Is any major league team looking forward to the All-Star break more than the Cleveland Indians? Probably not. Talk about a team that could use some time off.
On June 24 the Indians were 10 games over .500 at 41-31. They were in second place in the AL Central, two games behind the division-leading White Sox.
Since July 24 the Indians’ record is 1-11. They will go into their game Thursday night vs. Kansas City with a record of 42-42, still in second place in the AL Central, but now eight games behind the White Sox.
The Indians have lost nine games in a row, and are closing in on the franchise record for longest losing streak, which is 12 games, set in 1931.
Their entire opening day starting rotation has missed most of the last month. Reigning Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber has been on the injured list since June 14 with a strained shoulder. Aaron Civale, who, was leading the American League in wins with a record of 10-2, has been on the injured list since June 21 with a sprained middle finger on his pitching hand.
Thursday night, Zach Plesac, the third member of Cleveland’s Big Three, is scheduled to make his first start since late May, when he was placed on the injured list with a fractured thumb.
Right fielder Josh Naylor recently had season-ending surgery following a gruesome leg injury. Catcher Roberto Perez recently returned to the lineup after missing two months with a broken finger. Cleanup hitter Franmil Reyes missed six weeks with a strained oblique.
They’re not even to the all-star break yet and the Indians have already used 43 players, including 21 pitchers, of which almost half of them (10) have started games.
“It’s been a continuing theme for us the last 15 or 16 months, which is being adaptable and flexible,” said Indians president Chris Antonetti. “Every day we’re having to adapt to a new set of circumstances. What we do when these things happen is come together and try to figure out what’s in front of us and how do we overcome the challenges that we have.”
Right now, Antonetti’s pockets are full of challenges.
Not even the magic touch of Manager Terry Francona, who has gotten votes for the American League Manager of the Year Award in five of his eight years in Cleveland, and won the award twice, has been able to halt the parade of injuries, and the recent parade of losses.
“This is a rough time for us,” said Francona, after the doubleheader loss in Tampa Bay on Wednesday in which the Indians were out-hit 14-4 and outscored 12-1.
For most of the last few weeks Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis don’t know who their next day’s starting pitcher will be until the current day’s game is over.
“What we do when those things happen is come together and try to figure out what’s in front of us and how do we overcome the challenges that we have,” Antonetti said. “There’s a lot of dialogue with Tito, his coaching staff, and members of the front office to try to figure things out.”
There’s been a lot to figure out for Indians officials this season, which started with them trying to construct the best roster possible with the major league’s lowest payroll. Throw in a boatload of injuries, and the figuring out gets even harder.
“It’s been a balancing act. We are patchworking, trying to get through that day or that night’s game,” Antonetti said. “But we do have to be somewhat mindful of what the next few days might bring because if we don’t have enough pitching options to get through the next few days, that wouldn’t be ideal either. So it’s a combination of how do we get through today, but also how do we get through the next few days.”
Getting Bieber, Civale and Plesac back taking regular turns in the rotation will be a big help in righting the ship, but Antonetti said the Indians will be monitoring events leading to the July 30 trade deadline. The last two spots in Cleveland’s rotation remain a black hole.
“If there are some opportunities to add to the group we have, great,” he said. “Getting guys back like Bieber and Civale will be a great lift to our team. But those guys returning won’t impact our desire to add pitching to our organization. As far as looking for pitching, whether we’re able to do that, and whether opportunities present themselves, that’s hard to forecast. But I anticipate we’ll be active on that front.”