|Swing and miss: Cleveland Indians not hitting at worst time possible|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 13 August 2007 16:51|
He missed - the Wiffle ball.
Even playing for fun with kids in a neighborhood backyard, the Cleveland Indians don't hit like they used to.
Stuck in an offensive rut for weeks, the Indians, now tied with Detroit for first place in the AL Central, got a badly needed day off Monday before opening a two-game series with the Tigers.
It was a chance to recover, relax and reflect from being swept in three straight games over the weekend by the New York Yankees, who dominated the Indians for 27 innings and steamrolled a team they could face again in October.
That is, if Cleveland ever starts hitting again.
The Indians' 13-17 record since the All-Star break can be blamed mostly on an offense that has gone on a lengthy summer vacation. They're batting just .229 and have averaged a paltry 3.4 runs since July 23.
After hitting .272 in the first half of the season, Cleveland is batting just .252 - 28th among major league teams - since the break and the Indians have scored two runs or less in 11 of their last 19 games.
Run production like that won't beat the Yankees, the Detroit Tigers or even the Fogle family behind their house in Westlake, Ohio. Sizemore spent a few hours signing autographs, taking pictures and knocking around Wiffle balls to the delight of the Fogles, their friends and some curious neighbors.
``I can use all the batting practice I can get right now,'' Sizemore joked after belting a few into the maple trees with the Fogle's three boys, who won a contest to have the popular Indians center fielder over for a game.
Though not the only Cleveland player in a funk, Sizemore's struggles at the plate epitomize the team's offensive free fall.
The Indians' leadoff hitter hasn't been getting on like his team needs him to, and his inability to shorten his swing has led to an AL-high 123 strikeouts. In his last 10 games, Sizemore has scored just two runs - one on a homer - and struck out 13 times.
While he may still be having a decent season statistically, Sizemore hasn't been able to spark the sluggish Indians, who are pressing and don't have their lineup at full strength.
They faced the Yankees without designated hitter Travis Hafner, who banged up his left knee and slightly pulled his hamstring while making a slide last week. Hafner's hoping to be ready for Detroit on Tuesday night.
The only positive for the Indians during their recent slide is that the Tigers have been sliding with them.
Detroit, which lost 7-2 to the Oakland Athletics on Monday night, is 5-13 since July 26.
``Hey, we could be 10 games out right now,'' Indians third baseman Casey Blake said. ``But we're not.''
The Indians could be 10 games up, too. However, everyone inside Cleveland's clubhouse is trying to accentuate the positive these days. There's no sense in talking about what might have been. It's time to look at would could be.
``It's been a tough stretch here lately, but if we can bounce back there's still a lot of ball to be played,'' Sizemore said. ``We're still in a good spot. We haven't been playing the way we want, but we've still got time and we still have an opportunity to do some great things this year.''
All the Indians have to do is look at the Yankees to see how quickly things can change.
It wasn't long ago that New York's playoff chances looked remote - at best. New York trailed first-place Boston by 14 1/2 games, but by going 23-8 since the break, the Yankees have pulled within four of the Red Sox.
``When you lose, you lose confidence,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said Sunday before the Yanks completed a 6-0 season sweep of the Indians. ``We were fortunate to be able to get through it and we're playing better right now than at any time this season.
``We went through the same thing the Indians are going through now. We've had a formidable offense from the start, but we couldn't get a hit. Hey, it's a 162-game season so you can't make too much out of one bad stretch. You come out of it, look at the standings and realize you survived.''
The playoffs are on the horizon, and with five of their next eight games against the Tigers, the Indians, who haven't made the postseason since 2001, have a chance to make up for some lost time.
General manager Mark Shapiro is only worried about one team: his own.
``We've been disappointed in our play the last four weeks,'' Shapiro said. ``I haven't focused a lot of energy on the Tigers. Our fate is not going to be determined by who we play, but by how we play.''
And, how they hit.