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Indians Indians Archive Indians Out To Prove Money Alone Doesn't Buy a Division
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 05 masterson tigersThe use of money is all the advantage there is in having it. – Ben Franklin

Heading into the 2012 Major League Baseball season, many believed the Detroit Tigers had won the American League Central Division title during the off-season, when they signed megabucks free agent Prince Fielder and pushed the team’s payroll to the fifth highest in baseball.

Now that we’ve had our first look at the Tigers, we are left to wonder what they got for their money other than headlines.

It’s not just that, in sweeping the three-game series from the Tigers, the Tribe won for the eighth time in 10 games, opening a six-game lead over third-place Detroit. It’s the way they did it against a team with a $132 million payroll.

The Indians pitched better, played defense better and hit in the clutch better than the Tigers, who haven’t won consecutive games since April 17-18.

Coming into the series, the Tigers were last in the American League in batting average (.114) and RBIs with the bases loaded. Tribe pitchers made sure the Tigers continued to fail in the clutch, as Detroit stranded 30 runners over the three games and hit just .107 (3-of-28) with runners in scoring position.

Miguel Cabrera ($21 million in salary this year), Fiedler ($23 million) and Delmon Young ($6.75 million), the heart of the Tigers lineup, were a combined 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

To recap, those three players earn an amount equal to 65 percent of the Indians payroll and not a single one of them could come through when it mattered.

2012 05 cabrera miguelA lot of credit has to go to Indians starters Ubaldo Jimenez, who went six innings and gave up three runs (all on an Alex Avila home run), Zach McAllister (6.1 innings pitched, two runs) and Justin Masterson (seven innings, one run). Plus closer Chris Perez.

Following his comments over the weekend that started a controversy among Cleveland media (but surprisingly not with a large portion of the fan base), Perez closed out all three games of the series and has now converted 16 consecutive save opportunities. Perez and the rest of the bullpen (they were not scored on during the series) are a large part of why the Tribe is 10-2 in one-run games this year (compared to Detroit’s 6-9 record).

“We don’t have the star power,” Perez said. “You look over there and they’ve got Cabrera and Fielder and Verlander and Valverde. That doesn’t win baseball games. Good teams win baseball games.”

The defense also helped carry the Tribe, with two similar plays showing just how much of an edge the Indians have over the Tigers.

Wednesday night, with Jason Kipnis on third, Fielder picked up a grounder off the bat of Travis Hafner and made a poor throw to the plate, allowing Kipnis to score. Thursday, Jose Lopez fielded a grounder at third and made a perfect throw to Lou Marson to nail Brennan Boesch at the plate.

Those kind of plays end up being huge when you are playing close games.

Just as the Tigers came up short in big spots, the Tribe offense came up big when it mattered most.

Trailing 3-1 on Tuesday, Hafner drove in runs in the third inning and the fifth inning to tie the game, and he hit a two-run home run on Wednesday night to tie the score at 2. Thursday it was Lopez, who drove in a run in the fourth inning to break a 1-1 tie.

And we can’t say enough about Shin-Soo Choo, who is hitting .350 since he was moved to the top of the lineup 10 games ago. Choo also put a charge into the crowd on Thursday, leading off the bottom of the first with a home run off of Justin Verlander that went an estimated 444 feet – the third-longest homer hit of the Tigers’ ace since 2008 (according to ESPN).

2012 05 perez tigersAdd it all up and you have a Detroit team that is making mistakes, arguing with umpires, pointing fingers and proving that off-season headlines don’t always translate into on-field success. As Drew Sharp wrote in The Detroit Free-Press after Wednesday’s loss:

The Tigers didn’t lose their second straight to Cleveland because of an umpire’s eyesight. They lost due to their own myopia, their inability in accepting that they aren’t a very good team right now. They can’t execute the basics. How can you expect to win when Jhonny Peralta lamely strikes out swinging on three straight pitches with the bases loaded – the last pitch thrown to a different area code? How can you expect to win when Prince Fielder doesn’t live up to his surname, inexcusably bouncing a throw to home that should’ve been an easy out at the plate in the bottom on the eighth inning?

Did we mention that the Tigers have a payroll in excess of $132 million this year?

The fans are also starting to respond to the first-place antics of the Tribe. After drawing almost 83,000 over the weekend against Miami, the Indians attracted almost 61,000 for the Tigers. That means over the past six games almost 24,000 fans have seen the Indians on average.

Unfortunately, as June 1 looms next week the schedule doesn’t do the Indians any favor. During the month of June, the Tribe has just nine home games, spread across two series, compared to 18 road games for the entire month. Just when the team started getting some traction with the fans at the gate, we won’t see them at home for long stretches as they play 21 of their next 33 on the road.

But that’s a topic for another day. For now, the Tribe is in first place and heading to Chicago for a series with the second-place White Sox (who for some reason the Tribe has already played 10 times this season; after this weekend the Indians won’t see the Sox again until the end of September. Talk about odd schedules).

“We have a lot of games left, of course,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “I felt that last year we had played our best baseball after 45 games. We couldn’t play any better. In 2011, we couldn’t do anything wrong in those 45 games. I don’t think this year we are playing our best baseball.”

If Acta is right, the rest of the division is in for a long summer.

(Justin Masterson photo by The Plain Dealer; Miguel Cabrera photo by The Detroit Free-Press, Chris Perez photo by the Associated Press)

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