Thanks to El Nino, Northeast Ohio has had an unseasonably warm Winter. While Ohioans appreciate the lack of snow, the craving for baseball has increased.
On Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians held their first full-squad practice at their spring training facility in Goodyear, AZ. While manager Terry Francona and his team feel good getting the bats out, the focus isn't on October baseball.
The Indians are focused on April. Francona is not giving one of those profound statements such as, "Next game is the most important." or "One game at a time for 162 games". Francona is focused on April because of the dismal baseball the Tribe has exhibited over the last three seasons.
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The Wahoos are 29-45 in April, over the last three seasons. In 2013, after starting 11-13, the Tribe did rebound and make the American League Wild Card. In 2014 and 2015 however, after starting 11-18 and 7-14, respectively, the team missed the playoffs despite late Summer surges.
"If you can tell me how to do it, we'll do it," Francona told reporters in Goodyear, according to Cleveland.com: "There is no way to ensure (a strong start). Think about it, how can you?"
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Francona has had success with the Indians. Despite the slow starts during his tenure, Francona boasts a record of 229-182 in the other months of the season. The team tends to get hot around the end of July or early August but, due to their slow start, they have too much to overcome to make a playoff run.
In August 2015, the Indians traded Michael Bourne and Nick Swisher and threw in $10 million in cash to Atlanta for an infielder by the name of Chris Johnson. The Tribe released Johnson in December.
The departure of Bourne and Swisher improved the culture in the locker room and Francona hopes that will transfer into 2016, "What we did was right away," Francona said, according to Cleveland.com: "we got the core group of guys that we feel like we're going to win with. And we talked to them, Chris (Antonetti, Indians general manager) and I both, about how we want to move forward."
The Tribe has to improve in all areas in April. Starter, Corey Kluber, has to do better than 0-3. Yes, he had very little run support as two of the three losses were shutouts, but coming off a Cy Young winning 2014, Kluber's April performance was awful.
Closer Cody Allen went 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA in just seven innings of work, giving up 13 hits and 10 runs and an opponent batting average of .409. Allen can expect more appearances this Spring in hopes of a better April.
Hitting plagued the Tribe throughout 2015. April was particularly bad. The two top hitters last April are gone. Brandon Moss led the team in home runs and RBI last April and Ryan Rayburn hit .371. The Indians will not have them to fall back on in 2016. Michael Brantley batted .339 last April and may not be ready to play this April due to shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Cleveland has added Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, Joey Butler and Juan Uribe to the roster in hopes of improving hitting early. Francona has even considered moving Carlos Santana to the leadoff spot, according to WTAM 1100's Nick Camino.
One other element to success in April is winning division games. Last April, the Tribe played 17 games against the Central Division and went 5-12. Kansas City went on to win the World Series and Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit are always tough opponents.
Vegas released the odds of winning the 2016 World Series and have the Indians at 16-1 odds, 10th in baseball. Last year Sports Illustrated picked the Indians to win the World Series and they didn't make the postseason.
The best path to October baseball is a strong start in April. The Indians have made what they hope are improvements. The 2016 Indians season starts in Cleveland on April 4 against the Boston Red Sox.