May 9, 2013
Chapter 32: Excess of ectasy
Baseball teams are funny animals. They can look so horrible, then look like they'll never lose again. Last year the Indians hung around until July, then impersonated Wile E. Coyote, looking down and then falling into the abyss. Over the last couple weeks we've seen one of the greatest stretches of baseball in franchise history, and that's a lot of history. When this all started, the Indians were 8-13, and were just one game better than the Angels and only three better than the Astros. We were all bemoaning the lack of hitting, the lack pitching, and the general lack of winning.
All that has changed. Since losing Game 1 of April 28th's doubleheader in Kansas City, the Indians have lost just one game (last Sunday) and have won ten games. They now sit one game behind the Detroit Tigers for the division lead and just 2.0 games behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. They now have the second-best run differential (+33) in the AL and lead the league in home runs and many offensive rate categories.
The key to future success, though, as has been harped on all spring, is starting pitching. The Indians came into the season with a lot of high-upside pitchers on the roster, almost all of them were huge question marks. And we didn't think much about Scott Kazmir, who came into camp as a non-roster invitee. If an NRI was going to make the club, it would be Daisuke Matsuzaka, who at least had pitched in the majors last year. Scott Kazmir hadn't pitched in any major-league organization (never mind the majors), so he was the wildest of wild cards.
Well, that's all turned upside down. Dice-K's future with the Indians is cloudy at best (currently on the AAA DL), but Kazmir's forecast, like this week, has been sunny, warm, and clear. Yesterday he not only earned a Quality Start (6 innings, 1 run), he looked darn good doing it. He struck out 10 batters while walking 0, a feat limited in recent Indians history to pitchers like Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and Orel Hershiser. And more importantly, his velocity at times approached his past levels. One of the last fastballs he threw in the 6th inning was measured at 95 mph. The combination of stuff and command is beautiful to behold when on display, and when it comes from a player who even a week ago we wondered whether could stay in the majors, it's a poweful stimulent.
On the mound for Oakland was Let's Go (Former) Tribe Bartolo Colon, who also was a former Cy Young award winner. You know what the Indians have done to those pitchers (sans Jake Peavy), and today was no different. The Indians knocked Colon out after four innings, scoring six runs on eight hits, including two home runs. Jason Kipnis, who is screaming towards the 100 OPS+ mark, hit another opposite-field home run in the first inning, Nick Swisher hit his fifth homer in the fourth inning, and Mark Reynolds hit his league-leading 11th homer in fifth inning off reliever Evan Scribner. Every starter had at least one hit on the day.
This hot streak will eventually stop. It hopefully will not be like a rocket that has run out of fuel before leaving the atmosphere, but a plane leveling off at a high altitude after takeoff. Pitching performances like yesterday's have me believing in the latter possibility.