Even grandma is figuring out this is a pennant race
I was at a convenience store last week wearing a gray t-shirt that said property of the Cleveland Indians and the clerk said to me, “So are you a Tribe fan?” I resisted the urge to make a “here’s your sign joke” and simply said yes. He turns to me and says, “You know they are starting to get good.” I replied, “Well, they have been good all season.”
At my building, the office manager asked me just how good the Indians were. I told her that I thought they would win the World Series. She was shocked and said, “Really? I guess I will have to put my Chief Wahoo back out. I took him down because they weren’t doing so good.”
The bandwagon is loading up for bear, but apparently there are still some cynics out there. Supposedly this weekend, a radio host at the little one said on the air something like since the Indians could only beat Kansas City 5-4, they might be better off not making the playoffs since a good team would crush them and hurt their development. That has to be a hoax, you know one of those urban legends. No one can be that stupid and still get paid to come back to work. Any baseball team can win one game, heck, the Royals have won 48 games this season. The sign of a good team is beating a bad team on an off night. As if scoring five runs in the first inning and allowing only five hits in the game qualifies as an off night.
Are you watching? Because my friends, the Indians are the best team in the American League. On July 30 the Indians were three games above .500 and they are now 26 games. above Once out by 15 games, the forgotten division race is back on. Heading into last night, the Tribe had won six straight and 13 of 14, and are a major-league best 34-11 since July 31. Chicago held a 15-game lead on Aug. 1. It is now just two and half.
There are no better table setters than Grady Sizemore, Coco Crisp and Jhonny Peralta. Sizemore and Peralta were supposed to be batting eighth and ninth in the line-up and now both are batting in the .290s with 20 plus homers and over 70 RBI. The last few years, the Indians have tried to replace Coco Crisp, but he has answered every challenge. He has become a clutch hitter and fielder. Still want Bartolo Colon and Omar Vizquel? GM Mark Shaprio hit aces with both moves.
For run producers, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are almost as fearsome as New York’s Rodriguez and Sheffield or Boston’s Ortiz and Ramirez. Even with Hafner struggling somewhat at the plate, the Indians have still won 12 of their last 13 games. Victor has been the best hitter in the league since the all star break hitting .386 with 10 homeruns and 39 RBI. His average has risen over 100 points since the break. But Hafner homered on Sunday and he tends to do that in bunches as evidenced with his homer and two doubles on Monday.
But what makes this team special is its pitching. Sabathia, whom many of you wanted to trade, is 8-1 since August 5. In his one loss, he gave up just one earned run. His ERA over those starts was 2.37 BEFORE he threw eight shutout innings on Sunday. Cliff Lee has the best winning percentage in the league with his 17-4 record. He is 8-0 since the all star break. Jay Westbrook was 2-9 and is now 15-14. Scott Elarton is the best fifth starter in baseball with his 10-7 record. And despite his 8-11 record, Kevin Millwood has the best ERA in the league with his 3.02.
And by the way, the Indians bullpen leads the league in ERA and in saves.
But even more so than that, things are happening that don’t happen in Cleveland. It started a few weeks ago when Bob Wickman balked the tying run in against Tampa Bay and it wasn’t called. Not since the 1997 playoffs when Omar’s did-he-or-didn’t-bunt-the-ball led to a passed ball and win against Baltimore, do I remember a game where a miscall or strange happening worked in Cleveland’s favor. Naturally, I can name ten that went the other way.
Still the Indians best team was in 1999 and that team did not go to the World Series. The Browns had the best team a few times in the late 80s and won zip. Don’t even get me started about the year Mahorn assaulted Mark Price. To win you have to have a little luck and some good fortune.
The kicker that the winds have really changed was Ben Broussard’s monster pop-up that kept going last week against the A’s. It is running chuckle in town that Tom Hamilton often misreads fly balls — “WAY BACK, DEEP and… caught in mid leftfield by the shortstop.” But on Ben’s hit, Hammy’s voice was subdued as if he knew it would be caught on the warning track-- except it wasn’t.
My lead paragraph this week was going to be how I have fallen in love with Ronnie Belliard. I even wrote it out Friday morning. And BAM, it turns out he has a strained abdominal muscle or as Kevin Keane said “hurt belly lard”-- did I jinx the Tribe? Nope, even without his inspired play at second base and at the plate, the Indians turned five double plays on Friday with a fly ball pitcher in Elarton on the mound.
This team seems to have karma. While the media whines about attendance, the players don’t seem to notice. On Sunday, the scoreboard declared Hafner’s favorite thing in Cleveland was the fans. He hit the next pitch for a homer.
Baseball can change in an instant. But heading into Sunday, the Yankees had won six in a row and eight out of ten, yet lost the wildcard lead to the Indians during that stretch. The White Sox and their fans are in a freefall. In just eleven days, the Tribe has cut the lead from nine and half to just two and half heading into their head to head match-up.
I hear how the Indians have no post season experience. Hmmmm, how much experience did the Marlins have in 2003 and 1997? How about the Angels in 2002 or the Diamondbacks in 2002? Winning a championship is about more than talent. The hottest team often wins and no one is hotter than the Tribe.
It has been a magical season and it promises even more.