The first month of the season is in the books, and it’s been a fun start for the Indians. April 2012 might not have gone as well as April 2011, but it was still a nice way for the first-place Tribe to kick off the year.
In this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we commemorated the end of the season’s first phase by asking our panelists: What was the biggest surprise of the Indians’ first month? Joining our respondents this week are WaitingForNextYear‘s TD and It’s Pronounced “Lajaway”‘s Stephanie Liscio. Here’s what we all had to say:
TD (WaitingForNextYear): The biggest surprise to me has to be the rise of Jack Hannahan. You could have predicted almost everything else that has happened thus far – i.e. Casey Kotchman flopping with the bat, Shelley Duncan struggling, the bullpen and rotation being solid, Ubaldo being a disaster, etc. But who had Jack Hannahan leading the team in RBIs, hitting .500 with 15 RBIs with runners in scoring position?
What he has done has been absolutely incredible. Imagine where this offense would be without his clutch production. Hannahan has literally saved their bacon.
The key for Jackie is keeping him at the bottom of the order. When Shin-Soo Choo was out with his hamstring issue, Hannahan was getting at bats in the six hole. That just is not a good idea. No surprise that on Wednesday night with Choo back, Hannahan went back to the nine hole and promptly came through with the game winning hit.
Stephanie Liscio (It’s Pronounced “Lajaway”): For me, the biggest surprise was when the Indians scored 8+ runs in their first four road games for the first time in franchise history. The offense really fought to score runs at home to start the season, only to explode once they reached Kansas City. It seems like the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction by the end of the month, but they’ve proved that they can put runs on the board when they’re hot.
Runner up: Derek Lowe. I expected Lowe to be a solid veteran presence and a workhorse; during the first month of the season he also emerged as the most consistent starter for the Tribe.
Lewie Pollis: It hasn’t been a pleasant revelation, but I have to say I’ve been quite surprised by how much the top of the rotation has struggled. Logically it made sense to expect some regression from Justin Masterson and I’ve never felt fully safe with Ubaldo Jimenez on the hill, but I didn’t expect to see either of them suffer such dramatic declines in their velocity and control. It’s hard to see the Indians keeping pace in the AL Central for long if they can’t count on their aces.
On a more optimistic note, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by Travis Hafner. His .438 OBP, .478 SLG, .916 OPS, and 157 wRC+ are all his best since his MVP-caliber 2006 campaign. He’s been better the last few years than most fans seem to give him credit for and he won’t keep up this pace, but boy is it nice to see him raking again.
Steve Kinsella: As the month of April came to an end and May began I was most surprised by the Indians’ willingness to take pitches and accept walks. It has been argued by many (including myself) that the impact of a hitting coach is minimal at best, but when Bruce Fields came on board in 2011 he preached looking for strikes in the hitting area to drive and taking laying off the fringe strikes and out of the zone pitches.
Thus far in 2012 the Indians are heeding his advice. Heading into Thursday’s action the Indians lead the AL in walks with 112 and are second in on-base percentage at .342. Currently the Indians rank near the bottom of the AL (12th) in slugging percentage (.376) but if the Indians continue to exhibit patience at the plate it is only a matter of time before their patience is rewarded and the extra base hits arrive.
Katie Hendershot: Derek Lowe has been a pleasant surprise through the first month of the season. When the Indians acqured him, I didn’t have high expectations. So far, not only has he exceeded my expectations, but also he’s the guy I look forward to seeing on the mound. He’s put some excellent outings together in the first month, and if he can keep doing that going forward, it will bolster the shaky starting pitching.
In general, I’m surprised to see the Tribe in first place. Looking at their schedule, they’ve had it pretty easy so far, but I’m still surprised with what the Indians have been able to do. They don’t always overpower their opponents and they’re not always pretty games, but they’re finding ways to win, and as Manny Acta has said, that’s what matters. The Indians have the potential to be a good team, but they haven’t been playing the best baseball, yet they’re still first in the Central, which is definitely a pleasant surprise.
Brian Heise: My April surprise has to be Jack Hannahan. Coming into the start of the season it seemed more like Lonnie Chisenhall lost the starting job this spring rather than Hannahan winning it, but man, has he ever taken the opportunity and ran with it. Hannahan has been phenomenal so far at the dish. His ability to get big hit after big hit with runners in scoring position, especially with two outs is quickly becoming the stuff of legends. It’s getting to the point where you expect him to come through when the Indians need it most. No, he’s probably not the long term answer at third base as that role seems reserved for Chisenhall, but Hannahan is one of those glue guys who becomes truly indispensable over time.
If I had to pick another surprise, it might be Matt LaPorta‘s performance so far in Columbus. After losing his job and being demoted to Triple A yet again, it would have been understandable if he became defeated and played like crap. Surprisingly, he’s not. LaPorta is tearing the cover off of the ball. Yes, I realize he’s done it before and the label of Quad A player is looming large, but maybe, just maybe he’s figured it out. Imagine if he has. Think of what that kind of bat could do for this lineup. One can only hope.
Merritt Rohlfing: The thing about surprises is, like razors in your candied apple, they’re not always good. My number one surprise is in that vein, and it’s Ubaldo Jimenez. I worked myself into a rather high level of excitement for him, having a whole year in a pitcher friendly park, being healthy and happy, and leading a very good staff to contention. Instead I’ve gotten a league leader in walks given up and a 79 ERA+. He can’t strike anyone out, he can’t go deep in games, and he’s just kinda bad. Another Indians season could be sunk by a pitcher hyper-underperforming, and it’s getting a little tiresome.
On a more positive note, Jason Kipnis has been awesome. I knew he’d be great, but this happened sooner than expected. I was at that 2-for-3, 4 RBI night against the White Sox, and it was just the icing on the cake. As Justin Masterson said, we’re all just Kipnises. His .292/.366/.517 slas line is awesome, and having three triples already is quite gnarly too. The guy is a joy to watch, and he fills me with irrational hope of a dominating middle of the infield for years to come.