Quote thou just about any decently competitive sports coach, "it's not how you start, it's how you finish." Though they are not close to the finish line, the meat of the baseball season reuben sandwich, otherwise known as summer, officially begins on June 21st.
A successful 162 game season is built from the bottom up, but at least the Cleveland Indians already have a concrete foundation. Having the best record in the American League, and a five game lead on their closest A.L Central competitor two months into the season stands them a pretty good shot of post season play. But that conversation will be irrelevant if they don't elevate their play just like the mid-summer temperatures. My conscience and I got into a debate about the Tribe yet again.
Q: So, how about them Indians?
A: Yes, how about them Indians. You can actually say that this time, since the last time we spoke at the end of last year, they didn't do well. They got hot to end the season, but still lost 90 some games. That won't happen this year.
Q: Are you sure?
A: It is almost statistically impossible at this point. They are 33-22. Baring any cataclysms, it just isn't going to happen. This year is different.
Q: Wait; is ‘next year' finally here? This year is different? How come?
A: Truthfully, I don't really know. There is just something about that team, something about Progressive Field that hasn't been around since the mid to late 90's and has been bestowed upon the Indians once again. You can feel it in the air, and see it in the eyes of the players. And as an Indians enthusiast, it feels good.
Q: As it should, of course. Why are they doing so well?
A: Almost every single game, someone else steps up to the plate and makes a mammoth contribution; which means that they are playing as a team. That is what winning organizations are made of. They can rely on several guys to come through in the clutch to help them win games.
Q: They can rely on multiple players, huh...really. Do you suppose they can rely on youngsters such as Jack Hannahan, Michael Brantley, and Josh Tomlin to get them through their expected slumps? Am I suppose to believe that?
A: That, my friend, is the million dollar question. This is why I think that this summer is going to be the most exciting summer since 2007. We have scene what this team has done in the early going. But down the stretch is a different story. This team is still young, but very talented in a few critical areas of the field and everyone is going to want to see what they can do when something is actually on the line.
Q: What would be on the line?
A: First place in the American League Central. That, most likely, is the only way the Indians will make it to the playoffs come October. Because you know the Wild Card spot is coming out of the East.
Q: It always comes out of the East. Every year since 2006 that has been the final outcome.
A: I know, and it's terrible. There were, and are some good teams in other divisions. But Boston and New York with their powerhouse lineups and profound pitching staffs have always found a grand entrance into October. In 2008 and 2010 when one of those teams didn't make it, the Rays were able to patch something together to sneak in.
Q: So do any American League teams stand a chance if they don't win the division?
A: Sure they do. Boston's lethargic start caught even the most pessimistic by surprise, and the rust of the Yankee's aging team is starting to secrete; prime example being Derek Jeter. Yet he is leading all shortstops in the All-Star voting, which is ludicrous.
Q: Well then who should be leading vote getter among shortstops?
A: Funny you should ask. He plays for the Indians.
Q: Asdrbual Cabrera? Isn't he the slick fielding shortstop who can't hit?
A: Not any more.
Q: What has he done?
A: A lot of things that Indians legend Omar Vizquel couldn't do, from an offensive standpoint. He is leading AL shortstops in hits, second in doubles, leading the league in home runs with 10 (ex-Tribe hand Jhonny Peralta is on his tail with 8) and no one even comes in the same area code in the RBI department.
Q: How many does he have?
A: Thirty nine. Thirty nine! If he prolongs that pace for the remainder of the season, he will be close to 120. That is a ton of runs produced, for any player, let alone a short stop. He is virtually a lock for the All-Star game, but as the back up unfortunately.
Q: Do the Indians have any other All-Star worthy players?
A: In my opinion, or the fans opinion? Because those are two different things. I think a few should get in; whether they will is another topic. Jorge Posada, having a putrid season, has more votes than Travis Hafner. Justin Masterson went 5-0 in April, but his 0-3 month of May isn't helping his case. Closer Chris Perez is close, but not quite an elite reliever yet. Josh Tomlin might be the lead candidate for the Tribe.
Q: So what can we expect from here on out?
A: I'd say that they will continue to play well, though Detroit is breathing down their neck. The Indians need to win games against division opponents. If the situation presents itself, GM Chris Antonetti will open his pocket book and acquire some help via trade if need be. But stay tuned to this team, their solid record isn't going anywhere soon, though there is still a lot of work to be done if they get to where everyone wants them to be.