Since it’s been almost two months since I last blogged, I thought I’d take a few minutes on this Jackie Robinson Day to talk about the Indians after eight games.
- Good news: After sweeping the Royals this weekend, the Indians are 4-4 on the season.
- Bad news: They should be 6-2. The Indians blew the first two games of the season, especially the first one. Most people think of Chris Perez’s Opening Day blown save, and with good reason. But equally to blame was Asdrubal Cabrera, who came to bat in the bottom of the twelfth with the bases loaded and one out, and grounded the first pitch he saw into a double play after Brantley had walked on four straight balls.
The Indians are a good team, but to be a great team, they’re going to have to do the little things well, which includes situational hitting, making plays defensively, and running the bases effectively. Hopefully it won’t come down to one game, but I have a feeling that if the Indians are in the hunt for one of the Wild Cards this year, they’ll be in heavy competition with the Blue Jays.
- Bad news: The Indians missed out on Albert Pujols this offseason.
- Good news: Despite that, the Indians’ offense should still be pretty good, if a bit streaky.
I’m willing to chalk up the Indians’ performance in the first two series to nerves and rust. I’ll also concede that they’re not going to score 30 runs most weekends. The true Indians offense is somewhere in the middle, and as long as the pitching holds up, it should be sufficient. After a slow start, Michael Brantley looks like he’s back to form. Travis Hafner has been hitting the ball hard all season, only this weekend some of them started leaving the yard. Casey Kotchman looks like he’ll be an asset at the plate, with good bat control and a little bit of power. Jason Kipnis looks solid. And who knows, maybe this Shin Soo Choo will be able to channel this anger into some big hits, like he did last night. I’m not sure how much of an asset Johnny Damon will be (I’m going to spell his name “Jhonny” at least 3,341 more times; thanks a lot, Jhonny Peralta. You’ve broken me.) but he’s a low risk and worst case should provide some thump off the bench.
Bottom line is: the Indians offense will have their off nights, but they should be able to work pitchers like Verlander enough to get him out of games a little earlier than scheduled and then go to work on their bullpen.
- Bad news: It’s hard to tell who’s more of a liability in left field: Shelley Duncan or Johnny Damon.
- Good news: The rest of the Indians defense is pretty solid. And I’ll be fair: Shelley Duncan hasn’t played terribly in left field so far, but he doesn’t provide much range or arm strength to speak of. And while Damon might have more range, he has less arm strength than me (it’s possible I’m not making that up).
The Indians infield, however, is solid all the way around. Jack Hannahan and Asdrubal Cabrera play their side of the infield at a Gold Glove level, and Jason Kipnis has surprisingly good range and makes all the routine plays. And oh, did I mention Casey Kotchman has made fewer errors per attempt than any first baseman in history? Kotchman in particular is already paying off, keeping bad throws from becoming errors and making those scoops look routine.
And as Jonah Keri points out, the success of the Indians pitching staff is directly related to the quality of the infield defense behind them.
- Good news: No Indians pitcher has pitched poorly every outing.
- Bad news: Every Indians pitcher has had at least one bad outing.
The Indians pitching staff has started off the year inconsistently, with the starters somewhat more consistent than the relievers. Derek Lowe has had two excellent outings so far. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez have had one good one each. Jeanmar Gomez was good last night, until, well, his “command issues” forced him out early.
The Indians bullpen has been more hit or miss. I think this is mostly rust, and you really can’t blame the bullpen for the first two games. I do think that once Chris Perez gets locked in, the rest of the bullpen will follow. No one’s come out and just been awful; they’ve just missed on one or two pitches and batters made them pay.
So where does that leave us? I won’t say much more than I think we’re in for a fun summer. This is a young, energetic team who love playing the game of baseball, and it shows when they’re on the field. But the Tigers are good, and the Indians have to play them 19 times. I predicted at the start of the season that the Indians would take the wild card, but they won’t be able to do that if they don’t win at least some of those games against the Detroit juggernaut.
But who knows? Or, in the words of the Indians marketing department, “what if?” If the Indians start winning some games and at least hang with the Tigers this summer, we might have another interesting August, September, and maybe, just maybe, October.