After the first two games after the All Star break, the Cleveland Indians lost two games in very similar ways. They didn’t score runs, their defense was shaky, and their bullpen couldn’t get big outs when needed.
That started the fair weather Tribe fans trembling with fear and apprehension. See, this team just isn’t good enough.
That’s silly. Sure, this team isn’t the same as the teams that slugged their way to division titles in the mid to late 1990’s, but they are just a 1-1/2 out of first place. If you are that close, anything can happen.
In 2006, just seven years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals won 83 games in the regular season and went on to win the World Series.
Nineteen years earlier, the Minnesota Twins won 85 games in the regular season and were outscored on the season by 20 runs, yet still won the World Series.
You know what they call both of those teams? Champions! It doesn’t matter how you get to the playoffs as long as you do, and once you are there everyone has a chance. This isn’t the NBA where teams that just get in to the post-season really have no chance.
Does the current edition of the team have warts? Of course. The starting pitchers, outside of Justin Masterson, have problems completing six innings, putting a large burden on the bullpen.
In turn, the relief corps has been buckling under the weight put on them by the starters, leading to some shaky times for fans when manager Terry Francona has to go to the ‘pen.
Save for Jason Kipnis, the lineup has been inconsistent, suffering through off years by SS Asdrubal Cabrera and 1B Nick Swisher. With both of them struggling, the middle of the order has been a vacuum, and we can anticipate opposing hurlers not giving Kipnis much to hit if either can’t pick it up.
The hitter that carried the team for the first month of the season, Mark Reynolds, is hit under .200 since the first of May and right now, you would have to be surprised if he made contact, let alone get a hit.
But the team is still just 1-1/2 out of first place.
National baseball writers continue to tell everyone how the Detroit Tigers, who are the defending American League Champions, and currently lead the AL Central, are a superior team, and really the Tribe should be playing for a wild card.
But Francona’s guys are just a game and a half out of first place.
Last season, the same national writers felt the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s were surprising teams that wouldn’t be able to hold up and stay in the race coming down the stretch. Both teams made the playoffs though.
So, why can’t the Indians pull it off as well.
Lost in the angst about losing the first two contests after the break is that the Tigers also lost, keeping the Indians at the same deficit as they were going into the All-Star game.
The optimistic fans says no problem, they haven’t lost any ground. The pessimist bemoans the opportunity to overtake Detroit and has a “see, I told you so” attitude.
The only thing that matters is that the Indians stay close to the Tigers. Whether they are a great team or not, this ballclub is in contention.
Sit back and enjoy it.