The Cleveland Indians have teased fans before with their early season success the past two seasons. This year's team is a drastically different team though as there are signs that this team will be competing for the playoffs until the very end.
The Indians through 59 games have a record of 30-29 which is very similar to their records of 34-25 in 2011 and 32-27 in 2012. Yet, this year's team is and should feel much different than the previous two years.
The quad injury of Asdrubal Cabrera Monday night against the Yankees is major adversity this team will face heading into a tough stretch of the season. Luckily, they have a more than capable backup in Mike Aviles who played 128 games at shortstop last season.
According to cbssports.com, closer Chris Perez is being investigated for drug possession, which would be another massive blow to the team.
Despite all of that, this team has the pieces to compete with the Detroit Tigers.
At this point in the season, it looks like every new player except Brett Myers is contributing as much or more than expected.
- Nick Swisher breathes life and energy into this team and has been a consistent bat in the lineup along with playing good defense at first base.
- Michael Bourn has been a great leadoff man batting .303 and not striking out at near the rate that many expected, with only 36 strikeouts so far.
- Mark Reynolds has brought expected power and surprisingly clutch hitting with 13 HR and 41 RBI.
- Yan Gomes is proving he is a starting-caliber catcher who calls a great game, plays great defense, hits for average and has power.
- Scott Kazmir has more quality starts than bad starts and entered Tuesday night's game against the Yankees ranking ninth among AL starting pitchers in strikeout rate per nine innings (9.15).
- Jason Giambi is invaluable to the clubhouse and has shown he can still swing the bat when playing two or three times a week with 19 RBI.
- Drew Stubbs can be frustrating to watch at the plate, but has blazing speed and plays Gold Glove-caliber defense.
- Mike Aviles has a solid bat and won't hurt the team defensively.
There also isn't a better manager out there to lead this group through the tough times than Terry Francona.
Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis (who got off to a rough start, but led the majors in RBI (22) in the month of May) are establishing themselves as among the best at their respective positions.
Offensively, Santana's swing has been getting too long the last couple weeks, but still has very good offensive numbers for the catcher position. Defensively, the combination of he and Gomes ranks 15th overall in the majors.
Brantley has been the most consistent hitter on the team staying around a .300 batting average and a rare player that a manager can slide anywhere in the lineup because he is so disciplined at the plate.
Kipnis has been streaky so far at the plate, but his talent is undeniable. His defense continues to be excellent.
The overall team speed is the biggest change from last season. Bourn (284 career stolen bases) and Stubbs (100 stolen bases the past three seasons) could very well be the two fastest players in all of baseball. Combine them with Kipnis and Brantley and the team speed went from a major weakness to a strength.
The starting pitching, which was the biggest question mark in the offseason, has more than held its own. They own a combined 4.34 ERA, which is a little deceiving with how good they have been.
Masterson with eight wins already has pitched like a true ace this year (3.54 ERA), McAllister leads the rotation in ERA (3.43), Corey Kluber looks like he will permanently replace Brett Myers in the rotation and has looked solid and the biggest question mark in Ubaldo Jimenez has pitched seven quality starts out of his last eight.
The bullpen, which was seen as the strength of the team at the beginning of the season, has the potential to be the downfall of the Tribe. According to Fangraphs, they have the 20th best win probability in the majors when the game is handed over to the bullpen.
The Perez situation will likely mean Vinnie Pestano moving permanently to the closer role, and if Pestano works the kinks out of his mechanics, the bullpen should be able to hold its own. Cody Allen, Joe Smith, Rich Hill and Bryan Shaw are all capable of pitching in late-inning situations.
When the trade deadline approaches, the Tribe has the pieces in their farm system to make a trade for a quality late-inning relief man as well as another solid starting pitcher.
In every area of the team except the starting rotation, they have guys with proven track records of being successful. So, if the starting rotation keeps consistently putting up quality starts, there is a great chance the Tribe will be playing in October.
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