Strong 'pen keeps Indians in playoff race

Indians closing pitcher Chris Perez reacts after recording against the Yankee at Progressive Field...

Indians closing pitcher Chris Perez reacts after recording against the Yankee at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio, July 4, 2011. (AARON JOSEFCZYK/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:33 PM ET

If you're a numbers guy, there's not much to like about the Cleveland Indians beyond their 44-41 record.

That performance, however, has been good enough to place them in second spot in the AL Central, three games back of the Chicago White Sox and a half game up on the dangerous Detroit Tigers.

The question is, just how have they done it?

To begin with, it hasn't been due to outstanding pitching. Their team ERA of 4.50 is the second-worst in the American League and they do not sport a true 'ace' in their rotation.

They haven't forged their winning record due to an outstanding offence, either. They don't have much in the way of power (78 homers, 11th-best in the league) and are eighth in team batting.

Cleveland also is getting next to nothing out of left field.

The Johnny Damon experiment has been a complete flop. Through 50 games, the veteran outfielder is hitting .215 with five doubles, four home runs and 17 RBIs.

In Plan B they can give more playing time to Shelley Duncan but so far he has not supplied a whole lot either. In 57 games he is batting .222 with eight doubles, eight homers and 21 RBIs.

Cleveland also sports a run differential of minus-29 and is just 9-16 when facing left-handed starters.

Given all that, to be three games over .500 is certainly a head-scratcher.

"I'm pleased, but I'm not satisfied," manager Manny Acta told reporters before the break. "That's all you want, at the halfway point of the season, to be in it the way we are right now. I think they deserve a lot of credit. I'm pleased and I'm proud of the way they have picked each other up."

What they do have is a very good back end to their bullpen with the trio of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and closer Chris Perez doing outstanding work. That has enabled them to not blow leads late, and win the close games.

The Indians would seem to be up against it in their bid for a postseason spot. They don't have the quality that the White Sox can roll out either on the pitching front or at the plate.

And nobody believes that the Tigers will remain in their current coma for the entire season.

For the Indians to keep in the race and win it, it would seem that adding a quality starter and a right-handed power hitter is a necessity. Whether they can pull it off is a different story.

"We're right there," Indians starter Justin Masterson told mlb.com before the break. "It's nice that no one else is really playing out of their shoes."

They can't, however, count on that trend to continue through the entire season.


INDIANS AT BLUE JAYS

FRIDAY 7:07 p.m. RHP Justin Masterson vs. LHP Ricky Romero

SATURDAY 1:07 p.m. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez vs. LHP Aaron Laffey

SUNDAY 1:07 p.m. RHP Derek Lowe vs. RHP Carlos Villanueva


RUTSEY'S TAKE

The Cleveland Indians are like that bad odour that just won't go away. They were a surprise team last season and once again this year have shown a tremendous tenacity to stay in the hunt and get the most out of their players. The Indians won't wow you in any one department but they get the job done more often than not. They are the blue-collar special.

PREDICTION

The Jays will send out the pitchers that currently are their top three starters in Ricky Romero, Aaron Laffey, and Carlos Villanueva, which says it all. The key is Romero. If the good one shows up, the Jays will win two of three.


INDIANS WHO'S HOT

  • We're giving a nod to their all-star game selections. beginning with SS Asdrubal Cabrera. Since June 14 he is hitting .293 with 15 runs, six home runs and 17 RBIs in 23 games.
  • Next up is closer Chris Perez, who was brutal in blowing the game to the Jays on Opening Day. Since then, Perez reeled off 24 consecutive saves before blowing his second of the season against the Rays in the game just before the break.
  • CF Michael Brantley is on a 10-game hitting streak, where he has gone 15-for-39 (.385) and he has hit safely in 40 of his past 43 games.

INDIANS WHO'S COLD

  • DH Travis Hafner is looking for his stroke since returning to the lineup July 4 following knee surgery. He has gone 2-for-15. In his last 40 at-bats with RISP he also has produced just two hits.
  • RHP Jeremy Accardo, a former Blue Jay, has allowed runs in three of his past nine outings, sending his ERA from 1.54 to 3.47. On the season, right-handed hitters are bating .353 (18-for-51) against him.
  • RHP Justin Masterson, who starts on Friday, has lost two of his past three starts. In those losses, he has allowed 12 runs on 16 hits and walked seven over a combined 10 1/3 innings.

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