Can you call it a series split if you play only two of the games? It’s going to be a stress-filled couple of weeks until we’re able to experience the finale of this week’s Cleveland Indians/Chicago White Sox series, so bate your breath accordingly. The Tribe and the Hose scored 10 runs combined in these two games and despite some walking issues there was some strong pitching and really, outside of some mysteriously poor offensive output against a guy who can’t hit 90 mph and Jason Kipnis not hitting even one home run, it was a relative success. Just have to finish it off later.
But that’s already the past, and the Indians must continue the road trip to the shining spires of Kansas City, home of pretty good barbecue, navigation device giant Garmin, and, of course, the Royals. Though they’ve been mediocre at best the last decade or two, the Royals and their fans are looking at 2013 with a strange kind of optimism. What was once the best farm system in the game has turned into a young team (and Jeff Francoeur) with a lot of promise and talent (and Jeff Francoeur). The Royals are first in the division, but the Twins are second and the Tigers third, so let’s not put too much stock in them quite yet.
Offensively, the drink stirrer has to be that battering ball of bombosity, Billy Butler. Alright, I don’t know enough about the guy to know how bombastic he is, but for the sake of alliteration, stick with me. Billy was an All-Star last year and now he’s combined his line drive-spewing abilities with home run power rather than just doubles everywhere, turning him into a force. He had 29 homers with an .882 OPS last year and though his power numbers have a little catching up to do this season, he’s 27, hitting his prime production years, and I’m not going to enjoy seeing this guy rotate his way to the plate for the next few years.
Personally, my least-favorite Royal is Alex Gordon. The guy is a talent to behold in left field, turning into a brilliant player after four years of struggle. From 2011 on he’s hit 101 doubles and will probably finish with somewhere around 45 or 50 again this year unless he got his squats in, and knocks 25 or 30 homers instead. I just don’t like him because of how many Indians he’s thrown out at the plate though—it’s ridiculous and seems like it happens every game, at least once. I think it was two years ago he did it three times in one game. That third base coach needs to be fired. I mean, he was, but you know.
The real youth, and excitement, comes from a group of young players including third baseman Mike Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain in center and Salvador Perez catching. Perez might be the true star of this group, he was called up last year and in 76 games hit 11 home runs despite recovering from injury. His 2013 has started off so-so, but he’s got that “looks like a player” kind of vibe to him. Just like Jeff Francoeur.
Of the other three I mentioned, Hosmer might be the biggest disappointment. After a great rookie year with 19 homers and a 116 OPS+ and looking like he was turning into a good young player, he was downright dreadful last season. His power production went down along with his on-basing rate, and along with shoddy defense he cost his team 0.3 WAR on the year. He was that bad. The new year hasn’t been too kind to him with only one extra-base hit, not what you look for in a first baseman. He’s walking a bit more though with a .346 OBP, but he’s reminding me a bit of a moon-faced corner infielder that graced the Indians depth chart for a while.
As for Moustakas and Cain, I can’t help but like these guys. I’m pretty sure Cain is going to be a stud out there (sidebar: that’s always just felt like an odd way to describe a guy, considering what a “stud” is in the horseracing world, but whatever) and every time I watched him he clobbered the ball. As a big fan of confirmation bias, I am therefore a fan of Cain’s and want the Indians to pry him from Dayton Moore’s iron clutches. Because the Indians need more center fielders.
Moustakas is pretty much the same except his leather flashing comes from the scalding nook and unlike his corner infielding brother, he’s gotten better from his first cup of coffee to his second season. Also, he hit more than seven homers last year than Hosmer. In fact, with 20 homers last year the now 24-year-old is giving off an Evan Longoria vibe, though without some of the radicality. (Sorry Mike, but Evan is just something else.) Between him, Butler, Cain, Perez, and the defensive wizardry of Alcides Escobar there’s a good young core to build around. If Hosmer can turn it around I might have to make suggestions of something resembling the idea of an image of the mid-90’s Indians.
And, of course, there’s Jeff Francoeur. In case you didn’t get it he’s terrible, and at the same time gave the Royals some kind of reasoning to trade away Wil Myers, maybe their best prospect of the bunch. Some, like me and you and everyone in Baseballdom, wonder whether this was one of those trades a GM makes that’s in his best interests to keep his job, but not in the best interests of the team. They needed pitching and need to make the playoffs this season or even the skinflint ownership in KC will be forced to bite the bullet. They shipped Myers to Tampa for James Shields (who the Indians thankfully will avoid), bolstering the Rays future prospects and giving themselves a bit of a kick in the pants. It was still rather foolish and shortsighted, but it’s time to cash in the chips for Mr. Moore, I guess.
Meanwhile, the Indians have scuffled a bit to start the season. When I wrote the preview prior to the White Sox series, I noted the offense has been all over the map. Well, they showed some consistency in Chicago, but it was a crappy form of consistency. Three and two runs scored, and they didn’t even leave a lot of guys on base. This strikeout-rich team is a bit frustrating at times, like when Lonnie Chisenhall whiffed with guys on second and third in a one run game with one out. Just a little contact, please. Plus, Asdrubal Cabrera continues to be stuck in the doldrums, Jason Kipnis did not enjoy the elixir of life that U.S. Cellular has been too him in the past, MIchael Bourn is still going to miss a game or three, and Michael Brantley’s power has disappeared, what middling amount there was anyway. There’s a likelihood they’ll blow up on the Royals one game, dropping some kind of double digits, then get shutout another day. But the ups and downs are better than mediocrity. That’s why we all want to be stock brokers.