LOS ANGELES, August 4, 2013 — The Cleveland Indians have officially turned the franchise around. After finishing fourth and winning just 68 games in all of 2012, the Indians have a 62-49 record this year and sit just three games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
The Indians currently own the final AL Wild Card spot by a half game over the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers. The Indians are 10-1 in their last eleven games, which includes a three-game sweep of Texas and a four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately for the Tribe, Detroit is also 9-1 in their last ten games.
Cleveland made some big offseason moves to upgrade their offense, including the additions of Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Michael Bourn. In 2012, they ranked 22nd in runs scored, this year they are fifth in MLB.
Michael Bourn is batting .282 with 16 stolen bases, but has also been caught eight times. Swisher is batting .244 with 11 home runs and 33 runs batted in. Mark Reynolds is batting .215 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs.
The real change on offense has been the emergence of Jason Kipnis as one of the best offensive second basemen in baseball. Kipnis has a .295/.375/.497 slash line with 15 home runs, 68 runs batted in and 57 runs scored. He leads the team in each of those categories as well. The speedy second baseman also has 21 stolen bases in 27 attempts, which also leads the team.
The turnaround has not been accomplished solely on the back of the offense though. The Indians have received substantial help from their starting rotation, led by Justin Masterson. Masterson is finally looking like the pither he was projected to be when he was in the Boston Red Sox farm system.
The Red Sox traded Justin Masterson to the Indians in a July 31 deadline deal in 2009 that sent Victor Martinez to Boston. He has a career 1.35 WHIP, but this year has a stellar 1.155 WHIP to go with a team leading 160 strikeouts in 156 2/3 innings. Masterson has a 13-7 record with three shutouts in 2013. He has had one shutout total in his previous five big league seasons.
Corey Kluber is another starter that has been solid for the Indians. Kluber has a 3.77 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 110 strikeouts with just 25 walks.
Ubaldo Jimenez is still in the rotation and has a 4.18 ERA and 1.479 WHIP in 22 starts. Scott Kazmir will hold his spot in the rotation as long as he can stay effective and healthy. Kazmir has a 7-4 record with a 3.89 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in his first season in the majors since 2011.
Set up man Joe Smith and Closer Chris Perez anchor the bullpen for the Indians. Chris Perez has some ongoing legal issues from earlier in the year after a package of marijuana was delivered to his dog, Brody Baum. Despite this, he has been lights out as the Indians closer. Perez has a 2.52 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP with 17 saves in 19 opportunities. He also has 30 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings. Joe Smith has 14 holds with a 3.05 ERA.
On defense, the Indians have committed 70 errors, which ranks 18th in MLB. They also rank 20th in fielding percentage. Jason Kipnis and Mark Reynolds lead the team with nine errors each. Obviously, there is room to improve there.
At home, the Indians have 37-19 record, only the Atlanta Braves have a better home record at 38-15. The problem for the Indians is not winning at home, however. Their problem lies on the road. Cleveland sports losing road record of 25-30. The Atlanta Braves are the only division leader with a losing record on the road.
If the Indians hope to catch and pass the Detroit Tigers, they will need to improve their defense as well as their performance on the road. The Indians have 50 games left in the season split evenly between home and the road. They have seven more games against Detroit, four at home this week and three more in Detroit at the end of this month.
The Indians should benefit down the stretch from an extremely easy schedule. They will face the Mets, White Sox twice, Astros, and Twins for 17 out of their last 23 games of the season. The other six games will be against the third place Royals.
Again, unfortunately for the Indians, Detroit also plays the majority of their last games against teams from the bottom of the barrel. The Tigers get to rest up for the playoffs with three games.
While winning their division may not happen this year, Cleveland is a legitimate Wild Card contender.
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