The Cleveland Indians are now just 3 games behind the Detroit Tigers, the Motor City Kitties. At one point this season the Tribe was back double digits against the division leaders. Yet here we sit, early in June, before the All-Star game, with the Indians only 1 win behind the Tigers. How is it possible? How did a team that looked like it couldn’t put 2 good starts, bullpen appearances or at bats together now above .500 and making the early summer an exciting time at Progressive Field, still want to call it The Jake by the way.
As we have covered in the past the Indians don’t have a player that can carry the team (click those words to read the article). There is no power hitting stud in the lineup. There is no over powering ace starting pitcher. And the team hasn’t experienced a stud, lights out closer in a long long time, as we covered here in the past. The biggest asset the Tribe has going for it is manager Tito Francona, a coach who can get a lot out of a little. Is he the sole reason for the turn around? Lets take a look at information provided by ESPN’s Sweet Spot:
Cleveland has been playing a better brand of baseball over the past three weeks. Since the beginning of the series against Detroit on May 19, Cleveland has improved its team batting average 41 points from .244 up to .285. Leading the offensive surge during that time has been Lonnie Chisenhall, who has hit .359/.377/.625 in recent weeks and .362/.411/.539 overall this season. Chisenhall’s bat has been a pleasant surprise for Cleveland as he hit just .244 with a .694 OPS coming into the season, but he’s been making more consistent and harder contact.
Chisenhall has been a big part of the Tribe’s offensive turnaround. But as the article also notes the Tribe have started getting the same type of all around, “anybody can come through,” kind of offense that carried them for much of last year. The Indians don’t have Miguel Cabrera but they have a group of guys including Michael Brantley (Dr. Smooth), Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and many more that, when consistent, can produce enough to make up for the lack of a big stick. When one goes in a slump another must emerge. When 2 or 3 do, like earlier in the season, it is tough for this team to make it out on the winning side often enough to compete. But what about the pitching:
The turnaround of the pitching staff has been even more impressive as the staff has lowered its ERA from 4.22 to 3.48 in recent weeks. The staff has a new ace in Corey Kluber, who has taken the reigns from Masterson. Since his complete-game shutout of Kansas City on April 24, Kluber has seven quality starts in nine outings and has struck out 80 batters while allowing just 51 hits in 63 innings. Kluber has received support from recent call-ups Josh Tomlin (3.32 ERA; 11.2 K/9) and Trevor Bauer (10.7 K/9).
Kluber has been spectacular. As early as last year Kluber has shown signs of a Orel Hersheiser bulldog type mentality. He doesn’t seem fazed by anything and he just keeps throwing strikes. He has taken some pressure off of Justin Masterson and gives stability to the rotation that is greatly needed. While he might be the Tribe’s ace, much like the offense the depth of talent is what has helped the rotation succeed. Kluber isn’t a typical overpowering ace but because of his consistency and the rest of the rotation being solid the starting staff has made big strides. Yet the Tribe started with John Axford as their closer and he is already out of that role so how has the bullpen held up:
The bullpen, after a very troubled start to the season, appears to have found its groove, with Axford, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Josh Outman leading the charge. Since being removed from the closer role on May 10, Axford has been scored upon just one time in 11 outings and has held opposing batters to a .182 average.
Again there is a depth to the bullpen now that everyone is slotted into their roles. Axford’s struggles seem to be behind him, with the mental pressure of closing off his plate. While he had some success as a closer in the past, being successful in his role is more important then what role he is being used in. Cody Allen has been lights out as a closer:
Talk about lights out!
So how have the Indians clawed their way back into contention? Through a combined effort from their talented and deep roster. Without the big guys in the lineup, in the rotation or the back end of the bullpen they will have to continue to succeed as a team. If there is anything that describes what a Cleveland team would look like, it is this team. A group of individuals coming together to succeed. #CLEawesome
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