The Tribe have won 51 games at the break for the first time since 2007. That season Cleveland went on to win the Central and take a 3 game to one lead in the ALCS over Boston, before the Terry Francona led squad won three strait and eventually won the Series over Colorado. Now with Francona in Cleveland the team looks to return to the post season.
It’s apparent Francona has a tremendous influence on this team and their attitude. The philosophy he follows is taking every game on it’s own merit and never look ahead. That is a thought that has the Cleveland media at disadvantage. They constantly ask the manager for his thoughts on upcoming games and he refuses to panic.
This type of managing helped when the Indians were going through a rough stretch in May. Francona had the same demeanor as he did when things were going well. This kept the team focused and kept their hopes high, knowing their was another day to right the sinking ship. And right it they did.
Going into the break, Cleveland has won 4 strait and stand 1.5 games back of first place Detroit, and 6.5 games ahead of Kansas City. Certainly Detroit is the favorite and have a powerful team, still the Tigers bullpen makes them susceptible to late inning collapses. They have gone through closers like a marathon runner goes through water. Jose Valverde was given chance after chance, yet fell apart until his outright release three weeks ago.
Winter free agent signings of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Scott Kazmir and Ryan Raburn have helped the Indians. Swisher’s attitude, like that of Francona’s, have kept the team afloat during troubled times. At the plate and in the field Swisher has not lived up to his $14 million contract, yet his constant smile and effervescent positive thinking have been a breath of fresh air for a team loaded for years in negativity.
Despite a stint on the disabled list early, Bourn has been a constant at the top of the lineup. Granted he has not stolen bases as expected, but his play in center and hitting have been something not seen in Cleveland since the days of Kenny Lofton and even a young Grady Sizemore. Raburn, a pickup from Detroit, has been more than expected. At times he plays Right and bats cleanup, something unheard of from a bench player. His ability to stay ready to play at a moments notice is the key. Raburn says he goes to the park everyday going through the same routine whether he’s in the lineup or not. Whatever the reason Raburn has been a welcomed addition to a team that had no bench presence for years.
Then is Scott Kazmir. After two years in almost total anonymity, Kazmir was signed off the scrapheap probably as just a pitcher to eat some innings in an abnormally long spring training. Still Kazmir looked it this opportunity as his last, and he approached it as such. With the flaws in his delivery corrected and his arm back to 2007 form, the lefty has served the Indians well. As the number 4 or 5 starter, Kazmir is 5-4 with an over four ERA. In his last ten starts, Kazmir is starting to come around. Posting a 3-2 mark with an ERA under 3.80. As the only left hander in the rotation, Kazmir is important to the Tribe their development.
Two disappointments have to be Mark Reynolds and Brett Meyers. Myers is obvious. He has spent over two months on the DL after posting an 0-3 mark and an ERA over eight. If and when he returns, Myers will be one of the highest paid middle relievers in baseball with a $7 million per year deal through next season.
Reynolds was proving to be a bargain in April, hitting 8 homers with 22 RBI’s. In June, Reynolds fell apart, hitting only 2 homers and driving home 5 with 40 strikeouts in 96 at bats. He has a one year deal that, unless he starts pounding the ball again, will probably be allowed to test the free agent market again.
One other disappointment for the Tribe has been Carlos Santana. That failure has not been at the plate, but behind it. His inability to stop balls in the dirt has proven to be the downfall in at least three losses so far. He cannot throw out attempted stealers and simply is not a catcher. His best position is at first base, however that change will not be made until the off season with the determination of what to do with Drew Stubbs and Reynolds.
Overall this team has achieved more than expected. To make the playoffs it might take as much as 90 wins to be a wild card team. However with the state of the East division right now, being a wild card might be a long shot. At the break, Cleveland is 4th in the wild card standings, 3 games back of Texas for the last spot. So winning the division is the best opportunity.
However making 90 wins in the last 67 will be a trick. That means going 39-28. Francona believes this team will be better from now until the end. They will have to be.
Dave Mitchell and Mark Donahue co-host the “Ohio Baseball Weekly” show every Monday night at 9pm. Dave also host’s the new show “Ultimate Sports Talk” every Thursday night at 7pm.