After last night’s game with the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians hit another benchmark on the 2012 season. They have played one-third of their scheduled games and sit with a 29-25 record.
That puts them on a pace for a record of 87-75 for the entire season, which could very well be good enough to win the AL Central Division.
It’s also time to look at the team and the current state of the ballclub.
While everyone came into the season claiming the pitching was solid, so far the results are just the opposite, ranking 12th in the AL in ERA.
The starting pitching in particular has been problematic, with only Derek Lowe (7-3, 3.06 ERA) providing consistent quality performances.
Justin Masterson (2-5, 5.09 ERA) has been up and down, and last night notwithstanding, Ubaldo Jimenez (6-4, 5.31 ERA) has been mostly disappointing.
Josh Tomlin (2-3, 5.32 ERA) has not pitched like he did early last night when he put up a string of quality starts. Really, prior to his last two starts, Jeanmar Gomez (3-4, 4.42 ERA) might have been the second best starter for the Tribe this season.
It was said during spring training and it is still true, Jimenez is the key to the success of the Indians, and right now he is joined by Masterson. If they cannot give Manny Acta good performances on the nights they start, it will be difficult for the Tribe to stay in the race.
The bullpen has been solid, but Acta seems comfortable using only lefty Nick Hagadone, and right-handers Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez is games the Tribe is leading. That could create a tired bullpen going down the stretch.
Someone else needs to step up and give the team quality innings late in games. Acta seems to want veteran Jeremy Accardo to be that guy.
If the starting pitching can be more consistent and can get deeper into games, the bullpen will be more rested, and probably more effective.
That’s starts with Jimenez and Masterson.
Offensively, the Indians are right in the middle of the pack in runs scored, ranking 8th in the AL. This has been done despite holes in several positions, many of them spots traditionally known for offense.
Left field has been a mess with neither Shelley Duncan nor Johnny Damon doing much with the stick. Outside of a two-week span in May when he was respectable with the bat, Casey Kotchman has been a disaster at first base.
Yes, yes he has a good glove, but good teams need hitting at that position.
While Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis have been consistent and productive at the plate, CF Michael Brantley has been a surprise, hitting .283 and has knocked in 25 runs for the year as well, even though he hasn’t homered.
He does have 19 extra base hits (16 doubles, 3 triples) though, and is even starting to steal bases effectively (9 of 13). If he starts drawing more walks, he can be a very good offensive player.
Shin-Soo Choo (.379 OBP) has been very good since moving into the leadoff spot, providing a solid top of the order with Cabrera and Kipnis.
Unfortunately, outside of Brantley, the rest of the batting order has struggled. Carlos Santana has just 5 HR and a slugging percentage of under .400. He needs to provide some pop.
Travis Hafner is hurt again, out until the All-Star break. Jack Hannahan hit well early, which likely wasn’t going to last, but he’s been hurt for basically the last month.
The hope is that 3B Lonnie Chisenhall can provide some power, and he’s hit 2 HR’s since being brought up a little over a week ago.
Matt LaPorta was brought back up to help at first and in left, and probably could be an upgrade over the players in those spots now, but he’s not going to be a middle of the order presence.
If the Tribe is going to contend, they need Santana and Chisenhall to provide some power or GM Chris Antonetti will need to make a deal.
Once again, a third of the season has been played and the Indians are still in contention. If the starting pitching can step up, the Tribe can stay in the race into September.