We’re almost halfway through the season with a winning record, and though we Indians fans are accustomed to seeing a brutal second-half collapse, I have every reason to think this year will be different. Although we had a tough stretch there for a while, things seem to be slowly clicking into place. I thought I’d take this time to look at the roster and check out some players that have gained some momentum, and some that seem to be struggling.
With Zach McAllister set to return from the disabled list probably no later than the day after the All-Star break, the Indians appear very close to full strength going into the second half of the season. These are my top five players, in order, who I think carry the most momentum right now.
1. Jason Kipnis
This is the most obvious one. Jason Kipnis has the momentum of a hundred-car freight train barreling downhill, having been absolutely ridiculous this month. He has skyrocketed from being a below-replacement-level player in April to being top five in every major traditional and sabermetric stat category among second basemen in the MLB. Among the position, he ranks first in the AL in slugging percentage (.533), steals (19), OPS (.917), RBIs (51), doubles (22, tied for first with Dustin Pedroia), triples (3, tied with Howie Kendrick) extra-base hits (37), isolated power (.234), and secondary average (.427). He ranks second in home runs (12), walks (39, tied with Ben Zobrist), on-base percentage (.384), and runs (44, tied with Ben Zobrist). Kipnis is a stud, and if he doesn’t at least make the roster for the All-Star Game, it will be the biggest snub of the year. His success can largely be attributed to his 4.24 pitches per plate appearance stat, much improved from April and even from last year. The Kid is being more patient at the plate, and it is definitely paying off.
2. Scott Kazmir
The Indians lefty has gone from Kaz-been to Kaz You Like It. After a tough stretch that saw him go 0-3 with an ERA above 7.00, Kazmir was finally able to string together two spectacular starts for the first time this season, and, in fact, the first time in over two years. They were so spectacular that they made him look like the Scott Kazmir that struck fear into the hearts of opposing teams when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays. His most recent start saw him take a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh. My favorite part of the game was an at-bat in which he absolutely wrecked AL MVP candidate Chris Davis, chasing him off the plate with a dirty “stop crowding me” fastball and proceeding to strike him out on four pitches. Speaking of his fastball, it was consistently reaching 94 and 95 MPH on the radar gun all night. The only thing that kept him from pitching into the eighth was a set of back spasms that apparently he had been dealing with all night. He said he felt fine the next day, but if Kaz can pitch like that through back spasms, imagine what his next start might look like.
Since coming back up from Triple-A, Chiz has 8 hits in 27 at-bats. 4 of those hits are for extra bases, including a home run at Oriole Park that was smacked so hard it made it all the way to Utah Street. He went 0 for 7 in his first two games, but he seems to have turned it around a bit recently, especially after his 3 for 4 showing the day of his home run. Hopefully these bright spots can give him the confidence boost he needs to have a real breakout season at the hot corner.
The train wreck that was the early-season Vinnie Pestano seems to have dissipated. It is now replaced by the more reliable version of Vinnie that we all know and have come to expect great things from. Now that he’s settled down a bit, he has managed to convert his last 4 save opportunities in a row. Hopefully he can carry this momentum through the rest of the season.
5. Nick Swisher
Nick Swisher’s slump was quite possibly the worst in his recent memory. However with his game winning home run in Game 2 of the double-header against the White Sox, followed quickly by a go-ahead single in the eighth inning the next day, he looks to be back on track. His confidence and personality are glowing again. Terry Francona said he would love nothing more than to see him get hot, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m hopeful for a breakout month in July.
These are the players on the roster who seem to be struggling the most, in order of the greatest to least amount of issues. These players need to turn things around fast, or they might find themselves seeing less playing time or losing their roster spots altogether.
1. Rich Hill
It’s no secret that Rich Hill is the least valuable player on the 25-man roster right now. His ERA is an enormous 6.75, coupled with a 1.83 WHIP. He’s valued at nearly a full win below replacement level, and lets obscene amounts of inherited runners cross the plate. He’s supposed to be a lefty specialist, but struggles even to get the lefties out that he’s brought on to face. If he were cut tomorrow I wouldn’t miss him. Francona, however, sees something in him that the rest of us don’t, so hopefully that’ll show through soon. I’d love to be proven wrong. Until then, however, he’s earned his place as the least useful player on the team.
Since his phenomenal month of April, Mark Reynolds has struggled to produce the power that used to make our jaws drop. He’s hitting a pedestrian .236, and has watched his strikeout rate soar through the roof since he cooled off. Part of the problem is that he’s swinging at a lot more pitches outside of the strike zone. His concentration also appears to have dwindled, as he’s simply not keeping his eye on the ball all the way through his swing. Mark Reynolds needs to pick up the slack; if he continues like this for the rest of the year, he may find himself on another small, one-year contract, and perhaps with another team.
Carrasco has had one good outing this year that we all got excited about. He pitched 7 1/3 innings with only one earned run. Since then he’s been much more human, although he’s pitched better than his numbers indicate. The outing following his dazzling performance, the umpire was really giving him a small strike zone. In his most recent outing, the phenomenal blunder Rich Hill was brought on to finish off the inning by getting out a lefty and of course let both inherited runners score almost immediately. However, these should not be used as excuses to justify Carrasco’s still-present control issues and hesitance to pitch inside. Carrasco is still auditioning for his spot in the rotation, as Zach McAllister will be back soon enough. He needs to step it up.
Let me start off by saying I’m just incredibly grateful not to see Ubaldo at the top of this list. He’s actually been somewhat solid for the Tribe ever since his rough patch at the top of the season. But his most recent outing, though not terrible marked his fifth straight start in which he failed to go six innings. He was falling behind batters all day and couldn’t seem to find life on his pitches in the way we’ve seen him do it before. It’s better than the Ubaldo of last year, but we’re one game out of first place and we could use a few extra innings from him every fifth day to help out the bullpen.
Okay, so Michael hasn’t been struggling all that badly. In fact, he’s started to turn it around by hitting four singles over his last two games. But it’s uncharacteristic of him to put up the numbers he has this month. He’s hitting under .200 in the month of June. The good news is, this is as bad as Brantley will probably ever get, and we’re very likely to see him bounce back soon. In the meantime though, he earns the final spot on this list. Which should tell you something about how well this team is doing right now overall.