The Cleveland Indians enter the All-Star break with a record of 51-44 and trail the Detroit Tigers by just 1.5 games in the AL Central and are only 3 games back in the Wild Card race.
There may be a lot of nervous apprehension heading into the second half of the season after last season devastating finish to the 2012 season.
From July 27th through the end of the year the Indians had a dismal record of 18-45 and this came after what appeared to be a season turn-around series against the Detroit Tigers.
In the first game of the series Ubaldo Jimenez delivered 6 scoreless innings before giving way to Joe Smith who gave up 2-runs as the Tigers tied the game in the top of the 7th. The Indians regained the lead in the bottom of the 7th when Aaron Cunningham dropped down a suicide squeeze to plate Lou Marson to take a 3-2 lead. The bullpen held the lead and Chris Perez came in to notch his 28th save.
The series finale was one of the more enjoyable games of the 2012 season and seemed to be one of those games that a team could use as a jumping off point to a playoff run.
Justin Verlander shut the Indians down through the first 6 innings holding them to just 1 run but Zack McAllister did a nice job containing the Tigers to just 3 runs through 6.1 innings with Joe Smith getting the final two outs in the top of the 7th on a double play ball off the bat of Miguel Cabrera with runners at 1st and 3rd and one out. The end of the inning double play energized the crowd of 34,579 who were on their feet as Smith left the mound.
Heading into the bottom of the 7th inning the Indians trailed 3-1 but the 2-run lead would be erased in just two pitches as Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner hit back-to-back home runs on back-to-back pitches to tie the score. Jose Lopez followed with a single but Verlander retired both Casey Kotchman and Shelly Duncan. If the Indians were to rally they would have to do it with two outs which is exactly what they did.
Suddenly the Indians had a 4-3 lead and had two men in scoring position. Jason Kipnis sent a ground ball to Ramon Santiago which should have ended the inning but he booted it and Cabrera raced home to give the Tribe the 5-3 lead.
The bullpen once again was solid as Vinnie Pestano worked a scoreless 8th and Chris Perez a scoreless 9th to pick up his 29th save sending the crowd into a frenzy.
More importantly there was belief that the Indians were viable contenders again. After taking 2 out of 3 from their Division rival Tigers they were an above .500 team (50-49) and were only 3.5 games out of 1st in the AL Central. They were about to embark on a 9-game road trip thought Minnesota, Kansas City, and Detroit.
Many people were looking forward to the next Detroit series as Minnesota and Kansas City were both teams that were struggling. If the Indians could just stay even with Detroit until their next meeting they could gain ground in the head to head battle in the motor city.
The season didn’t go quite the way fans had hoped and the city may yet to have recovered. The Indians lost all 6 games against Minnesota and Kansas City and entered the Detroit series trailing them by 7.5 games. The Tigers, sensing a wounded animal, pounced on the Tribe and swept them away sending them home losers of 9 games in a row effectively ending their season.
The Tribe came home and lost their first two games to the Twins to extend the losing streak to 11 games in a row before finally winning the series finale to end the suffering.
In taking 2 out of 3 from the Tigers at the end of July the Indians drew 82,245 fans to Progressive Field in a non-weekend series. The crowd was electrified by the performance against the Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander, baseball in Cleveland was relevant again. The mood surrounding the Indians could be described as euphoric.
Losing 11 in a row, only winning back to back games from July 27 through September 2nd, and posting an 18-45 record to finish the year can only be viewed as a demoralizing end of the season.
Despite the busy off season which included the hiring of Terry Francona, the signing of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, and a first half record of 51-44 the city of Cleveland seems hesitant to climb aboard the bandwagon?
Is the city still scarred from the 2012 performance?
This year the Tribe had an equally big series with Detroit and the first game was played in front of a sold out crowd of 40,167 and the Indians were shut out 7-0. The Tigers flexed their muscles in the four game series taking 3 out of 4 leading many (based on Twitter, Facebook, blogosphere comments) to chirp in that the season was over and the Indians should trade whatever pieces they have remaining and begin looking toward 2014.
A funny thing happened after the Tigers series. Instead of folding like a cheap tent and wallowing in self-pity the Indians picked themselves up off the carpet and won 5 out of 6 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals.
Has hoped been restored along the shores of Lake Erie that this team will hang around until the end or is the image of the 2012 collapse going to continue to linger?