After spending the entire month of April over .500, the Tribe submerged in May, breathing through a reed and looking up at the boat bottoms of the Twins and White Sox for 27 days. Now that they have resurfaced with a sweep of those same Sox, what can we expect for the coming month? With 21 of the next 31 games on the road and only 10 of those against teams with a losing record, the Tribe had better get a big gulp of air to last them until after the All-Star break.
As I began to note last week, May should have been the month that the Indians beat up on unintimidating opponents like KC, Texas, Detroit and Baltimore to stay near the top of the Central standings. Someone obviously wasn’t reading the script. From April 26 (at Texas) until May 30 (vs. Detroit), the Tribe won only 13 of 31 games against the most lackluster competition in the AL. Now comes a stretch in which we face division leaders Minnesota, Boston and Arizona as well as the Yankees, Mets and White Sox leading up to the break.
One encouraging sign has been the modest resurrection of the offense. In winning 8 of the last 10, the Tribe has averaged 5.1 runs per game. Much of the improvement can be attributed to Jim Thome’s resurgence and the surprising play of Chris Magruder. Charlie Manuel has been looking for a hot bat to ride so Magruder seems to have earned more PT, even when Milton Bradley returns. Chuck Finley has pitched extremely well in his last 3 starts and Bartolo Colon has not had a bad start since April 18. Despite Colon’s recent dominance, there are Two Troubling Signs.
Troubling Sign #1 is the extent that Manuel continues to work Colon. Bartolo is averaging 110 pitches per start, the highest average of his career, after 4 consecutive years of being one of the hardest worked pitchers in the majors. Some pitchers (e.g. Randy Johnson) can handle this workload and still produce at a high level. Is Colon one of these pitchers? Let me introduce you to Troubling Sign #2 – Colon’s strikeouts per 9 IP.
As you can see, his K/9IP in 2002 is a career low while at the same time he is working deeper into games than ever before. This may reflect a loss of “stuff” or maybe not. When Colon threw only 98 pitches to shut out the Angels on Opening Day, he credited a pitching philosophy that allowed him to get hitters out without striking them out, thus using fewer pitches. Sure enough, his pitches per PA are near a career low, and his OPS allowed is a career low. Somehow, he has become a more dominant pitcher without the K’s. Not many pitchers have enjoyed consistent success with a below-average K rate.