Hannahan, Orlando Cabrera and Chad Durbin sill on the roster? Outside of maybe Cabrera, who was hot early, what have they contributed? The answers: I have no idea and nothing. If General Manager Chris Antonetti answers otherwise, he’s fooling only himself.

After watching the Indians shoot out to a stunning 30-15 start, some skeptics said seeing was believing and a few hesitatingly became reluctant believers. But with a caveat.

Let’s see what they do when they hit tough times. Let’s see how they handle adversity. Good teams overcome small bumps. Bad teams never recover from them.

The last 18 games have provided the answers and seem to be a more accurate barometer on just where the Jekyll-Hyde Indians are headed.

It appears as though they have entered an elevator going down. Fast.

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