Before the season started, there was no team more assured of a playoff spot than Cleveland. No other team faced such little opposition in their division. The Astros still needed to worry a little bit about the A’s and maybe the Mariners or Angels. The Dodgers needed to worry about the Rockies and Diamondbacks and even the Padres after they acquired Manny Machado.
But there were no challengers in the AL Central which was historically bad last year. To give you an idea of how bad the division was, the Detroit Tigers finished in third place with 64 wins which is exactly how many the 2017 Giants won. The 2017 Giants didn’t have two worse teams to farm wins off either.
A month into the season, Cleveland still has the highest playoff odds in their division, but their chances have fallen significantly. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus have shown that their odds of winning the division have fallen by 20 percent down to 59 percent. In FanGraphs’ case, the depth charts haven’t been updated to reflect Corey Kluber’s injury, so things are more dire than that.
A comebacker off the bat of Brian Anderson fractured Kluber’s right forearm, and he stands to be out for quite some time. This compounds the problem of losing Mike Clevinger until June with a back injury. Cleveland doesn’t have any obvious replacements for these two rotation mainstays, but that’s not their biggest problem.
With Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera leaving in free agency, Cleveland was in a position where their best outfielder was Leonys Martin. The only remedy they applied was signing Carlos González, and there was never any rumor that they wanted to do more than that. It was more likely that Cleveland was going to trade Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
Their offense ranks 29th in majors in non-pitcher wRC+, just a point above the Giants. José Ramírez, who finished third in MVP voting last year, is hitting just .183/.280/.275. Going back to August 1, Ramírez has just a 78 wRC+ over his last 355 plate appearances. Francisco Lindor hasn’t gotten anything going yet either. His strikeout rate is way up and his walk rate is way down. That combination has caused his OBP to plummet to .262.
Without Lindor and Ramírez, Cleveland’s offense is practically nonexistent. They’ve been carried by the return of Carlos Santana, and it turns out that Carlos González wasn’t enough to fix their outfield. Meanwhile, Jake Bauers has just an 85 wRC+ while Yandy Díaz, who they traded for Bauers, is breaking out in Tampa.
We can cut Cleveland some slack for not creating contingencies for two of their starters going down for long periods of time, but it’s inexcusable to not doing anything about their outfield or the rest of their offense. You would think that the owners of the longest championship drought in major North American sports would want to do everything they can to increase their World Series odds, but Cleveland did nothing.
It still might be a long shot for Cleveland to miss the playoffs. The Twins needed to have their second-best slugging month ever to take first place. But if Cleveland can’t recover from these setbacks, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.