The All-Star dog and pony show is concluded, and it's time once again to rejoin the adventures of the first place Cleveland Indians, in the midst of their dramatic quest for their first AL pennant in 19 years. The Tribe has a 6.5 game lead in the American League Central -- which has held steady all week. Their starting rotation is widely regarded as the best in baseball. Duh. And would you believe it, they're actually about to add two important offensive contributors in the forms of Michael Brantley and Roberto Perez; not to mention the flurry of blockbuster acquisitions that are certainly in the works as we speak.
Seems like a perfect opportunity for me to make some random bold statements about this team (literally, in bold font), and let the WFNY Indians Roundtable drop in their two cents while attempting to contain their childlike optimism for Frankie Lindor and Co. Let us assess the Tribe at the 88-game mark!
Carlos Santana, not Frankie Lindor, was the MVP of the first half.
Bode: Haha. Is this a trick question? I love Santana and will quite readily argue he was the best hitter for the Tribe during the first half of 2016. However, Lindor is not all that far behind and is magic in the field. So, ummm...yeah. Lindor for MVP of the Indians, the AL, and the world.
Clayman: I'm not sure it was a trick question, exactly, Michael. But yes, I'll admit that I might have been conducting a bit of a heat check on Bode-Santana hot takes. That said, the Axe Man does lead the team in homers (20), total bases (163), walks (50), OPS (.848), runs created (57.6).
Scott: Here's where the debate about "value" will rage on. To me, while Carlos Santana has been spectacular (I've always been on the bandwagon, for the record), Lindor's value is much more than what he does on the field—which is incendiary, by the way. This kid has single-handedly made Indians games worth watching. Sure, the recent winning has added many more eyeballs, but there was a stretch this season where the team was so-so and this kid was churning out highlight after highlight. Recently named one of the top "most exciting" players to watch, it's Lindor's transcendence that makes him the first-half MVP.
Josh: Carlos Santana, while his average could improve, has done an above-average job in the leadoff spot, especially as the season has gone on. But, Frankie Lindor's value both in the field and at the plate is irreplaceable on any team, let alone the Indians. Whether it's his smile from ear-to-ear, his highlight reel plays, or looking like he's always having fun, Lindor is special, and he was the MVP of the first half of the season, at least as a batter/fielder.
Trailing in the ninth, opposing teams feel kind of okay seeing Cody Allen out there.
Clayman: Not like chomping at the bit, maybe. But sort of like, "yeah, alright," with a dash of obnoxious self confidence and hope.
Scott: As they should. When Allen has it working, he's as unhittable as anyone. The problem is, it's rarely working, and when it is, it's only for a batter here or there and rarely for an entire inning. He's giving up way too many free passes, and way too many home runs to be considered among the dominant closers. He's one of the big reasons why this team has to get at least one back-end arm before the deadline.
Bode: Eh, even though he's having a down year and his walk rate has climbed too much, he is still the least of the issues in the bullpen. The bigger issue is getting to Allen.
Corey: There is a lot to like about Cody Allen. He throws hard. He has been with Cleveland for a while. His walk out music makes you stand and clap. His performance on the mound, however, is worrisome. Allen's numbers have noticeably worsened since 2015. He is allowing more walks per nine innings pitched (4.2 up from 3.2), more homers per nine (0.9 up from 0.3), and fewer strikeouts (10.7 down from 12.9) in 2016. Perhaps most troubling his strikeout to walk ratio (10.7) is well down versus last year's career best 12.9 mark. Allen does his best work when he misses opponents' bats and keeps runners off the basepaths. This year he has struggled with both and his 3.54 FIP is alarming. Still, Allen has 18 saves and remains the best bet to close out the game. If Francona insists on leaning on Shaw in the 8th there is no reason why he won't continue to send out Allen in the 9th. Even if it is to the opponents' delight.
Josh: It's the Indians, when was the last time they ever had that closer that would scare opposing teams and make the team and fans believe that the game was over if the Indians had the lead heading into the final inning? But, with that said, Cody Allen should be the team's closer (unless they make a move for another closer) and he seems to perform much better in save situations compared to non-save situations.
Clayman: I believe the answer to your question, Josh, with no intention of humor or irony, is Jose Mesa in 1995. Anyway, I agree with Bode that Allen is far from the central problem in what's been a good but red-flag-ridden bullpen. Still, thinking of Cody pitching the 8th and some Andrew Miller-esque figure riding in on a white horse; that would help everyone sleep a bit better (Miller is an impossibility, by the way, but it's 100% in-the-bag that somebody is getting added to the backend by July 31).
Given the choice of the Indians starting five or the AL field (a cherry picked quintet of starters from all the other American League teams), I would still take the Indians’ guys! Honestly!
Bode: Do we count their contracts? If so, it would be quite difficult to create a list of five starters better than the rotation of the Cleveland Indians. Everyone but Josh Tomlin is locked up through at least 2020 to team-friendly deals.
Scott: It's not all that far-fetched. Top of mind, Chris Sale and Cole Hamels have been dominant. Jose Quintana, while not having the longevity and historical dominance, has been a stud thus far. King Felix has had injury woes, but man—he still worries me. But then the list has a substantial fall-off. (This also shows how insane the National League is this season.)
Josh: If we're counting their contracts, absolutely. But, it's hard to say "no" to guys like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Marco Estrada, and Steven Wright, among others. The fact that this could even be an argument though is what's so fascinating about the Indians' rotation. They truly are one of the best in the MLB and sooooo cheap in terms of salaries.
Clayman: You're right, it is two different arguments. If money exists in the argument, I think the Indians are the no-brainer pick, when you consider the contracts of Hamels, King Felix, Price, etc. If money isn't a variable, however, you still have five pitchers all either in their prime or just now entering it. It's not a ludicrous conversation. And that, in and of itself, is ludicrous.
The Indians will end up cracking the top 20 in attendance.
Clayman: Sad that we have to set the bar this low, but hey, can we do it?!
Bode: Well, 20th in MLB attendance right now is the Baltimore Orioles at 26,685 and the Indians just had a nice weekend against the Yankees that topped 120,000 over four games. But, even averaging 30K per game won't pull them into the Top 20 for the year. The good news is with Disney valuing the MLB digital rights at $13 billion along with the television rights rising, attendance as a revenue driver is a thing of the past. It matters, but far, far, far less than when the Jake was selling out 455. MLB is doing just fine financially and the Indians - like all MLB teams - are sitting on stashes of money as the new CBA nears.
Scott: If they keep winning. The road trip coming out of the All-Star Break will be very telling.
Corey: "Attendance" has become something of a four letter word when discussing the Indians the past few years. Still, as Bode noted, the Yankees drew very well. Even tempering that figure with the knowledge that it's mid summer, peak baseball season, and New York is replete with bandwagoners, it's encouraging to see a thriving flock at Progressive Field. Right now the Tribe averages 18,586 per game which is 29th in MLB. To get up to the twentieth spot, the season mean would have to tick up to at least 27,000. April and May dug a big attendance chasm for the club, but nothing brings fans out like winning. Plus now that the Cavs have made it cool to go "All In" on a team, I expect standing room only crowds down the stretch in September. I think they finish 19th in attendance.
Josh: Does attendance in the playoffs count towards this? When it comes to the Indians, this city is fairweather, for the most part. When they're winning and as the season gets later, if (and when) the Indians are a playoff team, fans will begin to pack The Jake, as they did during their last homestand. Top 20 could be hard to overcome though with how many lousy-attended games they have had already this season.
Tyler Naquin isn’t a BABIP fluke. He’s a foundational piece. / Actually the Indians should sell high and trade Tyler Naquin for relief pitching.
Bode: Tyler Naquin can prove by the end of the year he is a capable replacement for when Rajai Davis leaves this offseason. I sort of view him in the same frame of mind as Chisenhall except he's a couple years behind in development. That said, I am truly enjoying the surprising season he has been having.
Scott: It depends solely on the health of Michael Brantley. This team cannot afford to trade a guy like Naquin and then have Brantley have another set back. (This all reminds me of how pissed I am that Brantley and the team waited until midway through the winter to have the shoulder surgery. Had they done it right away, this wouldn't even be a discussion.)
Josh: The team does need to improve on their bullpen arms, but I don't think giving up such a young outfielder with so much talent and a kid that has proven that he can produce at the MLB level is worth it, especially if he continues to improve on defense. Naquin has shown so much potential already, more than any other prospect has shown this season.
Clayman: I am drinking the Naquin kool-aid myself. Gaudy stats aside, I am a believer in the eyeball test, and he just looks exceedingly comfortable in the box. Everybody is harping on his power numbers, but he is also walking a lot more, showing great discipline. Let the record show, however, that I also thought Jacob Cruz was going to be a star based on a similar really good month of hitting many moons ago.
Roberto Perez stole Yan Gomes’ glasses.
Bode: No, Roberto Perez was going to overtake Gomes anyway. It was Chris Gimenez.
Scott: The only clear solution is for Yan to disappear for a few months and come back as Albert Gomes.
Corey: Unknown. Follow up, did the Monstars swipe Gomes' talent?
Josh: If glasses are the only thing that's needed to fix Yan Gomes' struggles at the plate, please give him better glasses sooner rather than later. But seriously, Gomes' struggles as a batter really are incredible, but he continues to be one of the best defensive catchers behind the plate.
Clayman: I've heard some debate as to whether that's even true anymore, Josh. Some of his nonsensical defensive metrics have ticked down. It's also not a great look for Yan that Gimenez walked in off the street and seemed to immediately do the impossible -- tame Trevor Bauer. Gomes isn't just having one of the worst seasons in Indians history, he is posting OBP numbers the likes of which Major League Baseball has never seen. It's really hard to wrap one's head around when you consider what a huge contributor he was to this offense just two years ago. As for now, I am in the camp saying this is Bob Perez's job until further notice.
If you think Lindor is already as good defensively as Omar Vizquel, you have a bad memory.
Bode: Omar had those dazzling bare-handed plays and had the quickest transition from scoop to throw (or flip) that I have seen from a shortstop (the quickest overall was his Cleveland teammate Roberto Alomar). Lindor has range Vizquel would have killed to have, a stronger arm, and more natural reach. So, it would depend on what type of hit happened and Tribe fans are so ridiculously spoiled to have had both play for the local team.
Scott: You'd also be forgetting that Vizquel never had an Age 21 season, debuting in 1989 at Age 22—comparing this early is super difficult. During Lindor's partial season with the Tribe, however, he had a defensive positional and fielding adjustment (per Fangraphs) that was two points higher than Omar's. Their second season in the league (taking Lindor's current spot against Vizquel's full season) are identical. It wasn't until 1999, when Vizquel was in his 30s, that the should-be Hall of Famer recorded a WAR north of 3.5. Two partial seasons from Frankie, and the kid's already worth four wins, respectively. Lindor may not be as good as peak Omar right now, but if you stack their career arcs next to one another, it's a coin flip.
Clayman: I am obviously picking on Frankie a lot because I simultaneously think he is the MVP of the AL right now. But I do think people need to calm down a little on the defense. Asdrubal Cabrera used to make highlight reel plays, too (shocking to consider, but you remember that brief period). Vizquel's genius was in being both a machine of efficiency and a highlight maker. Lindor, quite understandably, is still getting there. He's a bit less crisp, and his arm, while excellent, isn't Shawon Dunston's either. He's still refining that spinning jump-throw from the hole (it's been double-bouncing on him a bit) and Carlos Santana doesn't always help him. In another 4-5 years, however, the Omar comparisons might be worth a good listen.
Josh: Considering the fact that I wasn't even 10 years old when Omar was in his prime, this is kind of a weird question for me to answer. Although I remember watching the Indians in 1995 and 1997, I don't remember much. Frankie is special and the fact that this can even be said shows how much promise this kid has in his first full season in the majors.
I’m pretty sure Josh Tomlin is the first pitcher ever to allow his 100th career homer before allowing his 100th walk (currently 104 to 98). Him over Bauer as playoff No. 4 starter?
Scott: No. I'm giving the ball to Bauer in that spot, unless we're certain the Indians bats can put up five or six against whomever they're facing. Both have the potential for implosion, but Bauer, in my mind, has a higher probability of being dominant.
Josh: Playoffs? We talkin' about playoffs? But seriously, lets get to the playoffs before this is even discussed.
Mike Napoli will, in fact, hit the scoreboard with a moonshot in 2016.
Clayman: I was at the game when McGwire clunked the Budweiser sign. Is this something a large man can do without the aid of neck vein enhancement medicine?
Scott: He can, but only after requesting that the scoreboard be moved a few feet further back with additional drink rails placed in its former spot.
Corey: Not only will Napoli ding the scoreboard, before the pitch he will yell out the specific advertisement he wants to bounce it off like a recess game of Jackpot.
Josh: I mean, he has the power and strength to do so. That would lead to one hell of a Party At Napoli's if this does indeed happen.
Bode: No, but not because he is incapable of doing so. When Napoli was a young child, he and his older sister moved into a house with their aunt. You see, their parents had died in a terrible skiing accident in Canada. Well, upon moving into the home, Napoli and his sister began hearing drumming from the attic. The rhythmic beat was non-stop until it finally drove them mad enough to go and found the source, which happened to be a demonically-possessed board game. After dealing with the beasts from which came out of the game, they finally defeated it.
Only now, that incessant drumming is once again the bane of Napoli's existance every time he steps to the plate. And, he is taking aim.
The guy secretly least pleased about Michael Brantley’s return is (a) Uribe, (b) J-Ram, (c) Rajai, (d) Naquin, (e) Obviously, Abe Almonte
Bode: Juan Uribe doesn't mind being a bench guy as long as he gets to steal cigars from Terry Francona and trot around the clubhouse like a BOSS. Jose Ramirez doesn't mind playing third base every day. Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin, and Lonnie Chisenhall know there is plenty of playing time in the outfield for four guys.
So, (e) because even Almonte has got to know that Cleveland is PED-up with him.
Scott: Abe should be the odd man out, but he only has himself to blame. We wouldn't even be aware of Sir Naquin's BABIP if not for his desire to, you know, cheat.
Josh: Abraham. Out of that group, he's the only one that won't be on MLB squad once Brantley returns.
Clayman: I'm actually going to throw in a wild card I mistakenly left out. The Chiz. We all know Lonnie Baseball can be a bit streaky; a bit fragile sometimes with the old confidence at the dish. Right now, he is locked in -- both in terms of his performance and his position in right field. But as Brantley's return will lead to some jumbling of the everyday line-up, it could be the sort of thing that rattles Chisenhall enough to get him out of the nice roll he's been on. All Lon's ever wanted to is to just feel wanted!
Biggest threat to catch us in the Central is, weirdly, the White Sox.
Bode: Given that KC is still a half game out of second place despite not having a rotation and being decimated by injuries the first half defies all logic. But, the White Sox over Detroit because the Tigers are to the Tribe what the Tribe was to the Tigers in 2013.
Scott: I refuse to count out the Kansas City Royals. I will fear them until they're mathematically eliminated.
Josh: Technically, the biggest threat to the Indians in the Central is the Minnesota Twins. Oh, we're talking about taking over first place? Kansas City. With back-to-back World Series appearances and the reigning champs, I will never count them out until they are actually out of it.
Clayman: The story can change for KC if they get healthy AND find some starting pitching, but there's just not much out there to be had, and the Red Sox and Dodgers will likely acquire all of it. Plus, Wade Davis is now a little banged up, too? Not good. You can't really look at the current Royals depleted roster and say that's clearly a team primed for a big run. The Sox might only have a Big 2 in their rotation, but where there's an Austin Jackson, there's a way.