We’re officially past the break in the season (albeit a bit past the halfway point), and the Cleveland Indians boast a 52-46 record following a weekend series with the Twins. The Tribe currently sits a mere 1.5 games back of the division-leading Detroit Tigers with 64 games left to play. There are many things to look forward to in the remainder of the season, and I will cautiously say that it’s time to get excited.
- 1. A More Friendly Schedule
The Indians have a much easier post-break schedule than what they’ve already endured so far this season. They have only one AL East series left, facing the Baltimore Orioles for a three-game set at home. Following that series at the beginning of August, the Tribe’s schedule consists of series with the Mets, Royals, White Sox, Royals, Astros, White Sox and Twins to close out the season. Three of those teams are already clearly defined as sellers, and the other two don’t seem like contenders at this point. They face the Tigers only half the amount of times in the second part of the season. Out of four interleague opponents they have left to face, only one of those teams has fewer than 50 losses, that team being the injury-riddled Atlanta Braves. The downside is that the Tigers’ schedule isn’t all that difficult, either. However, they still have to face the Yankees and Red Sox away from home, so there’s some comfort in that.
2. Chris Perez is Returning to Form
After a few disastrous outings capped by him blowing a 4-run lead in 2/3 of an inning, the Tribe’s former All-Star closer seemed to have lost his mojo. He landed on the disabled list, and it certainly didn’t help his stress when his dog learned how to get marijuana shipped to his home. However, since his return, Chris Perez has gone 7-for-7 in save opportunities, giving up just one run over ten one-inning appearances. He may likely still be a non-tender candidate come November, but a stellar second half may change that, especially if he continues at this pace. It would appear that our ninth-inning security is in good shape for the time being.
- 3. Lonnie Chisenhall is Figuring it Out
Turns out our third base prospect chisn’thall that bad, after all. Since his return from AAA, Lonnie is batting nearly .300 and slugging well over .400. He’s socked 3 home runs, including a dramatic grand slam a few nights ago, and added a few doubles as well. The big change is his increase in patience at the plate. He’s been much more selective with his pitches, drawing more walks and at the very least making the pitcher work more. He’s also taking advantage of mistake pitches rather than fouling them off. Lonnie looks to be bringing his AAA success into the major leagues, and not a moment too soon.
- 4. Jason Kipnis is a G
Everything Jason Kipnis does is awesome, from walk-off home runs to can’t-touch-this slides into home plate to behind the back flips that nail down a force out. He’s hitting over .300 with 21 steals and ranks top ten in the American League in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and wins above replacement. He ended the first half by going 2-for-2 with a double, two walks and a sacrifice fly, good for his team-leading 57th RBI. Considering his dismal April, his stats right now are incredible, largely in part to his torrid June in which he batted .419 and was named AL Player of the Month. Though Kipnis has cooled off slightly in July, he has continued to provide the Indians with the power, consistency and speed he’s become known for.
- 5. The Front Office appears Willing to Buy
Trade rumors in the past two weeks have linked the Indians to Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo. Although Garza would be a twelve-start rental and Gallardo has Ubaldo Jimenez written all over him, we can at least take comfort in the fact that the front office is being aggressive. We certainly don’t want a second consecutive season in which the front office makes no moves at the deadline and watches the team plummet to over 90 losses. Furthermore, there are rumors that the Indians have been in talks with the Cardinals about trading Asdrubal Cabrera for pitching prospects, which I would be a huge fan of considering he’s a free agent after 2014 and Lindor will likely be big-league ready by then.
- 6. Francisco Lindor Got a Promotion
Speaking of Lindor, the Indians’ top prospect will make his AA ball debut fresh off his second consecutive appearance in the All-Star Futures Game. The teen prodigy is raved about for his defensive skills but also managed to hit .309 on the year in High-A ball. This doesn’t mean much for this year, of course, except that it leads me to more strongly believe Asdrubal Cabrera is likely to be traded for some good pitching before the beginning of next season.
7. The Rotation is Beginning to Take Shape
After countless failures from Brett Myers, Carlos Carrasco, Ubaldo Jimenez and even the early-season Scott Kazmir, the starting rotation is beginning to look like it can stand up to those of the other contending teams. Kazmir seems to be improving his median, Justin Masterson is inconsistent but almost always gives at least six innings, Klubermania continues to ensue and Zach McAllister is set to return soon. Carrasco and Trevor Bauer will have a healthy amount of time to develop, as Danny Salazar seems to be ready for the big leagues in case we don’t trade for someone else to replace Ubaldo Jimenez. In my opinion, Ubaldo is now officially taking a slot away from a younger player who not only has more potential for growth, but who already has better command and speed. I would love to see him traded for a low-level prospect in the next two weeks.
- 8. The Bullpen is Less Disastrous
In addition to Chris Perez looking more like his post-opening day 2012 self, the rest of the bullpen seems to be making small adjustments as well. Vinnie Pestano has made a pair of slightly redeeming appearances, Joe Smith is doing his job again for the most part, C.C. Lee showed promise the other day and Cody Allen is tearing it up as of late. Even Rich Hill has made four scoreless appearances in a row. It’s not much, but it’s at least a trend in the right direction. Hopefully the days of the deplorable first-half bullpen are behind us.
- 9. Michael Brantley‘s June “Slump” is Over
During the month of June, Michael Brantley compiled a batting average barely over .200, despite having his first multi-homer game. He saw his average dip because of said rough month, Already in the month of July, Brantley has pulled his batting average back over .280, and dazzled us with another multi-homer game in which he drove in a career-high 5 runs. Dr. Smooth certainly seems to have put his rough June behind him and is looking ahead to a brighter second half.
- 10. The Injuries are No Longer Killing Us
Once Zach McAllister returns, the Tribe will be at full strength again. I say that with full knowledge that Brett Myers is on the 60-day DL and shows no signs of returning any time soon. Injuries to Michael Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Zach McAllister, Vinnie Pestano and Chriz Perez have really hurt the Wahoos this season, and hopefully the competitive balance gods will go easier on them in the second half. The Indians are looking healthy and ready to battle a Detroit team who has been, for the most part, injury-free all season.