There are bad teams that seem to be going nowhere and then there is the Indians. The Indians certainly seemed moribund the first two months of the season. They finished April with nine wins against thirteen losses and followed that up with an even worse June when they won only nine games and lost eighteen. They were ridiculed (did you see that video by one of the local media?) and for a time were considered worse than the Royals. But the Indians are on a bit of a roll and have won six of their last nine and there is a slight ray of hope.
Carlos Santana, their best prospect, and a catcher, was called up this week and on Saturday night, he hit his first homer and drove in three. Russell Branyon, after a slow start, is starting to mash the ball. Austin Kearns--featured in this space within the last week or two--is a nice surprise. Choo is one of the best players in the game. And Travis Hafner, though not what he once was, is at least better than league average and gives you a good at bat nearly every time up. Andy Marte and Shelley Duncan have given them some decent production filling in here and there.
But the recent surge is about pitching. Three fifths of their rotation is comprised of sinkerball pitchers: Westbrook, Masterson and Carmona. Those kinds of pitchers have to be able to repeat their delivery and get their pitches to sink. Masterson was horrible to start the year, but give the Indians credit because they stuck with him despite we doubters and he has responded with four straight good starts. The last two were particularly impressive. Carmona pitched really well against the Nationals on Saturday night. Westbrook is solid. But the real hero of the rotation so far has been Mitch Talbot. But that is a little scary as he has been pretty lucky so far.
Talbot only has a 1.1 to 1 K/BB ratio and he is walking over three batters per nine innings. With a BABIP against of only .268, expect a regression for Talbot the rest of the way. But Talbot can be a decent fourth or fifth guy along with David Huff, another pitcher who was successful in the past mostly due to luck. Luck caught up with him this year and he hasn't pitched well at all. But again, if your front three can give you a chance to win every time out and you can squeak out a few wins with the bottom of the rotation, the Indians should win their share of series the rest of the way out.
Not that the team isn't without problems. Jhonny Peralta is a decent fielding third baseman, but he's all over the place at the plate. He's had three years over league average in batting stats and four years under. That kind of inconsistency has led to a career OPS+ of 100...exactly league average. You want power from your corner infielders and Peralta isn't consistent enough.
Grady Sizemore can't get on the field and stay there. And it looks like he may need another surgery. That's a big loss and pretty much toasts him for the second year in a row. It's a shame, because he really is a great player when he is healthy. The loss of Asdrubal Cabrera recently is another big setback. Cabrera is an up and coming player and it is hoped he can get back on the field soon. Jason Donald is a pretty good back up guy, but he's not good enough to play every day at short.
Second base is also a big problem. Mark Grudzielanek was recently let go after delivering a 70 OPS+ in 116 at bats. Grudzielanek has thirty hits before he was released and each and every one of them was a single. Wow! His replacement has been Luis Valbuena. Valbuena had two decent seasons in the high minors with impressive OBPs but it hasn't translated to the majors. In 604 major league plate appearances, Valbuena has put up this ugly line: .231/.297/.372. That's not going to help much if that continues.
The bullpen also started very, very poorly. And that is pretty much and understatement. Kerry Wood hasn't been great since his return, but he's saved some games lately and at least he gives one more layer of depth to a real thin and real dangerous bullpen (dangerous to the Indians that is).
Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of help behind Santana in the minors. They have drafted and signed some good young arms, but they are not close to being ready. Only Lonnie Chisenhall is close to being ready and he's played third in the minors and is blocked by Peralta. Wonder if he can play second? He was drafted as a shortstop, so maybe...
The Indians have no chance of catching the Twins, but they could very well catch the White Sox (who they have beaten regularly this season) and that wouldn't be half bad. Can they play .500 ball the rest of the way out? Probably not. But a 7-5 start to June (even figuring in their helplessness against Galarraga in that infamous game) is a heck of a lot better and more hopeful then May.