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Indians Indians Archive 22 Days of Spring
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

BrantleyMaybe the jury is still out on Rob Bryson, who is only 24 and in his second season in AA, but even the softest and most optimistic critics look back at the 2008 trade that sent the reigning Cy Young Winner, CC Sabathia to Milwaukee for serviceable pitcher and 3 prospects in a negative light.  Honestly, the rental fee for Sabathia’s service in 2008 doesn’t rival the package that Mark Shaprio took from the Expos when Cleveland sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal for “Lee Stevens and Prospects”.  While many fans criticized the trade that brought Zac Jackson, Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson, and a Player-To-Be-Named-Later (Michael Brantley) into the Indians organization, some were willing to let it breathe.

That was almost four years ago, when Matt LaPorta, the alleged prize of the package, was tearing up AA.  It would be another 3 months before the Indians and Brewers would agree to name that player Michael Brantley, but less than a year before Jackson’s final Major League appearance on May 27, 2009.  As we approach the official first day of summer in 2012, it’s easy to dismiss Jackson’s 6.11 ERA in 63 innings while being patient with the unknown commodity that is Bryson, but it’s painfully obvious that the “crown jewel” that Milwaukee sacrificed for Sabathia to carry the Brewers into the postseason on his back is every bit as bad as his .237 batting average at the Major League level.

Michael Brantley, on the other hand, may prove to be the correct player for the Indians to have “named later”.  His Major League service time and .270 batting average certainly trump that of Taylor Green, the other option the Brewers dangled in front of the Indians in the Sabathia trade.  Green is hitting .231 at the big league level, but has only seen limited action with Milwaukee the last two seasons, being shuttled back to AAA Nashville quite regularly.  What helps Brantley’s cause is that he’s hitting .285 this season, while starting all but three games in Center Field for the Tribe.  While it didn’t have anyone thinking DiMaggio, Rose, or even Molitor, Brantley’s recent 22-game hit streak did raise his help raise his batting average 30 points since he went hitless against the Marlins on May 19.

Inside The Streak

Under the microscope, Brantley’s weeks of day-to-day success didn’t actually mean a lot in the grand scheme of things.  The Indians were just 10-12 in those consecutive games where he notched a base hit, and 10 wins in 23 tries (he sat out the May 25 loss to Chicago) means you don’t get to occupy the top spot in the American League Central Division any longer.  However, we must recognize his .337 tear as a sign that he’s figuring things out in this, his third full season with the club.  That’s to say he’s capable of doing the right things some of the time, so he can be taught to do them all of the time.

lineup cardOriginally thought to be a lead-off hitter, Brantley has excelled since being moved down in Manny Acta’s batting order, coming in at a .310 clip in games where he’s hit in the 5, 6, or 7 hole.  Brantley’s game brings a much needed spark to the bottom of the order, where he’s shown the ability to create runs without a lot of help from those who hit behind him.  He has been hitting well with two outs, and he steals bases so he can score on anything hit out of the infield with his speed.  I know I’ve grown tired of waiting for the lineup to flip over for any production from the Indians offense.  Brantley’s production, especially during this streak, has been a welcomed change, even if it hasn’t always equaled victory for the good guys.

I don’t like the doom and gloom, so let’s look at the team victories during the streak, and see what role the young outfielder played in the outcome.  On May 22, the second day of what no one figured would be a lengthy streak, Brantley led off the 6th inning with a single off of Detroit’s Rick Porcello in a tie game.  He stole second and scored on Casey Kotchman’s base hit to give the Indians a 4-3 lead in a game they would win 5-3.  The following day, he wouldn’t figure into the scoring, being stranded at 2B after Travis Hafner couldn’t score from first on a 2 out double, but his outfield assist to nail Miguel Cabrera trying to advance to third a on a flyout killed a Tigers threat in the 4th inning of a 4-2 win over Detroit.  In the series finale, he went 2-for-3 against Justin Verlander, but it was his 2-out hit and subsequent stolen base in the fourth inning that set up what would be the game winning run, which gave the Indians a 2-1 victory and a sweep.

Brantley went 3 of 9 at the plate with 5 RBI in 2 games on the south side of Chicago, but the Indians were swept out of town.  You could hardly blame Brantley for the 35 runs the White Sox put on the board against shaky pitching and defense in that series.  After that, it was back home for the Kansas City Royals, and Brantley was back at it in an 8-5 win.  In that game, Brantley walked and scored in one at-bat, then in another at-bat, he singled in a run, eventually stole third base and scored on a ground ball to the infield.  The team would drop the next two to the Royals there.

The HRWith the wins coming few and far between, the Minnesota Twins came to town, and on the first day of June, Jason Kipnis’s Grand Slam would be the highlight in a 7-1 victory, but Brantley made the Twins pay for giving the home team an extra out in the third with a two-out RBI double off of Carl Pavano when our old friend Jamey Carroll extended the inning with a throwing error.  A few days later, the Tribe notched yet another victory in Detroit behind Brantley’s two-out RBI triple, their fourth run in a 4-2 game.  On June 6, Brantley would belt his first home run of the year, a 3-run job in a game the Indians won by 3.

Brantley would go 2-for-5 in the series opener against the defending World Champions in St. Louis on June 8, and once again he got it done with a two-out single that set up a Johnny Damon two-run blast in a 6-2 win, where he was also able to drive in a run.  The Indians were shut out the next day, when Kyle Lohse held the Indians to no runs on three hits, but Brantley had two of them.  His team won the rubber match 4-1, but Brantley didn’t figure into the final score, being stranded after a lead-off single in the sixth inning.

Brantley had little to write home about, other than maintaining his hit streak, going 3 of 12 at the plate with a double and a run scored in a Cincinnati series that saw his team swept.  He was even caught stealing on his only attempt at Great American Ballpark, and his heroic double came with the team already trailing 12-3.  Then last Friday, Michael Brantley came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning, his team up 1-0, with his 21-game hit streak in jeopardy.  Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle called on Juan Cruz out of his bullpen with two on and two out.  Brantley responded with an RBI single to give Chris Perez an insurance run he wouldn’t need to close out a 2-0 victory.  A day later, the streak was over, with Brantley putting up his first “oh-fer” since May 19.

Stealing a baseWhen it was all said and done, the streak saw the every day Center Fielder go 29 for 86 with 4 doubles, a triple, a home run, and 16 RBI.  He did strike out 12 times against just 4 walks, which makes his On-Base Percentage look pretty bad (.367), but I’ll take that when he’s batting .384 on balls put in play, which is a stat I strenuously ignore unless it directly supports my argument.  My argument here is that when you’re hitting just about everything, I can offer some latitude when it comes to swinging at almost anything.  He also stole 6 bases and scored 12 runs during his streak; it’s easy to imagine the Indians losing a lot more games during that stretch if he doesn’t perform like that.

And just like a winner, he picks up the pieces after the streak ends, and he starts a new one.  Monday, he doubled twice off Mat Latos; he came around to score on both extra base hits, and brought home Asdrubal Cabrera on a sacrifice fly, to put the Indians up 10-8 in a game they won 10-9.

It’s been years since he was the “player to be named later”, but this spring, his name could be mentioned among the impact players on this team.  As we see the season officially change to summer, everyone in Cleveland would like to see him continue to be that difference maker.  Autumn begins on September 22; wouldn’t it be nice to see more than a week of Fall baseball at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie?

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