Kipnis, Kluber highlight Indians' mid-season review
JUL 18, 2013 8:00a ET
The first “half” of the Cleveland Indians was a success by many objective measures.
Fifty-one wins with a relatively easy schedule remaining sets the Indians up for an exciting second “half” of the season.
Things could have been better, of course. But that’s true of almost any team in any sport this side of the ‘72 Dolphins.
Fifty-one wins and ending within a game-and-a-half of Detroit qualifies as “positive.”.
It was fun, wacky, disappointing and streaky first “half,” and it merits a review:
Most Valuable Player: Jason Kipnis. He leads the team in runs, hits, double, triples, stolen bases, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and is second in home runs. N’est ce pas, le Indians fanatique? Watch the way Kipnis runs the bases to appreciate his attitude; nobody is more aggressive, and nobody is better at going from first to home on a double. The sight of him sliding in for a run in Detroit, jumping up and pumping his fist was one to remember. Told after the game he was pretty jacked after scoring, he merely answered: Shouldn’t I be?
Hidden MVP: By definition, valuable means he does things of value. At times the notion of value is confused with best. A guy may be the best player because he has great numbers, but a guy may be more valuable because of what he does. Cody Allen is not the team’s MVP, but the young reliever has shown amazing value by pitching from almost every spot in the bullpen, and doing it well. Allen has a 2.27 ERA, a team-high 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings and gives up a team-low 1.109 walks and hits per inning pitched. Allen is a future closer in the making, but this season he’s pitching when asked, and done so willingly. Ask manager Terry Francona about Allen, and he’ll smile before he answers. He is his kind of player.
Unsung hero: Let’s see … Corey Kluber has come from nowhere to pitch well. Scott Kazmir is reclaiming his career. Zach McAllister was very dependable when he pitched. Ubaldo Jimenez has recovered from leading the league in losses to have a 7-4 record. The bullpen has been at times without Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano, and has worked with Pestano struggling. Yet somehow the Indians have won 51 games. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway will shrug off his role in any of this, but clearly he is having the impact that Francona has described. Callaway’s work has been exemplary.
Biggest surprise: Kluber started the season in AAA. He’s become one of the Indians most dependable pitchers. Kluber throws in the mid-to-high 90s, and has a very effective sinker. In fact, throwing the sinker it is in some kind of weird way a key to Kluber winning. According to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com and Indians.com, when Kluber throws 48 or more sinkers (evidently he couldn’t find a more random cutoff number), Kluber is 4-2 with a 2.49 ERA. When he throws fewer than 48, Kluber is 2-3 with a 7.76 ERA. Got that?
Biggest disappointment: Kluber gives hope to Carlos Carrasco. Kluber is 27 and starting to figure it out. Carrasco is 26 and needs to. He started the season after a suspension by getting himself suspended for eight games for doing the exact same thing he did to get suspended originally. He returned to the majors and pitched abysmally. He’s back in AAA, at the age of 26. Francona said the light can go on for a player at any point in time. Carrasco doesn’t need to flip the switch, he needs a complete re-wiring job.
Most interesting case study: Mark Reynolds carried the team the first six weeks of the season. Literally carried the team. He hit to the opposite field, drove in runs and hit home runs. But since, it’s almost become painful to watch him hit. Reynolds promised this would happen, and it almost seemed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s bizarre to see a guy flail like he does after watching him take great pride in an early game when he hit three balls to the right of second base. The up side says that if Reynolds gets hot, he’ll carry the team again, and if he gets hot in August and September it will be well timed. Until that happens, though, it’s tough to watch.
Class moment: Kipnis hit a drive in Kansas City to deep left that Alex Gordon struggled to catch. Gordon wound up falling backward, hitting his head on the fence post and stunning himself. As Gordon lay on the ground, Kipnis raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run, but when he turned after scoring and saw Gordon on the ground the Indians second baseman was almost apologetic. He was busy running, and as he rounded second he did what he does -- he put his head down and ran full tilt. But his reaction after he scored and after the game showed the respect baseball players have for each other.
Earned a mention: The group of Toronto fans who showed up, filled most of a section and chanted at their team and players every inning of every game for two games. Their dedication, staying power and (presumably) ability to enjoy a Labatts or two was most impressive. Their chants were clever, too, peaking with: "We've got health care" ... clap-clap clap-clap-clap.
Oddities: A rain-delayed game that started after midnight and ended at almost four a.m. that led to Evan Longoria getting abused in a fun way by the fans who stayed, then seeing him tweet a thank you to the fans for making the game so much fun. Then there was the doubleheader in Chicago that featured Trevor Bauer no doubt earning the ire of everyone in the clubhouse by deciding in a major league game that he was going to pitch only from the stretch and not getting out of the first inning of the first game. The doubleheader wound up lasting 13 hours, though the Indians won both games. Finally, there was umpire Angel Hernandez’s bizarre non-home run ruling against Oakland on a ball that most every animal in Yellowstone knows was a home run.
Oddities II: Danny Salazar clearly has a bright long-term future with the Indians. Clearly. But Bauer and Carrasco probably did more for Salazar’s short-term future than Salazar ever could have. Had either been at all dependable, Salazar does not get that chance when he was so impressive.
Moments: Walk-off home runs by Kipnis and Yan Gomes within days of each other.
Numbers: Carlos Santana headed to the All-Star break hitting .361 with a home run and seven RBI in his last 10 games. … Michael Brantley is hitting. 366 with runners in scoring position, which places him sixth in the American League (minimum 30 at-bats). … He’s even better with two outs: .390 with 18 RBI in 41 at-bats. … Ryan Raburn is .526 with four home runs and 17 RBI in 21 at-bats in the same situation (RISP, two outs). … Is Nick Swisher’s shoulder getting stronger? In the 18 games since he returned from his hiatus, he’s hitting .262, but in the last 14 games he’s hitting .302. … Interesting that Brantley is hitting .214 when ahead in the count, .308 when behind. … Asdrubal Cabrera ended an 0-for-20 slump and hit .350 the last give games. … Lonnie Chisenhall still needs to learn how to hit lefties, but in his last 20 games since returning from AAA he hit .309 with three home runs and 14 RBI. … In Scott Kazmir’s last five starts, he’s 2-0 with a 2.32 ERA. In none did he give up more than three runs. … Jimenez has 19 starts, but has lasted past the sixth in only three. Despite that, he’s 7-4.
Closing thought: Everything with the Indians this season begins with their manager. Well, maybe with the front office that hired him as well. Because the Mark Shapiro-Chris Antonetti-Francona troika works extremely well together. But don’t think Francona didn’t have a large hand in building this team, from asking about Raburn and the extremely valuable Mike Aviles the first day he was hired to deftly managing a struggling bullpen to somehow bringing confidence to Jimenez and Kazmir. His moves are logical, and depend on common sense. He believes in and stands up for his players. To think a manager doesn’t make a difference is to ignore Francona. You can’t help but wonder what Boston was thinking after the 2011 offseason.