August 30, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
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Tribe commentary: Time to panic? Not even close, actually

Hey, Indians fans, relax.

When there has been an off chance between discussing who the Browns are going to take with the No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft, the Cleveland sports world has taken to Twitter, Facebook and local sports radio talk shows to discuss the demise of the Tribe.

The Indians are 8-10 and in last place in the Central Division. The rotation is in tatters, closer John Axford was the second coming of Chris Perez — circa 2013 — after he blew his first save of the season and pretty much everybody in the lineup stinks, especially Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana.

It’s April.

There are 144 games left in the regular season.

Chill out.

Cleveland has always been one to jump the gun on gassing up the misery machine when it comes to its sports teams. And with good reason, since history has shown it’s probably a pretty good idea to prepare for the worst. But let’s give the Indians a little more time before we start sticking a fork in them, certainly more than a month or two into the season.

Has the Tribe gotten off to an ideal start? Of course not. But take a look around the majors. Not many teams have. Entering Saturday, just nine of 30 big league clubs had posted double-digit win totals, with the majority hovering around .500 — like the Indians.

Defending world champ Boston was in last place in the American League East Division through Friday. Do you think Red Sox fans are thinking the season is doomed?

I know the Indians might not be as talented as the big-budget BoSox, but you get the point.

A mediocre start, even a poor one, can be overcome. Indians fans should know this and it should be fresh in their minds. Cleveland started last season 5-10, then wound up winning 92 games and earned the AL’s top wild-card spot.

I’m not saying they’re going to do the same thing this year, but I am saying it’s possible.

The Indians’ inexperienced rotation has scuffled out of the gate, but there’s plenty of talent and potential, with plenty of time to reverse the trend, and a number of options to turn to if that doesn’t happen.

The Indians have gotten little production out of the majority of their key offensive cogs, such as Swisher, Cabrera and Santana, but their track records — while not star-studded — say that’s not going to continue. Cleveland’s lineup is a balanced one that doesn’t rely on a handful of players to carry the load. That’s why the Indians ranked fourth in the AL in runs last year and are still among the league leaders this season — even with many of their hitters still trying to find the groove.

The bullpen has been solid for the most part, with Axford notching a league-high five saves in six opportunities, and setup men Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen pitching at an elite level.

And, scoff if you will, Cleveland will see the return tonight of veteran Jason Giambi, a valuable clubhouse leader, who also contributed a number of key hits — along with 31 RBIs in 71 games.

So, believe it or not, all is far from lost, Tribe Nation.

The old adage is that you can’t win a World Series in April, but you CAN lose one. Well, the month is nearing its end, and the Indians sit 2½ games out of first place behind three-time defending champ Detroit in the most hotly contested division race in baseball.

They haven’t lost anything.

Am I saying the Indians are going to win their first world championship since 1948? No, though I did pick them to win the division — and I’m sticking by the pick, no matter how crazy you think I am.

I know almost anything can happen, and I also know it’s way too early to get a gauge on the Indians or any other team for that matter.

Besides, this is the time baseball fans should be enjoying the season. It’s when pretty much every team is a World Series contender, well, outside of the Astros and Marlins — and, of course, the Cubs.

Indians fans should be talking about how early it is and how their team has been a resilient one since marquee manager Terry Francona took over last year — not about a lost season less than a month in.

There could be plenty of time for that kind of depressing discussion at the end of the year.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.