The Detroit Tigers will open up another division series when they welcome the Cleveland Indians to town for the weekend on Friday. Hopefully, the Tigers can continue the same success they’ve had all season against teams in the AL Central.
Cleveland had a tough start to the season, but the Indians have been playing well lately. In order to help break down the Cleveland Indians season through the first 59 games, Motor City Bengals talked with Wahoo’s on First Staff Writer Katrina Putnam.
Here are her answers to our six questions:
- Cleveland won quite a few games at the end of May. What has led to the Indians recent turnaround?
KP: The biggest factor in the Tribe’s turnaround has been the pitching. Cleveland had a 4.54 team ERA when they went 7-14 in April, but that ERA dropped to 3.73 in May. Their strikeout-to-walk rate also made a big difference – in April, it was 2.73, but jumped all the way to 3.81 last month. Opposing hitters batted just .238 against Indians’ pitchers in May, and looking back, the additions of Danny Salazar and Shaun Marcum were just what the rotation needed. Adding Ryan Webb and Austin Adams to the bullpen has given the relievers some stability as well.
Offensively, the Tribe moved second baseman Jason Kipnis to the leadoff spot, where he had the greatest May in Indians’ history, and the Tribe’s new outfield platoon of David Murphy and Ryan Raburn has been a huge success as well. The final piece of the puzzle seemed to be the return of Nick Swisher, who has not played well, but has added his usual clubhouse presence to a team that looked unengaged throughout April.
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- The Indians rotation is full of relatively unknown guys for the average baseball fan, but it is one of the best in the AL. Tell us more about the rotation and where would you rank it among the other top rotations in the league?
KP: There are some pretty good rotations in baseball right now, but I would still rank the Tribe’s as the best in the American League and behind only the Cardinals. The Rays are a pretty close second, but Corey Kluber is leading all of baseball in strikeouts, and three other Tribe starters – Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer – are all in the top-15 in K’s the American League. Heading into his Wednesday start, hitters were batting just .210 off of Bauer, who also had one of the top-15 ERAs in the AL, at 2.94. Bauer got knocked around on Wednesday, but even the best starters are bound to have bad days.
When a team has four flame-throwing strikeout machines in their rotation, it gives the club a very good chance to win every single game. Marcum has filled in nicely as the fifth starter, balancing out the rotation with some veteran leadership. The Indians’ first four pitchers are all young, inexpensive and under team control – meaning the Tribe’s rotation is going to be good for quite a while.
- Catcher Yan Gomes recently came back from the disabled list and initially the Indians didn’t want him to catch back-to-back days. Has he begun catching consecutive days? How has he been with his recovery?
Gomes is finally starting to heat up again. After a week of catching in back-to-back games and then receiving a day off, the Indians finally let him catch three days in a row against the Orioles last weekend, knowing there would be an off-day on Monday.
He’s struggled a little at the plate, batting .222/.242/.349 on the season (heading into Wednesday’s game), but in Tuesday’s game against the Mariners, he smashed two home runs to the deepest part of the ballpark. Gomes is one of the biggest keys to a successful season for the Indians, so if Rajai Davis can avoid causing another home plate collision this weekend, the Indians would be eternally grateful!
- I read a story about Mike Aviles‘ daughter having cancer and how the Indians are bonding by shaving their heads in support. Even the owner recently shaved his head. Tell us more about this story. What else is being done to support Aviles’ daughter?
KP: Every once in a while, something tragic happens to remind us that players are people, too, with families and complex lives outside of the stadium. This is certainly one of those moments. As you mentioned, almost everyone on the team shaved their heads – even players like pitcher Josh Tomlin, who is well-known for his long hair and hasn’t spent much time with the team due to an injury. Owner Paul Dolan and GM Chris Antonetti participated as well. In addition to what the team is doing to show their support, Indians fans started a campaign to collect cards and other small gifts, which were given to the Tribe to share with Adriana. Everyone is hoping for a happy ending to this story.
- Cleveland recently called up third base prospect Giovanny Urshela, and he hit a home run in Thursday’s victory. What more can you tell us about him?
Jun 10, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela (39) hits an RBI ground out during the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
KP: The Indians sent Opening Day shortstop Jose Ramirez and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall to Triple-A on Sunday, after both of them struggled at the plate in the early part of the season. Ramirez and Chisenhall were really expected to be a huge part of the team, and they played horribly, but Urshela is one of the top ranked prospects in their system. Urshela made his debut on Tuesday, and Detroit can expect to see him this weekend. He was hitting .275/.301/.475 with three home runs in Columbus.
- The AL Central is about as competitive as everyone expected. The Twins, Royals and Tigers are all above .500 and in the race. Can the Indians still make a push towards the playoffs and/or win the AL Central?
KP: Absolutely! The bad news for the Tribe is that – as usual – they dug themselves into an early hole, and now they have to rely on other teams playing poorly if they want to gain control of the division. The good news is that the Tigers and Royals both slumped recently… and the Twins have to stop playing well sometime, right? Maybe the entire division fooled themselves into thinking Minnesota was a pushover team, but they certainly aren’t as good as they have been so far this year.
Similarly, the Indians aren’t nearly as terrible as they seemed a month ago. That said, the Tigers are getting Justin Verlander back, which will make them a much tougher opponent. It’s going to be rough, but the Indians can do it if everyone stays healthy. Regardless of how the year started, the AL Central still might be the most competitive division in baseball.