Notes From the Wigwam: Wildcard race heats up
Indians go 5-1 during week to move just 1.5 games back in AL Wildcard race
Are you believing yet?
It was quite a week for the Cleveland Indians as the team went 5-1 and won some games that they probably should have lost. This was probably most evident Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels as they won 4-1 and 14 innings, and it was arguably even more evident on Sunday as the Tribe defeated the Twins 3-1 despite the fact that they committed four errors.
After their strong week, the Indians are now 71-59 and just 1 ½ games out of the AL Wild Card race. Who would have thought that it could now be August 26, and the Indians are still relevant in the city of Cleveland? It's a beautiful thing.
With that being said, let's take one look at the week that was right before the Indians begin arguably their toughest stretch of the season...
August 19 at Los Angeles, W 5-2 (WP: McAllister, LP: Weaver)
August 20 at Los Angeles, W 4-1 (WP: Carrasco, LP: Blanton)
August 21 at Los Angeles, W 3-1 (WP: Masterson, LP: Williams)
August 23 vs. Minnesota, L 5-1 (WP: Deduno, LP: Jimenez)
August 24 vs. Minnesota, W 7-2 (WP: McAllister, LP: Hendriks)
August 25 vs. Minnesota, W 3-1 (WP: Smith, LP: Burton)
Player of the Week
Zach McAllister — Starting Pitcher
2 GS, 2-0, 13.2 IP, 3 R/ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 10 K
While losing Corey Kluber earlier this month was a big loss for the Indians, the team has thankfully managed to stay in the playoff race, and a big reason for that has been the reemergence of McAllister. There was some fear that McAllister might not return to the consistent form he displayed before he was placed on the disabled list with the middle finger injury, but he seems to have now picked up right where he left off as he's been one of the team's most consistent performers as of late. This past week, McAllister was especially impressive as he pitched great in two contests to help lead the Indians to two victories. On the season, McAllister is now 7-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 105 innings of work. McAllister does not overpower hitters by any means, but he is incredibly consistent, and it's pretty much a safe conclusion that the Indians will be in a contest whenever he's on the mound. Over the next month, the Tribe will be playing a handful of important games, so it's crucial that McAllister maintain his hot streak. Overall, the entire future of the Indians' rotation is looking rather bright, and McAllister is a big reason for that.
A Rough Week
Michael Brantley — Left Fielder
6 G, 1-for-25, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K
It's hard to even imagine that a hitter as talented as Brantley could ever have a week like this, but that was unfortunately the case for the Tribe's left fielder. Because of this rough week, Brantley's season average actually fell all the way down to .272. Brantley's current struggles are especially difficult because of the consistency that he's displayed in the past. When other players are struggling, Brantley is still normally able to produce and serve as somewhat of an offensive catalyst for the club. Unfortunately, that just was not the case during this past week. As the IBI's Tony Lastoria noted in Tribe Happenings yesterday, a variety of Indians hitters are enduring cold streaks at the plate right now, and Brantley is just the latest guilty party. Regardless, it is absolutely crucial that he rebound somehow in these next few games. This next week is arguably the toughest remaining stretch on the schedule as the Indians face the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers. The Tribe's pitching has been solid as of late, but that's not something that the team can continue to bank on. They will need to score some runs, and Brantley can be a player that can serve as a starter of sorts. His career history shows us that slumps like this are usually the exception and not the rule, so it does appear as if there's a good chance that he'll right the ship this week.
Minor League Player of the Week
Tony Wolters — Catcher, Carolina Mudcats
8-for-24, 3 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 6 K
One of the most impressive minor league developments of the entire 2013 season has been the progress of Wolters. While he is at High-A Carolina for the second consecutive season, Wolters went through a big change this past offseason as the former infielder was converted into a catcher. While his bat has never been a question mark, many wondered how he would adapt to the new position, and he has actually handled the conversion brilliantly. While his offensive numbers were down significantly initially, Wolters has since found his stroke once again, and he's performed admirably since June. This suggests that Wolters has gotten much more comfortable with the position change as you can tell that everything has started to come together for him at the plate. He is obviously much more relaxed, and it's amazing how his numbers have improved as the season has gone on. In April and May, Wolters hit .200 and .211, respectively, but he has since hit .318, .306 and .297 in June, July and August, respectively. Catchers with plus offensive skills are tough to come by, but the Indians are fortunate that they have two players already on their Major League roster that fit that description in Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes. If everything goes according to plan, it appears that the Indians could one day have another player in that same mold.
The total number of home runs that the Cleveland Indians have hit this season. The team hit a total of 136 in all 2012.
News & Notes
— It would not be a Notes From the Wigwam, if we did not touch on Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez had a very good start for the Indians this past week as the right-hander allowed just two earned runs across six innings in Friday's loss to the Minnesota Twins. The start was so interesting because there were basically two different versions of Jimenez that were on display in the contest. For example, during the first two innings, Jimenez allowed four doubles and also walked two batters, and in the first inning, he found himself in a bases-loaded jam with no outs. However, Jimenez buckled down and recorded three straight strikeouts to get out of the jam, and he also recorded three strikeouts in the second inning. For the game, Jimenez line looked like this: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R/ER, 3 BB, 10 K. There were times where Jimenez was just simply dominant and that was the case after those first two innings. The 10 strikeouts were also a season-high for Jimenez, and he currently is striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings, which happens to be a career high. There remains a lot of skepticism in regard to Jimenez though, and it's still hard to believe that his performance is anything more than smoke and mirrors. However, since the All-Star Break, Jimenez has a 2.27 ERA in six starts, and his season ERA currently sits at 3.95, which is more than respectable. Prior to the season, it was known that the Indians would have to get a very good season performance from Jimenez if the team was to have any chance of competing. Thankfully, Jimenez has done just that, but the season is not over yet, so let's hope the big right-hander can keep it up down the stretch. The one thing that cannot be denied is that his starts always seem to be some of the most entertaining Indians games of the week.
— There was a sense of relief on Sunday as left-hander Scott Kazmir finally showed signs of once again being the impressive pitcher that he had been earlier in the season. Kazmir allowed just one run and struck out seven across six innings of work as the Indians rallied for a 3-1 win against the Twins. This strong performance follows two consecutive outings where Kazmir allowed a combined 10 earned runs. There seemed to be some concern that Kazmir's "dead arm" was a legitimate issue, and some fans seemed to even wonder if the Indians might have to shut him down before too long. However, his impressive start on Sunday may have alleviated some of these fears, and Kazmir now has a 4.25 ERA in 23 starts and 125 innings of work. If Sunday's start was a sign of things to come and the preceding starts were just a hiccup, then the Tribe's rotation is in for a nice boost. When he's been at his best this year, Kazmir has been absolutely dominant and even had some ace-like performances. He's not the same Kid-K that he was back in 2005, but Kazmir is definitely a more-than-serviceable left-handed starter. Of course, while it will be great if he performs well down the stretch, the one negative is that with each strong start, Kazmir may unfortunately start to price himself out of the Indians' range. He'll be a free agent this offseason and given his performance to date, he's definitely someone that the team should consider locking up.
— When Mark Raynolds was released earlier this month, the Indians suddenly found themselves without a regular designated hitter. Since then, that spot has mostly been occupied by Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and Carlos Santana on days that he's not catching. Unfortunately for the Indians, Raburn is still dealing with a sore left foot. The right-handed hitting Raburn actually did not play in one game this past week, which makes it especially impressive that the team was able to go 5-1. On the season, Raburn is hitting .272/.366/.574, and he probably would get the majority of the designated hitter time if he were healthy and able to be in the lineup. His recovery will be crucial for the team down the stretch as the Indians unfortunately do not have many right-handed power options, but Raburn is definitely the most consistent. There has been no inkling that he will have to be placed on the disabled list because of the injury, but it's never a good sign when a player misses an entire week's action. The injury has also been an issue for a couple of weeks as Raburn actually only played in two games during the previous week. That now means that the Tribe's best right-handed power option has played in just two of the team's last 12 games. That's never a good recipe for success, so it's crucial that Raburn find himself back in the lineup sooner rather than later. The Tribe has averaged just 3.6 runs per game in August, so there is definitely room for improvement.
— The one other player who could soon become a designated hitter option for the Indians is left-handed hitterDavid Cooper. Cooper is the former Toronto Blue Jay that the Indians signed earlier this month, and there is a certain level of intrigue to the signing. Cooper was the 17th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, and while he's not known much for his power, the first baseman has had several impressive minor league seasons, and he even won the Pacific Coast League batting title in 2011 with Triple-A Las Vegas. In 120 games that season, Cooper hit .364/.439/.535 with nine home runs, 96 RBI, 67 walks and just 43 strikeouts. Cooper also looked good in limited action with the Blue Jays last season as he recorded a .300/.324/.464 line in 45 games and 145 plate appearances. Unfortunately for Cooper, he suffered a potentially career-ending injury last August, and the left-handed hitter was then released this past March. A new, unique procedure has essentially resurrected Cooper's career though and repaired the herniated thoracic disc in his back. The signing of Cooper is essentially a low-risk, high-reward move, and it's hard not to like its potential. Cooper does have an opt-out clause if he's not promoted to the Major League club by the end of this month, and we're steadily approaching that date, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Cooper has looked good so far with the AZL Indians as he hit .440 in 27 plate appearances there, and he's currently hitting .200 in 11 plate appearances with Columbus. It's an incredibly small sample size, and it may not be enough to warrant a promotion to the Major League level, but it also would be tough to see the Indians lose Cooper, especially given his past potential. Needless to say, this will be an interesting situation to monitor in the next few days.
— Right-hander Josh Tomlin was activated Sunday and optioned to Columbus. With Danny Salazar quickly approaching his innings limit, it appears as if Tomlin could once again soon find himself a member of the Indians' starting rotation.
— Right-hander Corey Kluber is scheduled to throw a bullpen session today at Progressive Field. It will be the first time he's thrown a bullpen session since being sidelined earlier this month with a middle finger injury he suffered against the Detroit Tigers.
— The Indians are averaging 20,253 fans a game this season, which ranks 27th in the MLB. This number accounts for just 46.6 percent of overall capacity, and that percentage point is unfortunately dead last in all of the MLB.
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.