What in the world has happened to the Indians? And why has it happened?
First place in the American League Central Division 14 games into the season? Am I dreaming? Is this the same team that broke camp less than two weeks ago with question marks in abundance?
Lots of questions, to be sure. Some of the answers are obvious. Like good pitching and clutch hitting equals lots of victories. Throw in some solid defense and you have the prescription for such a start.
Problem is no one saw it coming. And even if it doesn’t last, it sure feels nice to experience a winning feeling for at least a little while.
While this topsy-turvy beginning – the Tribe and Kansas City sharing the top spot in the division!! – could very well evolve into a just another wasted season by the lakefront, at least it has grabbed the attention of the baseball world.
Who figured the Flying Cabreras in the middle of the infield would produce with their bats (25 runs batted in) and gloves (only one error)? Asdrubal at shortstop and Orlando at second base have been nothing short of sensational thus far.
And what in the world has happened to Matt LaPorta? The first baseman actually shows signs of being the player the Indians thought they got in the C.C. Sabathia trade with Milwaukee a few years ago.
Now throw in the apparent rejuvenation of designated hitter Travis Hafner and the surprising leadoff hitting of center fielder Michael Brantley. Where in the world did all this come from?
When the Indians broke camp in Goodyear, Ariz., they looked like a team headed for mediocrity. Very little clutch hitting, below-average starting pitching, an iffy bullpen and a suspect defense.
The encouraging part of this whole scenario is the Indians are doing it without the contributions of Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana and Grady Sizemore, their best hitters. Choo and Santana are buried deep in offensive slumber, although Choo appears to be coming around. And Sizemore, who played his first game Sunday, is still a question mark.
But it’s the pitching that has surprised everyone. After being hammered for 23 runs by the Chicago White Sox in the first two games of the season, Indians pitching has surrendered just 24 runs in the last 12.
After giving up 147 home runs last season, Cleveland pitchers so far this season have limited the opposition to a measly 10 round trippers. The opposition has hit just .216 against the staff.
Starters Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot have been nothing short of spectacular. It’ll be interesting to see who comes up from Columbus to replace Talbot, who went on the disabled list Sunday.
Even more spectacular has been the bullpen. Closer Chris Perez and setup men Tony Sipp, Raffy Perez and Vinnie Pestano have been solid. Combined, they have allowed just one earned run in 24 innings. If that continues, there’s no telling what will unfold this season.
Defensively, the Indians have made just six errors and average two double plays a game. Two of those errors were committed by Tomlin, a pitcher. Asdrubal Cabrera, third baseman Jack Hannahan and LaPorta committed the only infield miscues.
When seeking out formulas for winning games, pitching and defense head the list. And with the numbers the Indians are producing in those vital areas, it’s no wonder they sit atop the Central Division.
Now all they have to do is play at or near those numbers for the next 148 games and a lot of Cleveland sports fans just might put the National Football League’s labor problems on the backburner.
(All stats are prior to Sunday’s game against Baltimore.)