Last night, as the Cleveland Indians pulled off yet another bullpen implosion in a season full of them, I felt an odd sense of satisfaction.
Don’t get me wrong, watching the team enter the top of the ninth up 4-0 and exit down 7-4 was in no way fun. Nor was it entertaining to find out the loss occurred in part because pitching coach Carl Willis misheard manager Terry Francona when it came to which reliever he wanted to go with. Still, such a brutal defeat to an underwhelming Cincinnati Reds team was something the Indians front office needed to see.
A loss like this should be a reminder that Cleveland is in no way ready to contend for a World Series, and a significant amount of work will need to be done by the trade deadline in order to fix this.
One of the biggest problems with last night’s bullpen disaster was how unsurprising it felt. The Indians relievers have been an atrocity this season, currently boasting a collective ERA of 5.37, worst in the majors. While having bullpen ace Andrew Miller on the DL doesn’t help the cause, his return won’t be enough to fix this mess.
Of course, the only reason this area of the team is such an eyesore is due to the front office refusing to address it in the offseason. Despite losing two key bullpen contributors in Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith over the winter, Cleveland’s higher-ups sat on their hands and assumed the holes could be successfully filled within.
This was a swing and a miss, ironic since this is something the current bullpen struggles to generate.
Despite this, no moves have been made to improve the situation. The Indians might admittedly feel less pressure to swing a trade due to their sizable lead in the AL Central, as well as the relievers making positive strides in June after a tumultuous May.
Last night is proof both should be considered fool’s gold.
Cleveland would be foolish to think surprise finds like Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez have suddenly fixed a massively flawed bullpen. This unit is still a liability, and badly needs improvements as the trade deadline approaches. Said improvements can’t be the typical low-key deals we’re used to seeing from the Tribe. Without significant upgrades to the pen, Cleveland’s chances in the postseason will be slim.
The team can also ill-afford to scoff at the concerns being voiced by pointing at the 8.5 game lead it has in the Central. While such a gap may ease the tension after a loss like last night’s, it’s hardly something to be proud of.
It’s instead the result of a laughably terrible division, one where the second-place team is also nine games below .500. The Indians, at just 49-41, have hardly earned their spot at the top. They’d be no higher than third if placed in any other division besides the NL West.
So, no, the front office shouldn’t believe a large division lead means only minor tweaks are needed at the deadline. It shouldn’t assume it can get by while keeping ineffective relievers like Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin in the bullpen. It’d be wrong to think the roster as currently constructed is primed for a deep postseason run.
The fact is the Indians are in first place by default, for no other reason than their being the benefactors of a historically terrible division. This isn’t something a point of pride, nor is it reason to take a tentative approach at the trade deadline.
If it takes some embarrassing losses to the Reds, followed by what could likely be a full-scale drubbing at the hands the New York Yankees to get this message across to the front office, so be it.