Every year, or maybe every couple of years, some team starts out hot and takes everyone by surprise. Sometimes they continue the Cinderella run all the way into or even through the postseason; other times they lose momentum and leave their fans with an unsettling feeling that no good start is ever comfortable enough to believe in. I'm sure you recall the articles that people were writing about the Indians a couple of months ago.
Well, it's not a couple of months ago anymore, and our boys are struggling to stay over .500 and within shouting distance of the Tigers in the divisional race. If the Tribe had just began the season at a normal pace and played consistently around this level, I think we'd all consider the first 111 games of the season a success. The fact that we were 30-15 and then ripped off a 26-40 stretch, though, raises all sorts of questions. We all more or less figured Cleveland wasn't going to win two thirds of their games, but this slide has been a little disheartening. It also leaves us wondering - as fans - what we should think about this team going forward. Well, as the title suggests, I think we're actually good.I don't have enough material to make another paragraph but, here are my reasons:
In Masterson, the Tribe has a breakout starter who looks to have all the makings of an anchor for the rotation for years to come. Ubaldo occasionally loses track of the strike zone, but his stuff is unquestionable and his velocity isn't that much of a concern after his slow start to the season. Carrasco and Tomlin are opposite sides of the same coin - one gets the most of of questionable stuff, the other is tantalizingly electric and frustratingly erratic. Fausto Carmona and the enigma that is David Huff round out what we've got in terms of guys fighting for the last spots in the rotation right now. In terms of depth, Mitch Talbot (meh) and Jeanmar Gomez are just a phone call away with ML experience already on hand, and Zach McAllister and Scott Barnes have shown solid potential in Columbus this season.
Bullpen performance is notoriously erratic. It's hard to tell too much about a pitcher in a 70 inning sample spread over an entire season, but the Indians' pen has been pretty good this year. Rafael Perez has returned to being good - if not as dominant as he once was. I'm not sure what to make of Vinnie Pestano, and I feel like Joe Smith has been a little lucky, but I see no reason that both can't be good again next year. Tony Sipp has the best WHIP, but he gives up a ton of homers. Durbin's not inspiring. Frank Hermann, Josh Judy, and Justin Germano are all depth options with ML experience. Further down, Nick Hagadone has an impressive pedigree, and CC Lee has been tearing up the minors.
When the Indians were clicking at the start of the year, it was because the offense was one of the best in the league. Then they went through a stretch during which they couldn't score on their own cheerleaders. Going forward, there's reason to hope the Tribe will be able to piece together a good offensive performance from time to time. Kipnis has shown real ability with the bat, and Chisenhall seems to be coming along nicely. Santana - frustrating in almost every other facet of the game - has the best eye on the team and can also drive the ball. Fukudome seems like exactly what we thought he would be. Brantley is uninspiring but serviceable, and Hafner can still get the job done when healthy. Speaking of healthy, Choo should be back soon. Forget about Sizemore though; I've given up on his ever being a consistent impact player again. Matt LaPorta always seems like he should be more, but he isn't.
Ah, the other calling card of the early-season Indians. Really, the position guys have kind of fallen off since the first 45 games. With Chisenhall, Asdrubal, and Kipnis around the infield, the defense is solid but not spectacular. Chiz and Kipnis have both made some bad errors this year, but both of them have shown the athletic ability to smooth out the rough edges as time goes on. I don't know what LaPorta's deal is, and I don't think I ever will. Behind the plate, Marson's probably the better defensive option, and Santana's effort hasn't thrilled Tommy lately. In the outfield, Carrerra covers a ton of ground and Choo throws really hard. Other than that, Cleveland's outfielders don't really have any plus tools. If Sizemore is as done as I've proposed above, I'm not sure Brantley's a long-term solution in center.
Overall, I don't think the Tribe is going to fade like cut grass over the next couple of years. I think that - rather than being a 45-game wonder - this team really is the foundation of the team's next run of contention. The arms are coming in waves, and the bats are good with the upside of something better. Even if it doesn't happen this year, I've got great hopes for the 2012-2014 window. There have been several losses this year in which just a little more ability and a little more maturity would have served the Tribe very well. Those assets are already growing for the stretch run this year, and I'm confident they'll be in position for the next two or three seasons. I'm confident we're rolling into the the next golden run for Indians fans.