Cleveland Rocks: Tribe Resurgence?

Through 91 games in 2006, the Cleveland Indians found themselves with a 41-50 record and sitting well behind the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers. 2007 is a different story, however, as the Tribe are 54-37, tied for the second best record in the majors, and only a half-game behind Detroit.


A quick look at the Indians' offensive statistics offers most of the reason for Cleveland's success this season. As a team, they are third in the AL in runs scored, only 2 behind the second place New York Yankees. In addition, they lead the AL in HRs with 112, and have six players in double figures. Even with sub-par first halves from slugger Travis Hafner and touted rookie Josh Barfield, the Indians must be viewed as a top two or three offense in the American League.

Individually, the Indians have been led by catcher Victor Martinez. Martinez has bounced back after a down year last year, and is in the AL top 10 in batting average (.321) and RBI (71).

They have also been helped by 24-year-old centerfielder Grady Sizemore, who is quickly developing into one of the best five-tool players in the game today. Sizemore has a near .400 OBP leading off for Cleveland, and is deadly when he gets on with 25 steals, good for third in the league.

Flying under the radar is first baseman Ryan Garko, a second-year player hitting .304 with an .869 OPS and 34 runs driven in in only 250 AB. Garko has been key to the Indians, picking up some of the power void left by Hafner.


The Indians' big duo of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona has not gotten much help from the rest of the pitching staff, but they haven't needed it so far.

Sabathia (12-4, 3.78 ERA) and Carmona (11-4, 3.77) are tied for first and second in the AL in wins, respectively, though their ERA and WHIP numbers have some room for improvement.

The season has been a disappointment for touted lefty Jeremy Sowers after a fairly strong showing in the second half of 2006. Sowers was 1-6 with a 6.93 ERA before being taken out of the rotation in early June.

The bullpen has covered up some of the struggles at the back-end of Cleveland's rotation. Setup man Rafael Betancourt had a spectacular first half posting a .174 BAA and .67 WHIP in 42 innings. Lefties Aaron Fultz and Rafael Perez have also done their part, both having and ERA around 2.00. Closer Joe Borowski is tied with J.J. Putz of Seattle for the AL lead with 26 saves, but his 5.30 ERA and .305 BAA do not leave Indians fans confident.

A staff ERA of 4.46 places the Indians below average in the AL, but their offense has been able to cover it up to this point.

The Indians are playing very well at Jacobs Field so far in 2007, as they hold the majors' best home record at 33-13. They are also winning close, tying for the AL lead in one-run wins with 17, a tribute to their bullpen. Their Pythagorean Record, a statistic that calculates a team's hypothetical record based simply on runs scored and allowed, is 51-40, which means they have gotten a bit lucky thus far.

Cleveland is benefiting greatly from the demise of the Yankees to this point, because that makes them the current frontrunner for the AL wildcard. Their main contenders are Seattle (who I think has been a fluke to this point and will fall off) and Minnesota. If the Twins and Johan Santana stay hot, they could easily catch the Indians and make it a tight race.

There is no doubt that their offense can keep them in it, but I find it difficult to trust the starters beyond C.C. and Carmona. Cleveland's stellar record in close games is bound to even out with a below-average staff, even though their bullpen is able to close out tight games.

Final Prediction

88-74, two games behind Minnesota for AL wildcard.

Though Cleveland will miss the playoffs this season, they have plenty of young talent on offense (Sizemore, Garko, Barfield), while Sabathia is just entering the true prime of his career. Manager Eric Wedge (one of the most underrated in baseball) just had his contract extended for three years, so they do have stability at the top. Look for Cleveland to be competitive for a few years, but don't expect a championship run if pieces are not added.

Comments and Conversation

July 17, 2007

Dick McCune:

The Tribe will win prevail. They’ll be ahead of Detroit by two at the end of the regular season.

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