At the half way point in the season, the Indians find themselves just where they were projected, between the White Sox and the Tigers. The unexpected part is that the White Sox are in first while the Tigers are in third. Cleveland is currently 3 games behind Chicago and a half game ahead of Detroit. The Indians will be able to decide their own fate this season, at least as far as Detroit is concerned as they will play each other in four more series. The Tribe also have two series against Chicago to end the year.
Overall the Indians have been very inconsistent this season, although the same could be said about every team in the AL Central. If this was not the case someone probably would have ran away with the division by now. One of Cleveland’s biggest problems has been facing left handed pitching, where they have gone 9-16 compared to 35-25 against right handers. They seem to have made some advancements of late in this situation, winning their last two. In fact since I wrote this article (Lefties Suck, 6/4) they have gone 5-4. This change can most strongly be pinned on Lou Marson, who has not played much against righties, but has been starting against some left handers. At the beginning of the season he was basically an automatic out (.147 batting average in April and May), but recently he has played well enough to get his season batting average up to .297 and has knocked in 7 of his 8 RBI in his last 30 games. Shelley Duncan, Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon have all also picked up their game slightly of late, leading to an increase in Indians run production all around.
Another issue the Tribe has faced and pulled through is the starting rotation. It will probably require some more tweaks as the season goes on, but things are much better now than they were in April. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are the team’s two aces and are finally pitching like they belong there. Jimenez has about half his strike outs in the last month alone and each pitcher has lowered their ERA significantly, finally bringing them toward respectability. Josh Tomlin is still an issue and I have doubts that Derek Lowe will be able to finish this season, but Zach McAllister has performed admirably, giving the Indians at least three quality starters each time through the rotation. Tribe management acted quickly replacing Jeanmar Gomez with McAllister at the first sign of trouble and will hopefully do the same with either Tomlin or Lowe should they get any worse. The Indians AAA team is very deep in starting pitching including Corey Kluber (who threw out of the Indians bullpen late in 2011), former Twin Kevin Slowey, David Huff, Spring Training invitee Chris Seddon and the mustache himself Eric Berger. On a rebuilding team you can afford to allow young players some time to work out their struggles, but that isn’t the case in a playoff chase.
As it has been the last two years, the Indians bullpen is one of the best in baseball. Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez have teamed up to become some sort of dynamic duo inside the Bullpen Mafia. In Indians wins they both have ERAs under 1.50 (Pestano 1.24, Perez 1.01) and have combined for 3 wins, 24 saves and 22 holds along with 61 strike outs in 55.2 innings between the two of them. If the Indians can get a lead going into the 8th inning, they are almost unbeatable. The rest of the bullpen has been a little shakier although Joe Smith has been as reliable as always and Esmil Rogers has been a total surprise. The left handed reliever spot has become a bit of a worry for the Tribe and what was a very deep position for the Indians at the beginning of the season has become a trouble spot. Rafael Perez is still out with injury for an unknown amount of time and Tony Sipp (while better the last couple of weeks) has been a major let down this year. Nick Hagadone played well to start, but is currently shelved in the minors pending an attitude adjustment and Scott Barnes is his emergency replacement. From what he has shown already this year in Columbus and Cleveland, Barnes should have what it takes to be the main lefty out of the bullpen. Although his ERA may look terrible, keep in mind that 5 of his 6 runs allowed came in one game in Cincinnati that was already a blow out before he came in.
The Indians will have a tough race for the rest of the season, but there is no reason they shouldn’t stay in it until the end. Starting pitching is weak in general throughout the division as the White Sox, like the Indians, also are limited by their two aces (Jake Peavy and Chris Sale) as far as quality goes and the Tigers just have 2011 MVP and Cy Young Justin Verlander. Almost certainly one of the three teams will make a move for a big name starting pitcher, while at least the Indians will be looking to improve offensively before the trade deadline. While it isn’t necessary for a playoff run, it would certainly help if the Indians could trade for corner infielder or outfielder and a starting pitcher.