The Cleveland Indians are 16-14, 1.5 games out of first in the AL Central heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Oakland A’s as I write this, but after winning eight of their last ten games (it’s now nine of their last ten), the Tribe looks to extend their winning ways.
While the season is young, the Indians have shown quite a bit of exciting flavor, improvement, and smiling faces on the field to keep fans excited. The club is hot right now and fans can hope for continued success, but what is it about this club that makes them any different than recent seasons?
The Bullpen Mafia
This is a group that opposing clubs can finally fear, small sample size or not. This is a drastic improvement over the 2012 season. Take a look:
2012 bullpen: 20-18, 3.99 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 465:192 K:BB, 528.1 IP, 23rd in MLB
2013 bullpen: 4-0, 2.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 102:37 K:BB, 95 IP, 1st in MLB
Again, 30 games into a 162-game season leaves sufficient time for a huge decline, but the makeup of this group consists of strike-throwing, high-velocity arms, which can result in dominance in the late innings.
The starting pitching has been very inconsistent still, as their 4.63 ERA ranks 23rd in MLB, a slight improvement on 2012′s 28th, but the improvement from 2012′s 5.25 ERA is encouraging. The emergence of Zach McAllister as a potential shutdown arm (a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP is a pretty solid start), and three encouraging starts out of six for Ubaldo Jimenez, when added to Justin Masterson‘s early performance, could allow for additional improvement on the rotation’s overall numbers. And, don’t forget Scott Kazmir, who was touching 95 mph with his fastball in his most recent start!
The Potent Offense
Carlos Santana is currently creating runs at an incredible rate. His 202 wRC+ (measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average) leads the majors (Miguel Cabrera‘s 194 is the next closest), and he ranks in the top four in batting average (.355), on-base percentage (.450), and slugging percentage (.645).
Mark Reynolds is second to Justin Upton in home runs (10), and his .291/.367/.631 line is a pleasant surprise to his career low 24.2 percent strikeout rate, when compared to his career .237/.333/.480 line and 32.3 percent strikeout rate. Add in the 45 innings at third base without an error and the much-needed right-handed power addition and Chris Antonetti is the smartest man alive.
The club has survived (excelled?) in the absence of Michael Bourn, who was off to a terrific start, while Drew Stubbs, Jason Kipnis, and Ryan Raburn have stepped up their games during the last couple of weeks. The Indians have reinvented themselves as one of the top hitting teams in baseball. The club has the No.3 team batting average (.271), the No.5 team on-base percentage (.336), the No.1 team slugging percentage (.470), the No.2 team OPS (.806), and rank No.8 in runs scored (150).
So, who is more responsible for the club’s improvement? The offense and bullpen have, clearly, improved over the 2012-version, while the starting pitching has taken a small step in the right direction. While the club appears to be better overall, who do you feel is most responsible for the team’s early season success?