If I had to distill the story of the first two months into two points, it would be these:
- The drastic improvement of the starting rotation.
- The outstanding team offensive depth
Last year the Indians had some good offensive players, but they also had some absolute black holes both in the starting lineup and the bench. This year there are no holes in the starting lineup and the bench, even though most of the year there's only been three players on it, has been so good that there's no dropoff when Terry Francona rests a starter. That has paid immediate dividends early in the season, but the more important ramifications of this depth should happen down the stretch. Once Lonnie Chisenhall comes back from Columbus, I could see every starting player taking a day off at least once ever two weeks, as at every position there's a credible backup. Mark Reynolds and Mike Aviles at third, Aviles at shortstop, Aviles and Ryan Raburn at second, Reynolds and Carlos Santana at first, Yan Gomes at catcher, and Ryan Raburn in right. And of course Jason Giambi DHing 2-4 times a week.
But even more exciting than what the overall offense has been doing has been the individual impovements in the rotation. Other than Scott Kazmir, Brett Myers and Trevor Bauer's starts, every start has been made by a pitcher who made a start for the Indians last season. Three out of the five regular starters are back from last year, and fourth (Corey Kluber) made 12 starts a year ago. So this wasn't a case where the Indians went out and signed/traded for an entirely new rotation. Mickey Callaway has to this point been a miracle worker or the luckiest pitching coach on the planet.
I'll talk in detail about both things early this week in an unofficial one-third of the season review.
Cleveland Indians News
The unbalance schedule that has been in effect the last 4-5 years has meant that each AL East and West club only comes to Cleveland once a year. So that means if there's a rainout, that game has been made either later in that series or on a common off-day.
In Friday's case, however, the Indians were faced with about as difficult a dilemma as you can have as a host club. The forecast for the rest of the weekend would be just as bad as Friday's forecast, so there was no guarantee that you could get a doubleheader in on Saturday or Sunday (and it rained pretty good in Northeast late yesterday afternoon in into the evening.) So that option was out. And there were no common off-days between the Indians and Rays that would satisfy the requirements in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. And because the Indians had already played their series in Tampa Bay, even the extreme measure of making up Friday's game on the road was out.
So the Indians really had no choice to resume Friday's game at midnight, even though there was a day game scheduled on Saturday. I don't think the Indians really needed to apologize to the fans, as most of these circumstances were out of their control, though the club will try to make it up to those who attended the game.
After Friday/Saturday's game, the Indians desperately needed another arm in the bullpen, and thanks the Huff DFA, they had an spare 40-man spot. The choice probably came down to Langwell, Preston Guilmet, or Fernando Nieve (who has pitching great in Columbus). They decided on Langwell, who was not a high draft pick (11th, 2008) and has been old for his level at every stop along the way. Usually when a pitcher is assigned to the bullpen in Mahoning Valley or Lake County, that's a sign that the club doesn't expect much of you, but Matt has cleared every hurdle along the way, actually improving his strikeout rates as he's advanced.
Prior to this year, Mike Sarbaugh had been a very successful manager throughout the organization, so it was nice to see the Indians reward him by giving him a spot on the coaching staff. Although there doesn't seem to be any reason that Terry Francona won't be around for at least the next four seasons, it's nice to build an organizational coaching bench as well.
IBI did a very nice profile of Carlos Moncrief, who this point hasn't turned his outstanding tools into results. But he's still adjusting to the outfield after being drafted as a pitcher, so some patience is needed. If he reaches his potential, he profiles as a solid major-league right fielder.
AL Central News
The big in the division was the Royals hiring George Brett as the team's hitting coach. RR looks at what the move signifies.
In the wake of Jose Valverde's implosion Friday night, BYB looks at Detroit's closers over the the last 20 or so years.
Well, the pitch-to-contact market inefficiency hasn't worked out lately, so perhaps this one will.
Other MLB News
MLB Network, which will be televising the first day of the 2013 MLB Draft, is doing a preview tonight at 10 PM Eastern. The Indians, because they don't have a second round selection, have really concentrated on their first round pick, with the debate seemingly between the college third baseman (Colin Moran) and the two high school outfielders (Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows). Obviously if Jonathan Gray or Mark Appel are still on the board, the Indians would take either of them.
LGT will be ramping up its draft coverage starting tomorrow, and will be devoting the entire day on Thursday to the Draft.