Thursday, May 23, 2019 Elyria 72°
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Jim Ingraham

Commentary: Recipe for Indians wins is simple, and extremely difficult -- pitchers better "be sensational"

  • Indians-Twins-Baseball-21

    Cleveland starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) throws a pitch against the Twins on Saturday in Minneapolis.

    AP

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Has a team ever won the World Series after averaging one run per game during the regular season?

(Asking for a friend).

Two games into their season-opening series with Minnesota, the Indians are everything we’d hoped — and feared — they’d be.

Lights-out pitching.

Look-the-other-way hitting.

The Twins haven’t been much better, but the Twins aren’t supposed to be much better — or even as good — than the Indians. The first two games have been first-one-to-two-runs-wins contests, which bodes well and ill for the Indians.

Small sample size? You bet.

Bigger sample sizes are on the way, but for now it’s still discouraging that, two games into the championship season, the Indians are on a pace to score 162 runs. Exactly. One per game.

For those scoring at home, you’re doing better than the Indians, who didn’t score at all in their first game, then exploded for two runs in the second game. Saturday, they scored what became the winning run in the top of the ninth inning, in an alleged rally that was built on a single, a wild pitch, another wild pitch and a sacrifice fly.

It’s hard to count on an offense whose production is predicated on coaxing wild pitches out of the opposing team, but on this day the Twins obliged. So the Indians won 2-1, claiming victory with a run total that is the second lowest a team can have and still win a game.

That sort of made up for their opening day loss Thursday, when the Indians scored the same number of runs as there were Michael Brantleys in their lineup.

Fortunately for their unfortunate, undermanned and overmatched lineup, the Indians’ first two starting pitchers, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, were sensational. Those, presumably, are the marching orders pitching coach Carl Willis gives his Gang of Five each time one of the rotation’s hired hands marches to the mound at the start of a game:

“Be sensational.”

As long as they are, the Indians will remain the favorites in the AL Central. Whenever they’re not, be afraid. Be very afraid.

All you need to know about the shaky status of the run-scoring side of the operation is that the No. 3 hitter, Tyler Naquin, struck out six times before he did something other than striking out.

The Indians were 12 innings into the season before they scored their first run. They’ve played 18 innings, and they’ve been held scoreless in 16 of them. Their team batting average is .102, which, if my math is correct, is just .102 from zero. They are averaging one run per game.

To be fair, it should be mentioned that Jose Berrios, who started Thursday’s opener, is one of the better pitchers in the majors, and he proved it by dominating one of the feeblest lineups in the majors, holding the Indians scoreless on two hits, with 10 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.

In most games the Indians won’t face a pitcher that good, but in most games the Indians on paper still look like a team with too many fourth outfielders and utility infielders all in the lineup at the same time.

Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis are out with injuries. Jose Ramirez is 0-for-8 and looks as lost at the plate as he looked during his death spiral the last two months of last season, an exceedingly ominous development in this small-sample-size start.

The other Ramirez came up Hanley Saturday, when the bargain-bin end-of-spring-training pickup sent a screamer into the seats in left field for the team’s first home run of the season.

Don’t think, by the way, that Indians officials aren’t already alarmed about their emaciated, slash-the-payroll-mandated outfield inventory. Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff have clearly been stalking the unemployment lines and waiver wire for any bats with a heartbeat. Hello, Carlos Gonzalez. Welcome aboard, Cameron Maybin. Anybody got Melky Cabrera’s number?

This is quite a contrasting roster they’ve had to build on the cheap. The best starting rotation in the majors trying to carry one of the lamest lineups in the majors.

Lindor, who has more injuries (ankle, calf) than the Indians have wins, will, his bosses hope, be back in the lineup eventually. But Lindor on Monday is taking his sprained ankle to be examined by a specialist, which could be a red flag in itself.

Lindor is a great player. But he’s just one player. The Indians are short more than that when it comes to having the functioning lineup of a championship contender.

On the other hand, their pitching is great. The Twins, unlike the Indians, have a major league lineup, and the Indians, led by Kluber and Bauer, held them to three runs and a .107 batting average in the first two games.

Today it’s Carlos Carrasco’s turn.

His marching orders: “Be sensational.”

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com. Follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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