CLEVELAND – Hours before the first pitch of Sunday's series finale against the New York Yankees, two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber sprinted across the sun-soaked outfield inside an empty Progressive Field.
When he finished a down-and-back between yellow cones, Kluber checked a stopwatch to make sure he was hitting his marks. In a day or two, his broken right arm will be re-evaluated to see if he can pitch for Cleveland again this season.
For now, his status remains uncertain. Same as the Indians.
Approaching the halfway point of a season starting to snake sideways, it is hard to get a handle on the three-time defending AL Central champions.
Slowed by a too-often-limp offense, injuries to Kluber as well as starters Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco and the curious case of All-Star third baseman José Ramirez, the Indians are at a crossroads.
They're 101/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins. As the July 31 trading deadline nears, the Indians are facing some major decisions that could alter the franchise's path for years.
At 33-32 heading into a two-game series starting today with Cincinnati, the Indians have been maddeningly inconsistent since opening day.
“Kind of like the Midwest weather,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “(It's) 80 and sunny one day, 50 and raining the next. Be that as it may, if that's the way we're going to be, the more good games we put together, the more confidence we'll build and hopefully we'll keep running with it.”
The injuries to Kluber and Clevinger (strained back muscle), along with Carrasco's recent diagnosis with a blood condition, have weakened the club's greatest strength, it's starting pitching, and put more strain on offense with more holes than a country club putting green.
Cleveland's .227 batting average is the American League's second-lowest. Only Detroit and Toronto have scored fewer runs. The lack of a big bat in the middle of the lineup makes Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana easier for pitch around.
And then there's Ramirez. After seeming to come out of nowhere to become one of baseball's best all-around players, Ramirez, who finished third in the AL MVP voting in 2017 and 2018, is batting under. 200 in his last 100 games, and his defense has slipped, too.
“Every time I think he's going to turn a corner, he doesn't,” manager Terry Francona said. “I have so much belief in him that he will. It's just been hard for him. It's been a prolonged period and I know it's got to be wearing on him. But I feel so strongly that he will figure it out.”