Indians can contend for playoffs, but some things need to change

Record-Courier staff report Published:

Record-Courier staff report

At the All-Star break, the Cleveland Indians had won just many games as they had lost: 47-47.

The team was average.

Entering the start of the season's second half tonight in Detroit, the Tribe is still in contention for a spot in the playoffs, though.

The Indians are 3 1/2 games out of the Wild Card berth, which they captured a year ago during a 92-win season, and trail the Tigers by 7 1/2 games in the Central Division.

The outcome of the four-game weekend series won't set the stage poorly or negatively for either team the rest of the way out -- but it certainly could help lift the Indians to be felt as more of a threat to Detroit.

A lot could happen between now and September and you can expect that a lot will happen.

For the Indians, though, to maintain their spot as a potential postseason participant, here is a look at what will need to happen:

1 Improve on defense

After 94 games there is no team in Major League Baseball that has a defense worse than Cleveland's. On a team full of athletes, the miscues are nearly inexplicable. What started out as a hiccup to start the season, one that appeared would dissipate, quickly turned into an alarming trend that has not gone away. Cleveland's fielding percentage is a gastly .979 and leads baseball with its 76 errors. Arizona is second with 71.

2 Get Justin Masterson right

The big right-hander became Cleveland's unequivocal ace last season. He was named to his first All-Star roster and won a career-high 14 games and had a 3.45 earned-run average. That seems like ages ago. He has shown only glimpses of that form in 2014 and has struggled to a 4-6 record and 5.51 ERA. His control has been an issue, having already walked 56 this year (compared to 74 all of last year). He was placed on the disabled list just before the All-Star break with a knee injury.

3 Consistent offense

Cleveland actually ranks fifth in the American League in runs scored (417) and average 4.4 per game.

However, the overall production is lost in those numbers a little bit. Inconsistency at the plate has plagued the team from being reliable. An area that most especially has hurt the team is its average with runners in scoring position with two outs (.185). That was category the Tribe thrived on in 2013 and a second-half resurgence that mirrors that output would be a tremendous lift.

4 Improved pitching

It is always a difficult situation to ask your pitchers to do more. But if the offense is going to continue to be shaky, the Tribe's middle-of-the-pack 3.95 team ERA will need to shrink.

It is unrealistic to think it can dip as low as to challenge Oakland's American-League best 3.09, however, if Cleveland is able to get to a position of hovering around 3.50, it would make a noticeable difference in the wins column.

Part of the issue is that the team has not had a set five-man starting rotation all season.

Masterson has been up and down -- and more down than up. Danny Salazar failed in his attempt to stay in the big leagues. Zach McAllister's injuries have set him back. Trevor Bauer has looked better, but still has not blossomed. Josh Tomlin has helped solidify, but he started the year in the minor leagues. Carlos Carrasco has been relegated to the bullpen. Only Corey Kluber has been at the forefront of the rotation from the start of the season until now.

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