The Cleveland Indians have entered the all-star break a mere 1-1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central Division, a place we didn’t think they would be. After all, we picked the Tribe for 4th in the division after spring training.
Now, the question becomes, can they stay in the race for the rest of the season. Skipper Terry Francona said this is the fun time of the season, with every game meaning that much more for the Indians.
What needs to happen for the Tribe in order to stay close to the Tigers and compete for the division title?
First, they have to continue to get good performances from All-Star right-hander Justin Masterson (10-7, 3.72 ERA) who currently leads the AL in complete games and shutouts, and is among the league leaders in innings pitched, strikeouts, and wins.
They also need continued success from the staff’s biggest surprise, Corey Kluber, who is 7-5 with a 3.88 ERA, and Scott Kazmir, who in his last five starts has allowed just eight earned runs in 31 innings pitched (2.32 ERA).
They need Zack McAllister to get healthy and pitch like he did before his finger injury when he gave Francona six quality starts in his first eight times he took the hill.
They need another starting pitcher who can provide quality innings. It has created a major toll on the bullpen to have two starters every time through the rotation only going a little over five innings.
We believe this will assist in correcting the struggling bullpen. Some of those guys have had to carry too large of a load because the starters can’t go deep enough into games. Too many innings, and the injury to Chris Perez caused too much of a strain on the relief corps, and has led to the inconsistency of the ‘pen.
There are many who also feel that GM Chris Antonetti needs to add another bat as well, but really the Tribe needs a couple of guys with proven track records to start performing up to their capabilities: Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Swisher, who has a lifetime OPS of 823, is currently sitting at 750, his lowest number since 2007 with the White Sox. He has battled shoulder issues since early in the season, but appears to be getting healthy now, batting .289 in July. In fact, it was only June that Swisher struggled, hitting .160 for the month.
He needs to get back to being the guy who hits 20+ home runs and drives in 80+ runs for the Tribe to stay in contention.
Cabrera, a two-time all-star, has struggled in the first half as well, and needs to get back to the guy who played for the Tribe in 2009 and 2011, when he was an extra base hit machine.
He’s never been a guy who walked a lot, but he’s currently hitting 21 points below his lifetime average of .276, and is off his pace in extra base hits too. He had 52 in ’09 and 60 in ’11, but only has 29 right now.
He would provide a spark if he got back to a .280 hitter with some pop.
If those guys can return to form and if Mark Reynolds can have another stretch at some point during the balance of the season like he did in April, the Tribe has enough hitting.
None of these things is out of the realm of possibility. However, the Tribe also can’t afford to have one of the guys who had good first halves, like Jason Kipnis or Carlos Santana to have dreadful second halves.
While everyone talks about the Tigers, and how talented they are, the Cleveland Indians are right there. They can remain there if some players just get to their normal level of production.