Cleveland Indians Can’t Find an Answer at Center Field

MLB: OCT 25 World Series - Game 1 - Cubs at Indians
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When you have a game like the Cleveland Indians put forth last night, you simply can’t afford to have anyone in your order who could be labeled an “easy out.” No-hit all the way into the sixth inning, falling victim to unreliable pitching and even worse fielding, the Tribe was facing desperate times against the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the World Series. As a result, the team was looking far and wide for answers, trying to find someone, anyone who could spark a rally with a clutch hit.

After ten postseason games, one thing is clear – if Cleveland is trying to find reliable hitting, there’s no need to look towards center field. Right now, said area is a black hole for offense. Both Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin have been severe liabilities at the plate, leaving the Indians in a tough spot when it comes to finding an answer.

To be fair, neither player had a regular season to be ashamed of. In fact, both the veteran and the rookie put forth solid campaigns in 2016.

Davis was seen as a token cheap offseason signing for Cleveland this past winter, and hardly had fans running to buy tickets. However, he proved to be far more reliable than the team’s last attempt at a center fielder (Michael Bourn). He also displayed impressive speed on the base paths, leading the American League in stolen bases with 43.

While Davis proved to be a pleasant surprise, what Naquin provided the Indians this year was nothing short of stunning. After putting forth a solid spring, the Texas native became one of the best hitters for the team, carrying a batting average of .300 or above from April all the way to September. It should be enough to earn him a Rookie of the Year nomination, more than anyone could’ve honestly expected from Naquin.

So, sure, Davis and Naquin had to have the Indians feeling good about center field entering the postseason. It’s tough to believe they’re feeling anything remotely positive about that position now.

To say Naquin and Davis have both been disappointments is a remarkable understatement. Neither has been able to contribute much of anything, and it’s becoming a significant issue as Cleveland gets deep into its lineup in need of runs.

Davis has only collected one hit in 19 at-bats this postseason. One. It occurred Tuesday night in Game 1 of the World Series, and outside of stealing his way to a go-ahead run in Game 2 of the ALCS, said hit was his lone highlight of the playoffs. Other than that, he’s collected eight strikeouts in 19 at-bats.

In a perfect world, Cleveland would simply alleviate Davis’ struggles by giving Naquin more playing time. The only problem with this strategy is that Naquin has somehow been worse.

Sure, the rookie’s three hits are more than Davis’ one. However, that’s about it in terms of Naquin’s postseason upside. In 18 at-bats, he’s tallied eleven strikeouts. He hasn’t gone a game without striking out, and he’s been K’d twice in four of his seven games played. Making matters worse is the fact very few of this strikeouts involve Naquin looking like he was anywhere close to getting a hit.

As you can see, this is quite the conundrum for Cleveland. Davis is a game-changer when he’s on base, provided he can actually get there. His backup option, Naquin, is too busy swinging at high fastballs every opposing pitcher knows he’s going to chase.

The Indians are going to have to figure out their center field woes, or at the very least find the lesser of two evils. The Cubs pitching is elite, and Cleveland’s napping bats likely aren’t going to jolt to life facing Kyle Hendricks in Game 3. Facing another right-hander implies Naquin may get the call, but if all that means is the team will be forced to watch the rookie flail away at the plate all night, is it really worth playing against the pitching matchup?

One struggling position wasn’t the reason Cleveland lost last night, as nobody was really playing well. Still, the Game 2 defeat has put the Tribe in a tough spot. The Cubs now have home field advantage, and the Indians’ quiet offense will need to step up in a big way to prevent this series from ending in Chicago.

Part of this wake up will need to come from center field, where Naquin and Davis have been struggling so badly they’re essentially spotting the opponents a free out.

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