Losers of 9 of their last 12 games, the Indians have struggled in nearly every facet of the game. The starting pitching has been a mess, the offense on ice, and the defense inconsistent.
Beyond the collective struggles, arguably the biggest disappointment to date has been second baseman Jason Kipnis.
Kipnis is widely regarded as the straw that stirs the Indians offense as the number three hitter – the spot in the lineup often reserved for the best hitter on the team.
In eight games this season, Kipnis is hitting .125 with 0 HR, 2 RBI and .390 OPS. In 21 spring training games this year he hit .179 with 2 HR, 7 RBI, and .569 OPS, and in the second half of last season he hit .233 with 3 HR, 27 RBI and .651 OPS after the All Star break.
At this point, it is hard to say why Kipnis’ struggles have lasted so long. A sophomore season slump is common, but Kipnis is now in his third year.
His defense has been solid, but at the plate Kipnis has apparently lost his confidence and looks uncomfortable. That’s a tough way to hit.
It is also possible that his contract issues have had an effect on his play. He and the Indians were discussing a long term deal this spring, but they broke off talks to avoid distraction during the season.
Kipnis is also dealing with lingering discomfort in his left elbow, something that returned last weekend and sidelined him for four games – all losses.
If Kipnis needs to go to the disabled list, the Indians have a solid replacement in Mike Aviles, plus they have infielder Cord Phelps. Aviles could become the primary second baseman with Phelps or Ryan Raburn filling in.
Aviles was a starter last season for the Red Sox and has played 147 games at the Major League level at second base. Phelps has shown his warts in his brief time up with the Indians, but had an impressive showing in spring training – .375 with 3 HR, 7 RBI and 1.142 OPS.
Indians fans may recall that after shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera had a nice showing in his debut with the Indians in 2007 – .283 with 3 HR, 22 RBI and .775 OPS in 45 games – he was optioned to the minors the next season. He struggled the first two months of the 2008 season, hitting just .184 with a .527 OPS before going to Triple-A Buffalo. He found his swing again, and was back up on July 18, and has remained in the majors.
Whether or not it gets to that point with Kipnis remains to be seen, but there is certainly a precedent for it and the Indians do have options at their disposal.
That may be what it ultimately comes to if his struggles persist. Hopefully, Kipnis’ short time away the past week has him of healthy mind and body, ready to start producing.