After a first season full of up and downs, the Indians have ended the first half of 2013 comfortably in second place in the American League Central behind the Detroit Tigers. The Indians have been a confusing team through the first half, showing greatness in every facet of the game at some point, but failing in all those same ways at other times. An example is that the Indians lead all teams with 12 shut outs on the year, but have also allowed six or more runs in a game in 48 of their first 95 games. They have won just seven of those 48 games, making their record of 51-44 overall even more impressive. At times this Indians' offense has looked power heavy and at other times it has been powerless. If there is any one player who is to blame for this change it is Mark Reynolds, who powered the Indians to the league lead in home runs for the first two months of the season, but has batted under .100 in the month of July.
Starting pitching has been a strength overall for the Indians (hence the 12 shut outs), but it has still been far from ideal as only two regular starters are taking an ERA under 4.00 into the second half. Justin Masterson is an All-Star and the Indians ace, but even he has struggled at times with almost a Jekyll and Hyde type transformation between starts. The Indians have won 12 of Masterson's 20 starts this year and it was his fault either way pretty much every time. In his wins, he has an ERA of 1.55 with a WHIP of .99. In his losses, however, he has allowed more than seven runs per nine innings and more than a base runner and a half per inning. Some of this may be from over use (three of his worst games came after his three complete game shut outs), and the All-Star break should help as he will have his longest length of time between starts so far this year.
The rest of the rotation has not been quite as dominant (with the exception of Corey Kluber), but there is some help waiting in the wings. The Indians have already used Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and Matt Langwell in games this year with varying success and the back end of the Indians rotation (most notably Scott Kazmir and Carlos Carrasco) will need up their game if they would like to continue playing in the Majors this year. Zach McAllister is also set to come back soon and has already begun his rehab with a start in Akron. By the second time through the rotation after the break, Terry Francona should be set with his starting five for the first time in a long time (the last four starters to fill the number five hole in the rotation have been brought up from AAA the day of the start). If things go well, the Indians rotation for the rest of the season should look something like this: Kazmir, Kluber, Masterson, Jimenez and either McAllister or Salazar bringing up the rear.
There are two aspects of the Indians that have remained consistent this year and they are defense and team speed. As the saying goes, "speed never slumps" and both Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn have brought a new dimension to Cleveland with their legs. The defensive turn around has largely been started by Asdrubal Cabrera, who has looked more like 2011 of late than 2012. He is finally starting to turn some of his amazing plays into outs instead of errors. Having a strong, confident short stop is the keystone of a great defense and the rest of the team has looked better because of him. The team speed has helped in the outfield as well, as anything that stays in the air more than a second or two is an automatic out. Both of these attributes tend to be easier to remain consistent in than hitting or pitching, so there is no reason to expect a drop off in the second half.
If the Indians can maintain or decrease the distance between them and Detroit before the end of July, look for the patience to wear thin on players such as Jason Giambi, Reynolds and Rich Hill, who have struggled so far this year. Don't expect the answer to be a trade bringing help from the outside, though. With a minor league system that is absolutely stacked, the Indians should dip into their own talent pool before looking elsewhere. The fact is there is no starting pitcher on the market that is as good as Salazar or Bauer and both these pitchers are already under team control for years to come. The Indians have Major League ready players at almost every offensive position as well with Chun Chen (1B), Chris Wallace (C), Tim Fedroff (OF), Ezequiel Carrera (OF), Cord Phelps (2B) and Jeremy Hermida (OF) all as ready as they will ever be for the big time.
There is no reason to believe the Indians can't win the division outright with the team they have on hand right now. Just staying within two games of the Tigers for a half of a year is impressive, considering the triple crown winners they have leading both their offense and pitching staff. The Indians are now as injury free as they have been all year and many players (Drew Stubbs, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to name three) are just starting to play up to their potential. If the pitching staff can continue their progress, the Cleveland Indians should absolutely be able to return to their glory as the Central Division Champions in 2013.
Danny Salazar could be a big part of the Tribe's rotation down the stretch.