Given that the last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series was 1948, Northeast Ohio baseball fans are starved for a winner. There have been stretches over the last 65 years when the Indians have been pretty darned good, only to lose in the World Series, so they haven’t been as futile as the Cubs. But they’re starting to move into the same ballpark, so to speak.
Sick of the same, Indians management spent the off-season spending. New manager Terry Francona was hired. New players were lured to Cleveland to take over the batting order. The guys controlling the purse strings loosened them and made an effort to remake the whole team and shed the loser image.
So far it is working. Since Francona presided at the helm when the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 (and 2007) World Series, one might be suspicious that he has used up his quota of baseball miracles, but the Indians were willing to take that chance. If Francona can bring a World Series crown to the shore of Lake Erie, becoming a two-team streak-buster, then the gates to the Hall of Fame should swing open for him.
Granted, it’s a little early for all of that, but the Indians surely do appear to be having more fun than they have had in about a decade and they are more entertaining to watch. Entering Wednesday’s play Cleveland was 26-18 and in first place in the American League Central Division. The Indians may not even be able to outlast the Detroit Tigers for the division crown, but they are playing good ball and could be a playoff team without capturing the division.
One recent game that illustrates the new-look Indians took place three days ago against the Seattle Mariners. Cleveland won, 6-4. Justin Masterson raised his record to 7-2 while striking out 11 batters and looked like one of the top hurlers in the AL. In addition, Cleveland and Masterson defeated Seattle ace Felix Hernandez.
The King is far more likely to pitch a shutout than to be driven out of a game before five innings are up, but Cleveland accomplished the task. After this game outfielder-turned-first baseman Nick Swisher said, “Things are rocking.” Whether Swisher’s subconscious was on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame situated in Cleveland or he was making a conscious quip, he was right.
Swisher was one of those off-season hires that the Indians made rich with a long-term contract. He spent the last four years with the Yankees, but as someone who attended Ohio State this was coming home. At the moment he is batting .274.
The Indians have been playing well as a team. They are not clobbering foes with killer bats, nor are they overpowering them with blistering fastballs. They have been solid. Leftfielder Michael Brantley is hitting .300 and rightfielder Ryan Raburn is hitting .299. Centerfielder Michael Bourn is back from injury and is hitting .314. Catcher Carlos Santana is batting .290. One player who has given the hitters a lift over the season’s first quarter is slugger Mark Reynolds. The designated hitter has ripped 12 home runs and driven in 37. Yeah, he still strikes out at an average of once a game, but in-between he has been mashing the ball.
Cleveland does not have a collection of household names in the rotation. Masterson is at the head of the class, but otherwise the rest of the crew is muddling through. Zach McAllister has a 2.65 earned run average, but Francona is still waiting for Ubaldo Jimeniz and Scott Kazmir to pull their acts together. Trevor Bauer, 22, is being eased into the rotation full-time. Closer Chris Perez is holding things together in the bullpen with his 16 saves.
The pieces are starting to jell and the Indians look promising. It’s premature to start thinking World Series, but it’s not crazy to say Cleveland has a good shot at a playoff spot.