The Cleveland Indians (41-30) continued their winnings ways at home as the Tribe is finished off an 11-0 June record at Progressive Field with the sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. Wednesday's post Cleveland Cavaliers parade 6-1 victory was never in doubt. The offense scored three runs in the first inning and Trevor Bauer (9 IP, 1 R, 3 H, 10 SO, 1 BB) pitched a dominant complete game effort. Carlos Santana had himself a game as he helped create the other three runs later in the game to push the score out of reach. The Indians now hold a full three game lead over the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central Division standings.
Many fans might have had their focus on another professional sporting team in the city of Cleveland as 1.3 million fans were rewarded with a championship parade on Wednesday before the Indians game. So no worries, the Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James were worthy of your time. But the Indians have been doing some great work in the background and there are incredible storylines you might have missed. The focus on numbers will be for another day, but here are the narratives to bring up around the watercooler when talk shifts to baseball.
Francisco Lindor is not in the Top 5 of All-Star voting and that is OK
If you happened to notice the All-Star voting results fly by on a sports ticker, then you might have seen that Francisco Lindor is not in the Top 5 of the AL All-Star shortstop voting. Without watching games or following boxscores, you might wonder if that means he has fallen off the wonderful Lindoresque performances of his rookie season. Nope.
Lindor is just as wonderful as you remember. In fact, his defense has shifted up a notch as he has made spectacular plays so often, they are expected from him on a near-nightly basis. In fact, the entire rotation has increased their groundball rates significantly in order to take advantage of his defense. And, at the plate, he is still raking with a high batting average, on base percentage, and continued surprising power. In fact, he is seventh in MLB in fWAR for position players, which attempts to put a number on a player's overall value.
But, he just isn't getting votes in a popularity contest that can be rigged by guys programming bots. Eh, no big deal. The voting is only for All-Star starters. Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Boegarts leads the voting and is a fine player himself, and Lindor has his eyes set on October rather than an exhibition game in July (said so himself). So don't worry about the All-Star vote.
Rotation of Death is engaged
You might remember Cody Anderson having three added miles per hour to his fastball in Spring Training and beating out Trevor Bauer for the fifth position in the rotation. Ummm, well, that did NOT go so well. So, forget about Cody Anderson as he has been shut down for a bit to reboot himself. If you are wondering about the prospects of Michael Clevinger as he continues to dominate for the Columbus Clippers, well he was tried. He needs a bit more work down in Columbus for the time being.
Instead, might I interest you in a newly minted Trevor Bauer who has eschewed his dynamic but uncontrollable fourseam fastball to replace it with his fireballing twoseamer, which he can throw for more strikes. Since making this adjustment, Bauer has stopped walking people at a high rate, but his ridiculous curveball has allowed him to continue striking people out. So, he has been competing with Danny Salazar lately as the best pitcher in the rotation and has the ninth best ERA in the AL.
Speaking of Danny Salazar, he is in the running for AL Cy Young thus far with the second-best ERA in the AL to pair with the best strikeout rate. Corey Kluber is almost an afterthought right now, which is unfair to a pitcher with the best FIP in the AL. Yeah, so FIP is a better future predictor of performance than ERA. Well, Kluber (1st), Salazar (3rd), and Bauer (4th) are all ranked at the top of the heap in the American League in that statistic.
Capping things off, Josh Tomlin has the best strikeout to walk ratio in the AL along with a sterling 8-1 record as he continues to mock those who doubt him. And, we haven't even talked about Carlos Carrasco who was pitching better than anyone on the team before he hurt his hamstring and who still owns a 3.26 ERA.
The outfield hasn't been a disaster
So Michael Brantley has only played 11 games and his shoulder is acting up again. The fears of another Travis Hafner are real, so the team needs to take their time rehabilitating him. Abraham Almonte also is continuing to serve his 80-game suspension though he did hit a two-run home run for the Columbus Clippers on Wednesday as he begins his preparation for reinstatement. Oh—and Marlon Byrd was suspended for an entire year for his own PED usage.
Having three outfielders lost from an outfield that was considered to be a major question mark is not ideal. Oddly enough, the Indians have not skipped a beat. Marlon Byrd sufficed while Lonnie Chisenhall recovered from his own injuries. Now that Chisenhall is back (sadly, his defense is only above average this year instead of otherworldly like in 2015), he is covering for Byrd being lost (OK, splits and all that don't match up, but purely on roster numbers, etc.). Jose Ramirez has been fantastic. A healthy Brantley would probably have him starting at third base, but he has been holding his own in left field and has been the Indians most consistent hitter after Francisco Lindor. Now, Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin have had some adventures in center field, but those appear to be in the past and they have both contributed to the offense.
Overall, the Indians outfield is ranked ninth in fWAR in all of MLB. Not too shabby for a position group expected to be the weakness of the team.
Everything is not rosy
Having a team where everything has gone well to lead to a solid record would be nice, but also worrisome in that the record might not hold up. That is not a worry for your 2016 Cleveland Indians. The team has survived a slow start (10-11 in April), injuries (Chisenhall, Brantley, Carrasco, Roberto Perez, Yan Gomes, Juan Uribe), and suspensions (Almonte, Byrd). The Tribe has struggled at times such as when they were swept by the mediocre Philadelphia Phillies in a series of one-run ballgames. Their bullpen has been both dominant and a trainwreck (depending on the week - just ask Bryan Shaw who was unhittable for 23 appearances in between two weeks of giving away wins). And, the Tribe has even had their manhood tested (both Gomes and Uribe have missed games for testicular contusions - yes, bruised balls).
And, not all players are playing their best or even at their career norms. Kipnis is just now starting to heat up. Gomes has been the worst hitter in MLB. Backup catcher Chris Gimenez is not far behind him, and Perez is still on the DL. Uribe has had a nice string the past few games where he hit four home runs in four games, but he was struggling mightily for most of the season beforehand (though contributing to the team in other ways).
However, each time, no matter the obstacle, the Indians have gathered themselves and found a way to continue to win baseball games. This Tribe team has been tested in the first half, yet they are sitting at 11 games over .500. It has been impressive to watch.
Are the Indians World Series contenders?
Don't think that the Indians didn't notice the Cavs championship and celebrations. They are fully aware, and they want in.
With their rotation and defense, the Tribe would be a tough matchup for any team to face over a series. The offense is fifth in the AL in runs per game, so the Indians certainly have enough going for them to put themselves into the conversation. The Boston Red Sox might be the favorites thus far and the Texas Rangers have the best AL record (though now three of their five starting pitchers are on the DL), but the Indians can compete with anybody.
Of course, there are still 91 games to go before October is here with many twists and turns that promise to go with the drama that is baseball. But, now that the Cavs are preparing their title defense away from the court, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy every moment.