The Cleveland Indians are off to a rousing start, winning 13 of their first 18 games, and currently have the best record in the American League. Who would have imagined that?
Certainly not us. We projected a fourth place finish for the Tribe.
However, if you look at the way the rest of the division has started off, it is very feasible that the Indians can be a contender in 2011.
The thing you have to look at is how many wins will it take to win the division. Based on the way the teams that were favored (White Sox, Twins, and Tigers) have started, you have to figure that no one will win more than 90 games in the AL Central.
That means if the Tribe play over .500 ball this year, they are going to be in the mix after the all star break. You couldn’t have asked for more than that going into the season.
It’s also quite a difference from the last few seasons, when the season was basically over at the end of May.
While it is still early in the season, remember that if Cleveland wins just two of their next ten games, they will have a 15-12 record for the first 27 games, which is one-sixth of the season. That would be a pace to win 90 games.
Obviously, a number of things have to go right for that to happen over a full season just like many things have gone their way to get off to this kind of start.
On the other hand, the Indians have received virtually no production from two guys they were counting on heavily coming out of training camp: Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana.
Choo is hitting just .215 with 2 HR and 8 RBI, and has struck out an alarming 19 times in 17 games. Santana has a .203 batting average with 2 dingers and 9 RBI’s. You have to figure both players numbers will improve as the season goes on, especially Choo, who has a longer track record.
Contention is predicated on the team staying relatively healthy (the loss of Mitch Talbot for awhile isn’t a huge blow by itself).
The starting pitching also has to hold up. Realize that Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin will not continue with their current ERA’s (1.33 and 2.75, respectively), but as long as the starters can continue to keep the team in games, the team will be okay.
That’s because the bullpen looks to be a strength, led by closer Chris Perez. Tony Sipp has settled in as the eighth inning guy, and rookie Vinnie Pestano looks like a good right-handed option late in games.
Having Rafael Perez as the second southpaw in your bullpen shows the strength of the relief corps.
When Orlando Cabrera was signed over the winter, there was a mixed reaction here. We loved his experience, especially playing on winning teams the last few years, but his decline at the plate was concerning.
However, he seems to have taken on a leadership role with the ballclub, which he figured to do. And right now, he has done okay at the plate. The latter probably won’t continue in the long run, but his winning attitude has definitely rubbed off on his teammates.
The point is it isn’t too early to re-evaluate this team based on the starts of the other teams in the AL Central.
It also isn’t too early to enjoy this if you are a baseball fan in northeastern Ohio. You’d be ticked off if the Indians were 5-13 to start the season, so enjoy the early success.