The Indians are rolling again. In fact, over the past week they’ve looked nothing like the team that struggled throughout most of June. They look more like the team that got off to a hot start to begin the 2012 season. It’s an interesting turn of events for a season that’s been full of twists and turns.
The main reason for the resurgence seems to stem from the fact that the Indians have “gotten their groove back,” so to speak. They’re hitting the ball all over the yard (53 runs in the last seven games), the pitching seems to have returned to form for the most part (29 runs in the last seven games), and, most importantly, they’re winning games. They’ve won five out of their last seven and are in prime position to set themselves up for what is sure to be an exciting second half of the season. Of course, there is one final obstacle standing between the Indians and the All-Star Break: the Tampa Bay Rays.
For the Rays, losers in seven of their last ten games, the All-Star Break can’t get here any sooner. They just don’t have anything going right now, especially at the plate. This is surprising considering some of the talent on the Tampa roster with the likes of Carlos Pena, Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, etc. You would figure with players of that caliber the Rays would be scoring runs in bunches and causing fits for the heavyweights of the AL East.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as planned and health has been an issue for them all season long. The Rays haven’t had what they would consider their normal everyday lineup for more than seven or eight games all season long. Center fielder B.J. Upton began the year on the DL. About a week after his return, superstar third baseman Evan Longoria partially tore his hamstring. Their best young player, Desmond Jennings, missed time with a sprained knee and hasn’t been right since he returned. Throw in injuries to role players such as Luke Scott, Sam Fuld, Kyle Farnsworth, Jeff Niemann, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Keppinger, Ben Zobrist, and Matt Joyce and it’s no wonder why the Rays have struggled.
Despite all the injuries the Rays haven’t developed a “woe is me” complex, at least not yet. This is still a dangerous team that needs to be taken seriously and is still very much in the thick of things in the highly competitive AL East. It wasn’t too long ago that they sat atop the division, injuries be damned. So to think they’ll come in to Progressive Field for a four game series and simply roll over for the Indians would be a mistake of epic proportions.
That’s because the Rays have Joe Madden, the man who might be the best manager in all of baseball. He keeps the Rays loose and focused on the fact that this isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. He’s also willing to try a million different things in order to get things going. Hit Carlos Pena lead-off? Sure, why not? Place Jeff Keppinger, owner of 35 career home runs, in the cleanup spot? You bet! Have fans fill out the lineup card to get a fresh perspective. Definitely. You can’t help but feel like Madden is a guy who gets it. He understands that its a long season and things don’t have to always be taken so seriously. During his tenure as manager of the Rays he’s striven to develop a true team mentality, a mentality where a winning atmosphere and results go hand in hand.
So while the Indians have taken some positive steps forward in the past week or two, they have to remain focused. They still have four games remaining against a very talented and competitive team. If they start thinking about their vacation plans over the break, the Rays are likely to come into Progressive Field and take three of four or worse. But, if they keep their eyes on the prize and remain focused, they could head into the All-Star break in the perfect position to make a second half run for the AL Central crown and give the fans something to look forward to.