So far in this 2021 Major League Baseball season, it’s quite simple: If the Cleveland Indians score four runs in a game, they win.
When the Indians get to that figure, they are 17-1 on the season. When they don’t, they are 1-13. The only game they lost when reaching the four run figure was the second Carlos Rodon/Zach Plesac matchup in Cleveland, when the White Sox beat the Tribe 8-5.
The only game they won scoring less than four? The epic Shane Bieber/Lucas Giolito game that went to 10 innings and resulted in a 2-0 Cleveland win.
Recently, the Indians’ offense has been a little better, Friday night’s no-hitter not withstanding. In their current stretch where they’ve one 10 out of 13, the Tribe has scored an average of 4.8 runs per game, getting at least four in all of the wins.
Overall on the season, the league average is 4.41 runs, and the Tribe is sitting at 4.25, so they are still below average.
So, it’s simple right? If the Indians can have close to a league average offense, they can be a contender in the AL Central. The two favorites coming into the season, the White Sox and Twins have problems. Chicago has lost two key offensive pieces in Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, and the Twins have injury and bullpen issues to date.
Now, the question is, can the Tribe put together a league average offense?
Right now, the Cleveland attack is very top heavy. They have two real good offensive players, with OPS’ over 800 in Franmil Reyes (914) and Jose Ramirez (891). They have only two other players with an OPS over 700–Jordan Luplow at 789, and his batting average is just .171, and Josh Naylor at 724.
To date, the league average OPS is 704, so Cleveland has just four hitters who are better than the American League average.
That’s not good, nor does it bode well for the future.
We believe Eddie Rosario and Cesar Hernandez’ track records indicate they will hit, and while Rosario has had several years where he has been above the 800 OPS mark, Hernandez is more of a 750 OPS batter, meaning he’s above average, but not on the elite level.
The key continues to be Josh Naylor. If Naylor can hit like he has so far in May (.300 with two home runs and a 930 OPS in a small sample size), the Tribe’s offense just may be good enough. Notice that his surge has tied in with the offense being better.
First base is still a disaster area with Jake Bauers and Yu Chang combining to go 18 for 104 with just a single home run. Please note we are again talking about 32 games, not 10 anymore.
And the defense, particularly in the outfield, has been poor. Harold Ramirez has provided a bit of a spark with the bat (five hits this week, including three doubles), but he’s not a centerfielder. We know Naylor isn’t going to win a gold glove in right, and Rosario is average in left.
Terry Francona has tried to play Amed Rosario at shortstop against lefties, but it seems like he makes one misplay in each game he is out there.
And Roberto Perez’ finger injury means we will see a lot of Austin Hedges behind the plate, and let’s be kind and say he is offensively challenged. We know the Indians go defense first behind the plate, and we understand that, but right now, that position provides a slight upgrade over a pitcher offensively.
We have already seen opposing teams start to pitch around Ramirez and take their chances with Rosario and Reyes, and so far, they’ve come through. But given a choice, it wouldn’t be shocking to see more teams simply not give Ramirez anything to hit in late innings.
Nothing really has changed for the Tribe. If they can score, they can contend. Their ability to push runs across remains the key to the 2021 season.