We're one third of the way through the season right now. Yesterday I wrote about what's going wrong with the Indians (I wrote the abridged version, anyway), but just because the team has a disappointing 24-30 record doesn't mean there aren't some things going well, and I want to highlight some of the positives today.
Here are the top five things about the Indians in 2014 so far:
5) Knowing Francisco Lindor will arrive someday
The great month of May Asdrubal Cabrera has had isn't on this list, but it's worth noting. Many Tribe fans at this point are just hoping Cabrera plays well enough to become a tradable asset by the deadline, because we know his time as shortstop for the Tribe is nearing its end. How do we know? Because the team's top prospect, Francisco Lindor continues to shine, and should be ready to take over in 2015 (though the team might hold him back til Memorial Day for service time reasons).
Lindor's defense has won rave reviews since before he was ever drafted, and he continues to project as a ++shortstop in the field. The difference between him being a very good player overall and being a great one would be his bat. He made the jump from High-A to Double-A late last season, and since joining Akron his batting line is .288/.387/.405. Last year the knock on him was that he hadn't developed any power, as he hit only 2 home runs all year, but he already has 4 this season. His walk rate is way up too.
...And he's only 20 years old.
4) Sweeping the Tigers
A baseball season is a marathon, and at the end of that race, 29 teams won't have won the World Series. Most teams won't have made the playoffs, and unless you happen to cheer for one of a few select teams, your favorite will miss the playoffs in a lot more seasons than they make them. If you're going to enjoy baseball, you've got to be able to savor the little things, like a sweep of your rivals, who've been atop the division in recent years.
It was only last week that the Tribe welcomed the Tigers into town, then won all three games, two of them in walk-off fashion. On Monday Michael Brantley hit a home run in bottom of the 9th to win it. On Tuesday Trevor Bauer joined the rotation and led the team to a 6-2 win. On Thursday it took 13 innings and more than 5 hours, culminating in a bases-loaded balk that plated the winning run.
Regular season baseball can hardly get more enjoyable than that series.
3) Lonnie Chisenhall rebounding in a big way
Last season Lonnie hit so poorly he was demoted, and while much of his low production was due to bad luck on balls in play, and there was every reason to think he'd do better if given the chance this year, there was no reason to think he'd be hitting this well.
Chisenhall's batting line right now is .358/416/.520, powered by a fantastic line-drive rate (and very good luck on balls in play). He's 29 plate appearances short of being qualified, but among 143 American League hitters with 100+ PA, Lonnie's batting average is the very best, and his OPS is 6th. He's going to come back to earth eventually, but even if you split the difference between his 2013 and his 2014 so far, he'd be a really good player.
2) Michael Brantley finding another gear
I've liked Brantley for a few years now, because I appreciate a dependable role player, someone slightly above average and steady. I was happy with the contract Brantley signed this spring, because the dependable role player he's been is worth that kind of money. Suddenly though, Brantley isn't a role player, he's a guy on pace for 20+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases, with great rate stats too.
Brantley's line is .310/.377/.510. His wRC+ is 152, which puts him seventh in the AL. Factor in his strong baserunning and he's been one of the half dozen best offensive players in the league so far this season. No Indian has driven in more than 92 runs since 2007, but Brantley is on pace for 117 of them. The only Indians in the last decade to have an offensive season like the one Brantley is on pace for are Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore.
1) Corey Kluber pitching like a Cy Young candidate
Last season Kluber came from sort of nowhere to be a very solid pitcher. His 3.85 ERA was good, not great, but his high strikeout rate and low walk rate were signs he could do even better. Sure enough, here he is, doing better. While Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar, expected to be the Tribe's top two pitchers, have both struggled mightily (Masterson has been replacement level and Salazar has been demoted), Kluber has pitched life a bona fide ace.
If the season were to end now, Kluber would have a legitimate case for being the AL Cy Young winner (he wouldn't have a chance of actually winning it, but he'd have a case for deserving it). If he keeps up the pace he's on (he'll probably regress, but let's imagine), his season would be arguably the best by any Indians pitcher in the last forty years.
I love watching a great pitcher, so Kluber's work is what I've most enjoyed about this season.
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How about you, what do you think? Did I overlook something or someone worth mentioning? What's been your favorite thing about this season so far?