Now that the All-Star break has come and gone, it’s a good time to look at what the Indians have done and what they need to do going forward. What they have done is greatly exceeded expectations. While they have cooled off lately, they are still on pace for 86+ wins – which is much more than anyone predicted. None of the experts at the major news sources predicted the Indians to do better than 72-90, so just a marginal improvement from 2010′s 69-93. Boy were they wrong! At this point, the Indians would have to stage one of the biggest second half collapses in history to finish with a record like the analysts predicted.
Who does the credit go to? Well, the young pitching has certainly helped, but the real credit has to go to Manny Acta. Based on expectations and performance, Acta should be in contention for the manager of the year. While the Indians are only 47-42, they were expected to be far worse. If you look at the Indians base statistics, you wouldn’t even expect a team much above .500. Their ratio of runs scored to runs allowed is only 1.08, a small margin. Other teams with similar margins are below .500 – including Seattle and Toronto (the ratio is above 1/1 because the AL is still better than the NL in interleague). The Indians statistically are the 8th or 9th best team in the AL, but have the 7th best record (6th before the Toronto series which was a disappointment).
Its not just raw statistics, Cleveland is one of the best teams in the majors in close games. They are 16-12 in games decided by 1 run, 24-18 in games decided by 2 or fewer runs. Team s that win close games generally means something is being done right in the dugout. The art of managing isn’t just winning close games. It’s about winning close, motivating players, trying to exceed expectations and making the right lineup decisions. Manny Acta has done a fine job with all of this, especially since he is working with the 2nd youngest team in all of baseball. If the Indians end up winning the division and winning at least 86-87 wins, he deserves manager of the year for this turnaround.
The Indians’ youth is led by their pitching staff, which is the 2nd youngest in baseball and has some arms that can truly dominate. Their front of the rotation and the back of their bullpen can be lights out and of all those guys, only Tony Sipp is over 26 (and he is only 27). While Mitch Talbot and Fausto Carmona are shaky, the front end of the rotation is dominant and the leads created are held by Vinnie Pestano and Sipp – the best 1-2 punch set-up men in baseball (that no one has heard of) right now. The key going forward for the pitching will be what will the back end does. Fausto needs to get out of his own head and Talbot needs to get it together. Jeanmar Gomez has taken Talbot’s spot in the rotation due to injury and there is also speculation the Indians might be buyers at the deadline for an arm.
The Indians hitting has been up and down, but has gotten nice performances from young players such as Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana. Santana has a low average, but he has been bringing it up and has hit .275 since Travis Hafner came back to light a fire under the offense. Hafner is drawing walks and hitting the ball hard so the average will eventually come around. Thankfully, Brantley seems to be coming out of the slump he was in too.
The key going forward will be Matt LaPorta and the outfield. This is the pivotal year for LaPorta and he needs to build on what he showed in the first half. In the outfield, Grady Sizemore desperately needs to get it together or his starting job may be on the line. He just isn’t hitting while Shelly Duncan, Travis Buck and Austin Kearns are all hitting well. Shin Soo Choo should return in less than a month and with him, Brantley and Kearns, the defense will remain solid. If Kearns and Buck can keep up their hitting and Sizemore is still slumping, Acta may have to make a decision there.
About the Author
Written by Bradley Ross
Bradley Ross was born and lived most of his life in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. He grew up with a passion for sports and Cleveland teams, instilled in him by his father. He is currently studying Business/Journalism at Cuyahoga Community College and plans on transferring to the Ohio State University in the winter with an expected graduation date of 2013. He is currently a Staff Writer for the Tri-C Voice Newspaper, which was a recipient of an award for the best non-daily newspaper at a 2 year college (northeast region). He runs multiple blogs off of the blogger platform including The Take By The Lake, a sports blog. Sports is his passion and he enjoys being able to write about them and cover them. He also enjoys improvisational humor, long walks on the beach, and writing in the 3rd person. Follow him on Twitter @BRoss_Voice.