The Cleveland Indians have had a resurgence as of late, winning six of their last nine games following the sweep by the San Francisco Giants almost two weeks ago.
This has led to fans thinking about contention once again, because no matter what happens this weekend against Toronto, the Tribe is going to enter the all-star break as a contending team.
However, the biggest area of concern surrounding the Indians should be the bench.
Granted, this ballclub has overcome several injuries to key players, like Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore, and still manages to be a game and a half ahead of Detroit in the AL Central Division.
Hafner’s return, both from injury and a couple of off years due to the shoulder problems, does help out because he adds some depth to the lineup, but there are other concerns.
The all-star break couldn’t come at a better time for Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera, who appear to be running on fumes.
Although it’s a great honor to make the American League squad, Cabrera looks like a guy who could use a day off.
Unfortunately for Manny Acta, it’s difficult to take either player out of the lineup because of the possible candidates to replace them, particularly when the Indians were struggling offensively already.
With Sizemore struggling at the plate, it’s got to be tough for Acta to sit Brantley down for a few days. The latter’s batting average has dropped about 30 points over the past few weeks, although he did get two hits Wednesday night.
The skipper’s alternatives to replace Brantley are Austin Kearns, who is hitting .209 with a single homer, Travis Buck, who has been plagued by nagging injuries, and Shelley Duncan, who is a player who should only see action against southpaws.
Those aren’t real appealing choices.
As for A. Cabrera, he’s been the Tribe’s best offensive player basically from day one of the 2011 season, so you can understand the manager’s unwillingness to sit him down.
Also, he’s playing like a gold glover defensively, and his likely replacement would be Orlando Cabrera, who lacks among the worst AL infielders in terms of range.
The best option among the bench bunch is Buck, who is hitting a robust .252 with a 669 OPS.
The balance of the reserve players are Lou Marson, who got regular playing time with Matt LaPorta out, but didn’t really take advantage, hitting .229 with a 574 OPS, Jack Hannahan (.213 with a 637 OPS), Kearns (603 OPS), and either Duncan (.237 with a 674 OPS) or rookie Cord Phelps (.196 in limited duty with a 641 OPS).
We say either because one of those two players will likely be sent to Columbus to make room for Zach McAllister, who is replacing Fausto Carmona in the rotation.
Here’s hoping it’s Phelps, who needs regular playing time at his age, but isn’t getting it here.
Acta has done a great job mixing and matching lineups and getting the most out of the little production he gets from his reserves.
Still, why not help out the manager and the pitching staff, which has performed spectacularly so far this season, and get a bat, preferably one who hits right-handed, to come off the bench.
Keeping guys like Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera fresh might be the biggest challenge for Acta this season.
The front office has said it can spend some money for the playoff hunt. The bench is an area that definitely needs some help.