Knocked off-balance on Opening Day, closer Chris Perez rebounded to lead a strong bullpen back-end over the next four weeks, reeling off 11 consecutive saves.
Toronto: Lost 4-7, Lost 4-7, Won 4-3
Chicago: Lost 2-4, Lost 6-10
@Kansas City: Won 8-3, Won 11-9, Won 13-7
@Seattle: Won 9-8, Lost 1-4, Won 2-1
@Oakland: Won 4-3, Won 5-1, Lost 1-5
Kansas City: Won 4-3, Lost 2-8, Lost 2-4
Los Angeles: Won 3-2, Lost 1-2, Won 4-0
@Chicago: Lost 2-7, Won 6-3, Won 7-5
Texas: Won 6-3, Lost 2-5, Won 4-2
THE BIG STORY: After scuffling to a 1–4 start, the Indians won six of their next seven series while Detroit stumbled, leading the Indians to a first-place position in a division cumulatively playing .430 baseball. The rotation looked shaky, but the bullpen got off to a sterling start. There were good hitters and bad hitters and a lot of mediocre hitters. One offseason move looked golden, while another not so much. It was, all in all, kind a sleepy month, in which big headlines somehow were generated by the signing of over-the-hill outfielder Johnny Damon to a minor league deal that pays him less than half the average MLB salary. That move represented a kind of why-not-at-least-do-this surrender, an acknowledgment that Grady Sizemore may not even play a supporting role on the 2012 squad, and that our non-skill players as a group are somewhat gimpy and mostly just not very good players.
IN OTHER NEWS, WHO FED IT and WHO ATE IT after the jump ...
IN OTHER NEWS: Ubaldo Jimenez was suspended for five games essentially for feuding with his former teammates during spring training — and yes, it sounds stupid because it was stupid. Carlos Santana signed a five-year deal locking him up through the 2017 season. Rafael Perez went on the DL and apparently will spend a full three months on it before even going on a rehab assignment. The transaction wire was rather quiet otherwise, save for a couple cups of coffee for rookie reliever Nick Hagadone. The Indians got Jose Lopez through waivers and back to Columbus on May 4, a development that looks far more important in retrospect than it did at the time. Perhaps the story of most significant, lasting impact was that the Indians endured eight straight home games with attendance under 13,000, including four games that failed even to reach five digits. Lack of hometown fan support was about to become a source of controversy for the club and embarrassment for Cleveland.
WHO FED IT: Following a true debacle on Opening Day, Chris Perez dazzled with an 0.75 ERA over his next 13 games, allowing just five singles, one double and two walks to his next 47 batters, en route to 11 straight saves. As dumb of a stat as the Hold is, it's probably a sign that at least some good things are happening if one of your relievers is on pace for 48 of them, as Vinnie Pestano was by May 7. Sure enough, Pestano struck out 19 and walked just 2 in his first 15 games with a 2.08 ERA. Nick Hagadone joined the party late but arguably brought the best cheese, allowing just three singles and one walk to his first 36 batters, for a stunning .088 slugging average-against. Joe Smith too had a stellar beginning, posting a 1.26 in his first 14.1 IP of the year, but alas, gave up a three-run homer before completing that last inning of work.
Derek Lowe opened the season on a highly improbable hot streak that lasted clear through his ninth start on May 20 — improbable based on both preseason expectations (serviceable fourth starter, we hoped) and truly horrid peripherals: just 2.30 K/9 over those nine starts and more walks than strikeouts, despite the 2.15 ERA. Jeanmar Gomez also started well (2.82 ERA over one relief appearance and four starts) and ironically seemed on more solid ground, with an okay-for-a-groundballer 15 strikeouts against 4 walks.
The unequivocal stars of the early season were keystone combo Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, who combined for a .392 OBP and .543 slugging average. Cabrera had the edge in batting average and a small edge in walk rate, but Kipnis hit for more power, hit better in the clutch, hit into fewer double plays and fared far better on the bases. Add it all up, and Kipnis contributed the most based on win probability (1.010 to .722 WPA) and had an even bigger edge in run expectancy added (10.89 to 5.19 RE24). Jack Hannahan also made a series of clutch contributions (.929 WPA, 8.16 RE24) amid a merely solid 790 OPS and his usual very fine defense.
Some people got amped about a healthy and contributing Travis Hafner, but am I supposed to kvell about a DH with an 820 OPS? No, I most certainly am not. Absolute Best: Kipnis. Relative Best: Kipnis.
WHO ATE IT: Longtime readers know that I hate it when people dump on the scrubs — who are, after all, the scrubs — but I can't help but notice that the Indians really got incredibly little out of the last six or seven roster spots over the first month. Lopez posted a .190 OBP though he did show some pop. Lou Marson only got to the plate 19 times, and while he drew walks, he also contributed 16 outs in 16 at-bats. Jason Donald batted .184 with just one walk in 42 PA and zero extra-base hits — plus, he looked awful on defense. Tony Sipp, Jairo Asencio and Dan Wheeler combined to allow 22 runs in 29.1 IP, allowing more than one run in 7 different relief appearances. Opposing batters got as many homers off Wheeler as strikeouts (2 each), and twice as many walks (4). Sipp and Asencio both saw half of their hits allowed go for extra bases, with Sipp yielding 19 total bases (though no homers) in 12 innings en route to a 9.00 ERA, while Asencio allowed four doubles and three homers.
Casey Kotchman posted a horrendous 506 OPS. No way to sugarcoat that and no point breaking it down, especially at first base. Still ... this is The Breakdown, and I did notice that he had a super-miserable batting average (.163), combined with a solid walk rate (9 in 91) and mediocre power (20 bases in 13 hits). I point this out only because it looks very much like the slash-lines we saw in this same period from Choo (.215/.340/.316), Duncan (.222/.341/.375) and Santana (.236/.373/.404) — the batting averages are merely bad, not as completely miserable as Kotchman's, but the pattern is remarkably similar. That's our team, I guess. Or at least it was for this month.
Michael Brantley posted a 620 OPS, which is poor but not remarkably bad for a single month out of a center fielder. He really was worse than that, though; he was sort of the anti-Kipnis. He hit terribly in high-leverage spots, posting an RE24 of -6.00, which is as bad as Donald had with an OPS of only 379. Brantley also got caught in 4 out of 6 stolen base attempts — inexcusable, really — and didn't even manage to make any of his large pile of outs productive ones. Some might feel Masterson deserves mention here, but he put up quality starts in half of his six outings over this stretch and only had one real disaster. Don't worry, though, he got worse soon after. Absolute worst: Kotchman. Relative worst: Kotchman.