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Indians Indians Archive Tribe Still Struggling With a Detroit Hangover
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 07 tribe hangoverMuch like a businessman on a long weekend in Las Vegas, the Cleveland Indians have enjoyed themselves while facing the Detroit Tigers this season.

It's the morning after that hasn't been so much fun.

The Tribe is 7-2 this year against the $119 million-payroll Tigers, but have had to deal with a major hangover after each series.

In late May, the Indians swept Detroit in a three-game series at Progressive Field to sit alone in first place, 3.5 games up in the standings. But the Tribe followed that by being swept by Chicago in three games and lost seven-of-nine overall to fall into second place, 2.5 games out.

A week later, the Indians took two-of-three in Detroit, only to lose six of their next nine games.

Fast forward to last week, when the Tribe again won two-of-three against the Tigers, beating Justin Verlander in the process, only to head to Minnesota, where they were swept in three games by the last-place Twins, being outscored 28-6 in the process.

How the Tribe can look so good against a team that was penciled in to the playoffs before the season started and then stumble and bumble around for the next week is one of the season's mysteries. And a big part of why the Indians find themselves in third place in the AL Central Division, 5.5 games out, and five games out of the wild card with seven teams ahead of them.

"I was expecting to play better than what we have," manager Manny Acta said. "I wasn't planning on taking a step back when it came to our rotation and when it came to our offense. Up to now, we haven't met the expectations we had on both ends."

Well, as long as Acta has a plan.

The inconsistent play has the Tribe in a bit of limbo heading into Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline. Do they make a trade (like last year's move for Ubaldo Jimenez) or do they start a sell off that will further alienate an already agitated fan base?

"I don't think it really affects our approach leading up to the deadline," general manager Chris Antonetti said on Monday. "Certainly, we would've preferred to be closer to first place than we are right now, but there's still a lot of time left in the season, and teams demonstrated last year there's still an opportunity to overcome a deficit. The most important thing for us is that we get back to playing well and winning games."

The Indians are sort of still in the race for the division title, but after watching the team play for almost four months does anyone really see this team taking off on a winning streak to get back into the division race? Even if the Tribe can turn things around, they still have several other teams to worry about.

"This time of year you start to scoreboard watch a little bit," outfielder Shelley Duncan said. "After the game, you check to see how other teams did. It does knock you around a little bit. But, it's also one of those things that, if you don't worry about it, and you just play baseball with the focus on yourself and your own team, and not worry about what the White Sox or Tigers do, then you pull off a good little run. You don't know what can happen. You see it all the time. Usually, the teams that do have those really good stretches in August or September aren't worrying about what the other teams are doing. That's something that we need to put our focus on, on ourselves more than anything."

The hard part in all of this is the Tribe needs more than just one player. Picking up another bat - preferably one from the right side - doesn't help the pitching staff; likewise adding another starter doesn't address the problems on offense. It also doesn't help that the Indians are not flush with assets at the moment.

Trade Shin-Soo Choo? OK, but there goes the top of the order. Move Justin Masterson? Doesn't exactly help the rotation. How about Chris Perez (who has agitated more fans than anyone we can remember for something other than his on-field performance)? Yeah, that could work. But there's no guarantee that Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith will be able to move easily into new roles, and the back of the bullpen has been the one spot the team has been able to consistently count on this season.

More than a few fans would probably be happy to see Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman and Derek Lowe on the first flight out of town, but it's not as if the other teams haven't been watching.

"The 30 (general managers) have all read the same book," Acta said. "I want your Corvette and I want to give you this little Fiat. Why not? Let me have your Corvette. Here, I've got this little Yugo for you, and I'll throw a Nissan Sentra in also, just to make you feel better."

So what will the Tribe do? More importantly, what should they do?

"I think it'll go up to the deadline," Antonetti said. "But I couldn't handicap it either way."

One way or another, we'll know when the Indians take the field Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series in Kansas City. Either the Tribe swings a deal in an attempt to stay in the race and keep the fans engaged, or else they run up the white flag and everyone starts debating the training camp battle between Mitchell Schwartz and Oniel Cousins in Berea.

And that is one debate that is easy to handicap.

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