Inside the Wigwam: Are you starting to believe again?
The Bird's-eye View
Some wrote them off at the end of April.
Others said they wouldn’t contend when they left spring training.
Yet, here we are at the quarter point of the baseball season and the Indians have quietly started to climb their way out of the cellar.
Just as the calendar flipped to a new month, it seems so have the Tribe. April showers poured on Cleveland, ending the first month of the baseball calendar six games below .500 on an ugly six-game losing streak.
The skies have since parted on the season in May, as the team has won eight of their last 12.
It’s starting to feel like 2013 again. Players are starting to believe in themselves, a different guy is leading the charge every night and the ballclub continues to get backing from great starting pitching.
The music has since changed in the clubhouse as well. The Wahoo’s have turned the beats back to the same tracks they celebrated every victory with last year.
They have essentially “Started from the Bottom” yet again, and as Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” echoes through every corner of the locker room, there’s no question they live by the notion that no ceiling can hold them down.
The only question is: Are you starting to believe again too, Cleveland?
Offensively the Indians have scored four runs or more in seven of their last eight, to the tune of a 6-2 record.
Starters have spun a quality outing in nine of their last 12 games, allowing three runs or fewer in 10 of the 12.
Sure, it could be just a hot streak, or maybe it could be the beginning of one wild summer to October.
One game or not, the Tribe did however finish the first quarter of the season below the .500 mark with a record of 19-21.
Over the last 40 years, only 34 of 240 teams have made the postseason after posting a record below .500 through 40 games. That’s less than 15 percent.
But, that’s just a quarter piece of the pie. And I don’t about you, but I'm hungry for the rest of the 122 games that lie ahead.
By the Numbers: 7
They say a team will go as far as starting pitching will take them, and the Indians five-man rotation continues to dominate in the month of May.
Starters are 7-2 with a 3.09 ERA since the start of the month, surrendering 23 earned runs over 75 2/3 innings (14 BB / 64 SO). The key has been consistency, giving up three runs or fewer in 10 of their last 12 starts.
Like the pitching, the Cleveland offense has started to produce more as well.
It wasn’t until July 7, 2013 that Michael Brantley hit his seventh home run last year. This season, the left fielder has already reached seven through 39 games. Arguably one of the most underrated contributors in baseball, Brantley’s 30 RBI are fourth best in the American League. Can you say Mid-Summer Classic?
He still may not be the same player he was back in 2011, but Asdrubal Cabrera has heated up over his last seven games. The shortstop is hitting .467 (14-for-30) with four doubles, two homers and five RBI.
Nyjer Morgan has been an on-base machine since rejoining the Tribe after a short stint in Columbus. The 33-year-old outfielder may end up being the Tribe’s best minor league signing of the winter, hitting .341 (14-for-41) with a homer and six RBI and posting a .421 OBP. In case you’re scoring at home, Morgan is just seven hits shy of Carlos Santana’s season total of 21 hits on the year.
News and notes
- There's still no word on the minor injuries Brantley and Morgan suffered in the ballgame Wednesday against Toronto. Brantley left the game in the fifth inning with mid-back tightness, while Morgan exited with a mild right knee sprain. Both players are considered day-to-day and will be re-evaluated soon.
- Josh Tomlin (2-0, 2.13 ERA) has become a pleasant surprise in the starting rotation since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus. Remember how long it took for Carlos Carrasco to get one win as a starter? We all were three years younger. Tomlin though has notched two victories in his first two quality starts. The right-hander led Cleveland along with Justin Masterson with a team-high 12 victories back in 2011.
- Manager Terry Francona will represent the Indians in the 85th All-Star Game this July as one of the coaches for the American League. Boston Red Sox skipper and Francona’s longtime friend John Farrell appointed the Tribe manager to the position.
Birdman's Final Call
It came as somewhat of surprise to me of Francona’s decision to go to a closer by committee. Yes, John Axford (1-3, 4.60 ERA) has experienced his fair share of struggles of late, but for any contending team, they need structure over the course of a full season.
I’m not saying Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison or Marc Rzepczynski can’t get the job done together, but not knowing what role each will play each night could be a recipe for disaster in the long run.
I would’ve simply handed the ball to Allen in the ninth instead, and have the other three guys in the mix as a setup man by committee.
As a great left-handed specialist, Rzepczynski belongs in the later innings before the ninth. The same could be said for Atchison, who at 38 years-old has just one save in his big league career. I think any player would be lying if they said they like coming to the ballpark not knowing what exact role they will be dealt that night.
I talked about the importance of regaining confidence when it comes to pitching one day before Carrasco moved to the bullpen. Francona wants Axford to do the same thing, forget about his inconsistency and regain confidence in the middle relief innings.
With “The A-Team” of Allen and Axford shelved for now, the team would be wise not to put the closer on the back burner too long. This is a guy who saved 81 games from 2011-2012, and despite recent struggles is still 9-for-11 in save situations this year.
Like him or not, Axford showed early on he has the stuff to be one of the premier closers in the league. And hey, at least he talks to the media and holds himself responsible for his lack of success, something that didn’t happen with that other Tribe closer last season.
Time is not a luxury in any capacity, but for now, the Indians are willing to give Axford just that in order to figure out his struggles, hoping he gets hot along with the summer weather over the next few weeks.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'd put CC Lee in Shaw's former role and use Axford in low leverage situations.
What concerns me about Axford is that he's so tall he has a tendency to lose his mechanics at any time. He can be rolling along with no problems and with no warning be unable to throw a strike.
Like when he had two outs, nobody on, and a four-run lead and suddenly lost it completely and couldn't finish the game.
Shaw is nails. He's never wild, always wants the ball, and would make a good closer, IMO.
He is officially called up. Batting sixth and DHing tonight.