Friday, May 6, 2011

Are the Cleveland Indians For Real?

The 2011 Major League Baseball season is only a month old, and there have already been a ton of surprises.  The mediocrity of the Boston Red Sox, the emergence of the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins; however, no team has surprised quite like the Cleveland Indians.

When I made my preseason predictions, I had the Indians pegged for a last place finish, and 104 losses.  Aside from Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona, I could not name another member of their starting rotation.  The team was patched together with journeymen like Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan, one-time top prospects like Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley who have yet to live up to the hype.  However, through the first month of the campaign, everything has come together.

Currently the Indians have the best record in all of baseball, sitting atop the AL Central with a 20-9 record.  They also have baseball's best run differential at +49.  They have a well-balanced attack, as they are 3rd in the AL with a 3.35 ERA.  Their offense has been mighty powerful, as they are 7th in baseball in runs, 5th in homers, and 2nd in on-base percentage.  The Indians aren't squeaking past teams; they are pounding them.

A popular topic of Indians baseball were the failed trades of all-world pitchers Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia.  Well Carlos Carrasco, acquired for Lee, has become a decent back-end starter, posting a 4.97 ERA so far this season.  Two players acquired for Sabathia, first baseman/outfielder Matt Laporta, and outfielder Michael Brantley have been stalwarts thus far.  Brantley has hit .317/.402/.396, while walking more than he strikes out. LaPorta is slugging .500, with 4 HR's and 16 RBI's.  Even guys like Travis Hafner and the oft-injured Grady Sizemore have enjoyed an early season renaissance.

The pitching staff is led currently by Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin.  Masterson, acquired for Victor Martinez, looks like a an early season Cy Young candidate, posting a perfect 5-0 record, with a 2.25 ERA.  Josh Tomlin has been equally as effective, with a 4-1 record, and a 2.43 ERA, to go with an outstanding 0.81 WHIP.

The Indians remind me of the 2010 Padres.  A team that no one expected to contend, yet keeps trucking along.  Unlike the Padres, the Indians are hitting, but many of them are playing well above their career averages, and the question is, can the Indians sustain this fast start?

Honestly, they could.  The universal favorites, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are playing awful, and look extremely flawed.  The Royals are in the mix, but they are likely to fade.  As crazy as it sounds, the Indians are legitimate playoff contenders

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