The Cleveland Indians are in Minneapolis this weekend to begin the symbolic second half of the season against the Minnesota Twins. Looking beyond the weekend and at the second half as a whole, this year is shaping up to be one of the most exciting conclusions to a season we have seen since the magical run of 2007. It’s going to be a fun ride. But with that said, what are some of the story lines to pay attention to as the second half of the season unfolds? From my vantage point I can see ten intriguing story lines that may have Indian fans on the edge of their seats.
1. Will the Indians make the playoffs?: This is the number one question on everyone’s mind as the Tribe begins the second half. Looking at things objectively, it won’t be easy. With the juggernaut that is the AL East race and the A’s and Rangers being able to beat up on the lowly Astros out West, it’s looking as if winning the division is the Indians best bet at making a title run in 2013. Of course, that won’t be an easy task either with the Tigers looking like a serious title contender while also sporting the best hitter in the game today in Miguel Cabrera and one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball. Can the Indians pull this off? Certainly, but it’s probably going to take a red-hot second half that see them finish with at least 95 wins.
2. Can the Indians figure out the Tigers?: Continuing along the lines of the first story line, the Indians need to figure out a way to beat the Tigers. So far this season, the Indians are 3-9 against the Motor City Kitties. That isn’t going to get the job done. Obvious analysis alert: If the Indians want to win the Central, they need to figure out a way to beat the Tigers. They can beat up on the rest of the division all they want, but if they can’t avoid these four and six game swings every time they play the Tigers they’ll be watching the playoffs like the rest of us.
3. Will the Indians make any moves?: Being in contention for the first time since 2007, it is more than natural that both the fans and the team would want a move to be made prior to the July 31st trade deadline. The names we’ve heard as of now seem to center around pitching, most notably being Chicago’s Matt Garza and Milwaukee’s Yovanni Gallardo to help bolster the rotation. The Indians could also toy with the idea of moving minor pieces to help out an over stressed bullpen; a move that seems much more in line with what this team needs. There is also the on again, off again rumors surrounding Asdrubal Cabrera to the Cardinals. Could the Tribe’s short stop be on his way to St. Louis for prospects? Anything is possible, even the possibility of trading for a bat.
4. Will Lonnie Chisenhall finally break out?: It’s beginning to look as if he may be on his way to having a huge second half, but it’s still too soon to be declaring all of his problems officially solved. He has shown increased plate discipline and confidence. As a result he is driving the ball with authority. If he can keep it up, continue to improve, and be the hitter the front office has been telling us he is all this time, then the Indians could become a serious threat come October.
5. How will the starting rotation look by the end of the season?: Will the Indians make a move to bring in Garza or Gallardo? Will they stand pat and roll the dice with what they have? Who is the odd man out. There are only so many spots in the rotation and the Tribe currently has a surplus of mediocre arms. Masterson is safe and barring a complete and total collapse one has to believe that so is Ubaldo Jimenez. Scott Kazmir has been solid of late while Corey Kluber‘s rise is well documented. That leaves one spot for Zach McAllister, who is returning from the DL, or Tevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, or Danny Salazar should he fail. Someone needs to step up, but who will it be?
6. Will Vinnie Pestano find the form that made him so good in 2011 and 2012?: This has been the biggest story seemingly pushed under the rug in 2013. Pestano hasn’t looked right all season and while it is easy to blame it on the arm issues from earlier in the season, one has to think he should be better by now. Only he isn’t. Pestano is giving up more home runs than we’ve seen in years past (1.8/9 innings), his velocity is down, and he looks mortal (4.45 ERA/1.55 WHIP). The Indians need him to figure things out and do it sooner rather than later.
7. Can Jason Kipnis become a superstar?: While it seems unlikely that Kipnis will emerge as a full-fledged superstar in the second half, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he is in the conversation with Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia as to who is the best second baseman in baseball. If he keeps up his absolutely redonkulous numbers at the plate and drags the Indians into the playoffs on his back he could even earn some MVP votes. He has already earned a bWAR of 4.2 in 84 games played. could he possibly double that total? Even in his best seasons as an Indian, Roberto Alomar‘s bWAR maxed out at 7.4. Could Kipnis be on pace for the best season ever by an Indians’ second baseman? It’s possible.
8. Will the attendance improve?: As of today, the Indians currently rank 27th out of 30 teams in terms of total attendance, 920,827, and average attendance, 19,183. If the Indians remain in contention for a playoff spot and start playing meaningful games in September will those numbers increase? I would certainly hope so. Fans demanded a winner and now they might actually have one. Will they do their part and finally show up to support the team? We shall see.
9. How will Francisco Lindor perform at Double-A Akron?: The future is bright for Francisco Lindor and a lot is riding on how he progresses through the Indians’ farm system. He played incredibly well in High-A ball, so much so that he earned a promotion to Double-A. Everyone is going to be paying attention to see just how much he struggles, if at all, with this newest challenge. As it looks right now, there is a realistic chance that Lindor could be making his big league debut as a September call up next season.
10. Can Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher break out of their prolonged slumps?: There’s no beating around the bush on this one. Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher are struggling right no at the plate right now. In Swisher’s defense, he has been dealing with a lingering shoulder issue that might very well still be playing a role in his problems at the plate. As for Reynolds. he had one of his patented baseball crushing streaks back in April and ever since it has been a slow and miserable descent back to the norm. He’s striking out, not making good contact, and hasn’t hit a home run in what seems like forever. How they respond and when they finally find their fom could play a role in if and how the Indians make the postseason in 2013.