The road trip to begin the second half could have gone better at 3-4, but it could have gone much worse too. The Cleveland Indians showed tenacity in their Wednesday night comeback against the Tampa Bay Rays, but were also shut out twice this week after being shut out twice the entire first half. When a lefty-heavy lineup faces David Price at home though, what can you really expect. So back to Cleveland and Progressive Field we go for a seven-game home stand. First up, our old friends and 2011 copycats, the Baltimore Orioles.
When the Indians visited the Orioles in late June you’ll remember how similar to the Tribe’s 2011 squad they seemed to be. With chatter that they’re trying to acquire Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers or some other type of pitching we are reminded of the stunning move GM Chris Antonetti pulled off for Ubaldo Jimenez, and with the way the Orioles are fading (they’ve lost 17 of their last 25 games) we can’t help but recollect on the collapse of Cleveland a year ago. Their Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta is in Triple-A and they’ve called up a host of youngsters trying to get something to work. We’ll see how it goes, because it’s still a fine offense, they just can’t get anyone out.
That offense is, of course, led by Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis. Wieters probably won’t become “Mauer with power” but he’s still hit 14 homers so far, he just doesn’t walk as much as he should to be a true star (.304 OBP). Jones is a near-superstar, 136 OPS+ with 22 homers already and dazzling defense in center. There’s just something about a great center fielder that’s so compelling. Markakis hits for average and can get on base, but the ball just doesn’t leave the yard like you’d hope. Personally, I think someone who lashes doubles all around the stadium is totally cool in their own right (Roberto Clemente made a career of it) but people want the homer and Nick just ain’t cutting it, eight so far this year.
One big question mark here is J.J. Hardy. The guy hit 30 homers last year with a 116 OPS+. This year, he’s hit 14 with a 69 OPS+. Now, he has been injured, but this is a major blow to the Orioles offense. If he were performing the way he did a year ago, this lineup would be vicious.
Oh, and guess who’s coming to town? Go on, guess! Jim Thome! Am I the only one excited to see Jim back in Cleveland? He could go 10-for-10 with six homers and I wouldn’t even care. There’s just some things bigger than my fandom, and that’s true gentlemen of the game that also happen to be childhood heroes. No matter where he goes, he’s a great addition to the team. It’s funny the Orioles picked him up, maybe they really do want to be the 2011 Indians. Except in that division, playing like the Tribe did last year down the stretch will end up a lot worse than 80-82.
As for the Indians’ lineup, we’ve already praised Michael Brantley here, but it’s just so nice to see what he’s doing this year. The real focus should be on Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana breaking (hopefully) out of a couple of miserable slumps. Elsewhere on the site we’ve analyzed Santana’s big second half potential, but we’re going to need to see more than just a homer or two to make us believe again. A-Cab though, he’s 8-for-40 his last nine games, and that’s including a three-hit game on Wednesday and a hit apiece Tuesday and Thursday. He’s just been lost up there. Besides Shin-Soo Choo and the emergent Jason Kipnis, these two are the power in the heart of the lineup until we can truly believe in Travis Hafner again. They need to hit. If Cabrera breaks out this weekend and Santana starts getting some extra-base hits, and considering the pitching they’re going to be facing they’d better, it could build into something. I write “if”, “could” and “hope” a lot, I know, but that’s part of being an Indians fan. You gotta believe.