July 12, 2012
Strong 'pen keeps Indians in playoff race
By MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency
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
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.
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
INDIANS WHO'S COLD