The Indians are one-half game back, but when itâ€™s Cleveland, that feels like seven-and-a-half.
By PAT McMANAMONFS Ohio
Cleveland Indians are reminiscent of folks doing one of those line dances at a country bar.
One step forward, two back, two sideways and another forward to end up at the exact same spot.
Then start all over again.
Following Tuesday night's loss to Tampa Bay – another loss when a key hit could have meant a win – they Indians are now 46-44 and four games behind the Chicago White Sox in the division.
However, the Indians are not trending, as they say in the business, in a positive direction.
Chicago is energized by a guy the Indians did not go after, and the Tigers finally are starting to look like the team they were supposed to be, winning eight of their last 10 and moving into the second wild-card spot.
The Indians are one-half game back, but when it's a Cleveland team, one-half seems like seven-and-a-half.
In their last 10, the Indians are 5-5.
Cue the pedal-steel guitar.
Team president Mark Shapiro took to Twitter on Tuesday, assuring fans that the Indians "are heavily engaged" in trade talks, but then elaborated that the market has been slowed by the new compensation rules in free agency and the fact that 11 American League teams are above .500 and within two games of the wild card and eight National League teams are within three games.
Evidently that slows the market.
The Indians have some things going for them. Strong at center field, shortstop and second base. Shin-Soo Choo. Decent starting pitching. Good infield defense. Outstanding bullpen. Very good manager.
But the glaring lack of a right-handed hitter who can drive in runs holds the Indians back.
And it makes you wonder a few things. Especially looking back.
Yes, looking back is the easiest thing to do. There's that 20-20 hindsight thing, and nobody knows all the details why things happened the way they did – or didn't in the case of the Indians.
Take Kevin Youkilis.
The White Sox acquired Youkilis for a minor league pitcher and spare outfielder hitting below .200.
In 18 games in Chicago, Youkilis has hit .319 with four home runs and 18 RBI. He's slugging .551 and has an OPS of .963, which takes him back to his best years in Boston.
In those 18 games, Chicago has gone 12-6 and extended the division lead Cleveland held the day before he was acquired from one-half game to 3 ½.
Youkilis was not hitting that way in Boston, so there were many who were happy the Indians did not get him.
But given how little Boston accepted for him, and given Boston agreed to pay $5.5 million of Youkilis' $6.6 remaining salary, you have to wonder of the Indians: Why not?
Why not try and see what happens?
Especially because not only did the Indians not get Youkilis, their division rivals did.
Then there is Carlos Beltran, who spurned the Indians' offseason offer and decided to sign with St. Louis. The offer came after Beltran spurned the Indians' attempts to trade for him at the deadline a year ago. If nothing, the Indians are persistent.
In St. Louis, Beltran is hitting .290 with 20 home runs and 66 RBI.
Which makes a person ask: Why couldn't he?
Finally, Josh Willingham swings a pretty good bat in Minnesota. He has 22 home runs, 65 RBI and a .950 OPS. He'd look awful good in left field at Progressive Field.
But he chose Minnesota as a free agent because reportedly the Twins guaranteed three years and the Indians two. That word has never been confirmed, but the bottom line is Willingham is mashing while the Indians talk about Shelley Duncan reaching his potential.
It's logical for Willingham to take the three years. Why wouldn't he?
As for the Indians, maybe they offered three. Willinghams said the offers were similar. If the Indian's didn't, why didn't they?
Willingham is a guy who averaged 22 HR and 72 RBI the past six years. Shapiro tweeted something to a fan about a defensive fit not being ideal, but the bottom line is Willingham chose a last-place team over a possible contending team.
Why did he?
Perhaps the Indians are concerned with age. Willingham is 33, Beltran 35 and Youkilis 33. Not exactly spring chickens for a team building young.
But that's a tough one to argue when an injury-prone Grady Sizemore is given $5 million – or $2 million less than Willingham's third year might have cost.
Some of this is baseball. Teams make decisions on guys and hope they work out. Some do, some don't. The Indians financial position means their margin for error is smaller and anything that doesn't work out is magnified.
A year ago, manager Manny Acta promised the team was being aggressive at the deadline. Then word broke of the attempt to get Beltran, and the trade for Ubaldo Jimenez was completed.
Acta and Shapiro promise the Indians are being aggressive this year. But they don't have the two first-round picks they traded a year ago, and the fact other high picks didn't work out (Trevor Crowe) might limit their ability to trade prospects.
But at some point the Indians have to do something to jumpstart the offense. Waiting on Carlos Santana isn't exactly working.
How they figure it out could be fascinating.
If they don't, they'll be cueing the pedal steel guitar all season long.