Contrary to popular belief, Indians playoff hopes not dead

1) Contrary to popular belief, and contrary to the negativity that breeds in Cleveland, the Indians playoff chances are not dead. Yes, they made things a lot more difficult by losing four in a row to Detroit and two-of-three to the Angels. But they didn’t make it impossible. Crazy things happen in baseball, as the Cubs can attest. Leads can disappear in a hurry. Who figured Detroit would lose three in a row and four of five to the White Sox and Yankees? The Indians have a challenge ahead of them. The best they can do is win the games they should win. But it’s not impossible, and the season is far from over.

2) Comparisons to 2012 are absurd. The Indians had a bad week. In 2012, they had a cataclysm, which is what happens when a team goes 5-24 in a month. The only similarity between last season and this is that the Tigers are a better team. It doesn’t mean Detroit can’t lose the division, but it doesn’t change the reality that top to bottom, the Tigers are better.

3) The Indians challenge is that it’s never easy to climb a bunch of teams. When the Tigers series began the Indians were in the midst of the wild card chase. After beating Minnesota on Wednesday, they’re trailing Tampa Bay by 3 games. More important is the old “loss column.” Those of you old enough to remember Curt Gowdy on the NBC Game of the Week back in the 1890s remember Gowdy always talked about the “loss column.” That column is important because a team can’t get rid of a loss, and said team need only win to stay ahead. The Indians have 56 losses, five more than the Rays and two more than Baltimore. Making up five games in the loss column is not easy.

4) The thing about the Indians this season is that when they seem dead they come back to life. When things seem bleak, they do something to stay in it. They follow losing streaks with winning streaks, and they follow bad games with two good ones. They had their problems a week ago, as Detroit stomped their closer, thrashed their No. 1 starter and did away with the young phenom before winning the finale in a rout. It stunned the Indians — Nick Swisher said the way they lost the first game lingered through the series — and left them grasping. But this season, when they grasp they seem to find a way grasp hold of something and find hope. Example: Wednesday’s game against Minnesota. Down 4-0, they came back to tie it on Jason Giambi’s three-run home run (did anyone envision his contributions this season?) and win it in extra innings. Teams aren’t supposed to come back from 4-0 deficits. The Indians did, and it meant they followed a series-opening loss with two wins in a row.

5) Mark Reynolds will go down as a shooting star in the Indians pantheon. He was incredible in April and half of May, but became painful to watch in June, July and August. It’s a shame, not just because his bat went south. I found Reynolds to be a good guy. Quiet, soft-spoken, humble. He seemed so perfect for the Indians — especially because he was hitting with some spectacular results. But his success stopped with the blink of an eye. And as he struggled more and more, it became difficult to see him struggle. From May 17 through his release, Reynolds hit .180 and had a lower slugging percentage (.243) than on-base percentage (.270). In that time, he had 37 hits, with one double and four home runs. It’s not like he didn’t play, either. Terry Francona started him in 52 games in that stretch; Reynolds just wasn’t hitting. Francona had to sit him, and that led some dissatisfaction from Reynolds, who lamented being able to “play his way” out of slumps in the past but not this time — an odd claim given the amount of playing time Reynolds was given. Another oddity was that Reynolds in April said folks would get on his case when he went 0-for-30. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. He took extra batting practice, tried to go the other way, but just couldn’t. The Indians came to the conclusion he just wasn’t the kind of hitter to make those changes. And they also came to the conclusion his slump was not going to end anytime soon.

6) Francona and the Indians seem to see Carlos Carrasco as a possible standout starter. “His stuff is always good,” Francona said after Wednesday’s game in audio distributed by the team. “Consistently from start to start, he holds his stuff really well. He just makes too many mistakes.” Watching him pitch it’s tough not to see him as a walking bottle of Alleve.

7) Signing free agent first baseman David Cooper was a no-risk move. It’s the kind of move a team makes when it can’t spend like Detroit but needs to compete with Detroit. Cooper is a former first-round pick in Toronto who was expected to be a contributor to the Blue Jays, but he injured his back and is trying to come back from experimental surgery that removed a herniated disk and had a plate and two screws placed in his spine. Not pretty. Cooper is a left-hand hitting first baseman who has hit for average and some power. He played parts of 2011 and ‘12 with the Blue Jays before being hurt. If healthy and able to play he could be a guy who hits .300 with 15-20 home runs. It’s not signing Prince Fielder or Victor Martinez, but if the Indians are going to win these are the kind of guys the Indians need to find, and sign.

8) Francona has a lot more experience and World Series rings than most of us, so he deserves a little latitude on his decisions. Continuing to hit Asdrubal Cabrera fourth, though, does raise eyebrows. Cabrera is not the classic No. 4 hitter, but then again the Indians don’t have the classic No. 4 hitter. They tried and hoped Swisher could hit there successfully, but that didn’t work. So they flopped Swisher and Cabrera on July 22, putting Swisher second and Cabrera fourth. Since, Cabrera is hitting .190 with 18 strikeouts in 84 at-bats. That’s not going to drive in a lot of runs. But Francona believes the team must stick with the player because eventually he will get hot and when he does he wants the guy hitting in the spot where he can take advantage. Cabrera is having another one of those seasons when he starts well but fades in the second half. This season, he hit .255 in the first half, and .175 in the second. That difference would be 80 points on the old batting average. Come the offseason, Cabrera will have one year left on his contract, and with Francisco Lindor waiting in the wings it’s very possible Cabrera could be a guy the team decides to trade.

9) Cody Allen is listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. He’s not a big guy, doesn’t have a big-time delivery, but he does have a power arm. Allen throws mid-to-high 90s, and has the right kind of attitude. The Indians, for instance, aren’t loathe to have him face Miguel Cabrera because Allen is not afraid to throw inside to anyone. In Allen’s 51 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 65 and in a variety of roles and spots, has a 2.49 ERA. Where does Allen get his power? “That’s a good question,” he said. “I’ve really kind of taken on the idea of just grip it, rear back and rip it — but be under control.” Allen says he generates a lot of his power from his legs, hips and his stride. “Just everything going in one direction,” he said. “Just try to explode at the plate.” He didn’t always throw this way, but in the Rookie Penn League his pitching coach Greg Hibbard (now with Mahoning Valley) old him he had the ability to pitch powerfully. “I kind of took it and ran with it,” Allen said.