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Indians Indians Archive Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full for the Tribe?
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 06 tribe fullAs the Cleveland Indians near the one-third mark of the 2012 baseball season, it’s time to take a glass half full, glass half empty look at the Tribe.

Half full: The Old Man on the Mound

When the Indians traded for Derek Lowe last November, the best part seemed to be that Atlanta would be picking up $10 million of Lowe’s $15 million salary this year. The 38-year-old Lowe was 9-17 with a 5.17 ERA for the Braves, with those 17 losses being the most by a starting pitcher in 2011.

But so far Lowe has been the MVP of the starting rotation.

After Friday night’s win against Minnesota – where he took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning – Lowe is 7-3 on the season with an ERA of 3.06. He’s only really had two bad outings all year and has gone at least six innings in all but two starts.

Half empty: Oh no, Ubaldo

It’s been a tale of two cities for starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez so far this year.

In Cleveland, Jimenez has been a perfectly respectable starting pitcher, holding an ERA of 3.38 in five starts covering 32 innings of work, and limiting opposing hitters to a .171 batting average.

But put him on the road and he transforms, like something from a horror movie, into a pitcher suited for nothing more than batting practice. After five away starts, Jimenez is carrying an ERA of 9.00 and has allowed opposing batters to hit .358 off of him.

So, of course, Indians manager Manny Acta is skipping Jimenez this weekend (a home start against the Twins) so he can take the mound on the road next week in Detroit.

“We want to give him more time to work on the side,” Acta said in published reports. “He cramped up in Chicago; every day he feels better and this gives him more opportunity to do that.”

OK, then.

Half full: Pure Rage

Chris Perez has been everything the Tribe wants in a closer. Since giving up three runs on in two-thirds of an inning of work on Opening Day, Perez has been lights out.

In his last 19.2 innings of work, Perez has only given up three runs and has saved 17 consecutive opportunities. And while the save statistic has become somewhat over-rated in the past few years, 17 in a row is still 17 in a row. Perez’ job is to close out the game by any means possible and right now he’s doing it as well as anyone in baseball.

Half empty: A Walk on the Wild Side

Jimenez and fellow starting pitcher Justin Masterson have battled control problems all year.

If they both work 200 innings this year, Jimenez is on pace to issue 150 walks while Masterson would issue 100 free passes. While both of those numbers are far below the American League record of 208, set by Bob Feller in 1938, both numbers would have easily led the American League last year.

Left-handed batters are also hitting .326 against Masterson this year, so while much of the early season angst has centered on Jimenez, the Indians may have an issue with Masterson as well.

Half empty: Calling Dr. Bombay

Injuries have hit the Indians pretty hard this year, from the predictable to the strange.

Outfielder Grady Sizemore has yet to play this year after undergoing micro discectomy surgery on his back and designated hitter Travis Hafner is out for the next four to six weeks after having surgery for a torn meniscus. After missing a week with a strained back, third baseman Jack Hannahan is now on the disabled list with a calf injury.

On the pitching side, reliever Rafael Perez is on the 60-day disabled list with a strained muscle on his left side and starter Josh Tomlin missed time with soft tissue inflammation in his right wrist brought about because he gripped the ball too hard during a rain-soaked start against the White Sox.

Finally, catcher Carlos Santana has missed the past week after suffering a concussion when he took a ball of his mask.

Is that enough?

Half full: The Lineup Shuffle

All the injuries have forced Manny Acta to shuffle his lineup and the results have been promising.

Shin-Soo Choo is batting .306 with an on-base percentage of .419 since being moved to the top of the lineup. (Former leadoff hitter Michael Brantley had an OBP of .297 by comparison).

But Brantley has responded since being moved out of the top of the order. After hitting just .237 as a leadoff man, Brantley is batting .314 when he hits anywhere else in the lineup. The No. 7 spot seems to agree with him the most as, in 41 at bats, Brantley is hitting .341.

Even Casey Kotchman has gotten into the act, hitting .276 in the month of May, which with his glove is good enough (especially if the alternative is Matt LaPorta)

Then there’s Jason Kipnis.

Kipnis filled in at the No. 3 spot for three games while Asdrubal Cabrera was hurt and only went 7-for-13 with two home runs and six RBI. Back in his No. 2 spot, Kipnis drilled a grand slam on Friday night to help the Tribe beat the Twins.

Somehow, in just his second season with the team, Kipnis has turned into the Tribe’s best player as he leads the team in home runs (nine), RBI (34), runs (35) and steals (12).

“Right now, (Kipnis) is there (offensively),” Acta said in published reports. “He’s using the whole field and squaring the ball up. He’s hitting them where they’re pitching them. That’s a sign of a good hitter. That’s what the good hitters do.”

Half empty: Left Out

Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan are just not working out as a platoon in left field.

Damon is batting .186 on the season with one home run and five RBI. A left-handed hitter, he’s batting a woeful .161 vs. righties.

Duncan is at .204 on the season, but has batted just .167 since Damon joined the team.  

“What I think is that it’s a lack of spring training (with Damon),” Acta said in published reports. “There aren’t many guys who could just step into a major-league season without going through spring training. Sometimes guys think they’re ready to go, but they need that repetition.”

Whatever it is, the Indians better find a solution sooner rather than later.

Half empty: Hit the Road, Jack

After finally gaining a little bit of traction with fans, the Tribe drew almost 24,000 a game for the six-game stretch against Miami and Detroit, the schedule makers decided to stick it to the Wahoos.

The Indians will have only nine home games the entire month of June, with three of them coming this weekend against the Twins. After that it’s nine straight on the road, six at home, then another nine on the road to close out the month.

The Tribe needs to stay near the top of the standings while on the road or they risk losing the fans once they come back home in July.

Half full: The Best is Yet to Come (hopefully)

It would be hard to argue that the Indians have played anywhere near their best baseball through the first two months of the season (at least we hope that is true).

The Tribe entered the month of May at 11-10 and in a three-way tie for first with the White Sox and the Tigers.

After beating the Twins on Friday, the Indians are 28-23 and 1.5 games behind the White Sox.

So while it was not the greatest of months for the Tribe, no one is running away with Central Division. The Indians also weathered a stretch where they lost five of their last six games to close out the month of May as the starting rotation worked 28 innings and gave up 37 earned runs for an ERA of 11.89.

And there is no way the White Sox can keep up their current pace as they have won 13 of their last 14 games.

If the Indians can just tighten things up a little bit and get healthy, it could be another fun summer where we don’t have to worry about the Browns until September.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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