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Notes From the Wigwam: Indians control their own destiny

The Indians are in the driver's seat as they begin final week of regular season

Notes From the Wigwam: Indians control their own destiny
September 23, 2013
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We've officially reached the stretch run.

With just six games left to play in the 2013 MLB season, the Cleveland Indians' record sits at 86-70, and the team is in possession of one of the two Wild Card spots.

Texas is close behind as the Rangers trail the Indians by just 1 ½ games.

The Tribe will face the Chicago White Sox twice this week before they head to Minnesota to face the Twins in a crucial four-game series that will close out the season. While it may be a cliché, the reality is that the Indians do in fact control their own destiny. As long as the team takes care of business this week, they will be in the postseason.

Of course, the Indians' current strong position has a lot to do with this past week, which was a week that saw the Indians go 5-2 and gain significant ground in the Wild Card race.

With that being said, let's take one look back at the week that was as the Indians prepare to begin the most important stretch of their entire season...

Weekly Results

September 16 at Kansas City, L 7-1 (WP: Shields, LP: Kazmir)

September 17 at Kansas City, W 5-3 (WP: Allen, LP: Davis)

September 18 at Kansas City, L 7-2 (WP: Chen, LP: Salazar)

September 19 vs. Houston, W 2-1 (WP: Shaw, LP: Cruz)

September 20 vs. Houston, W 2-1 (WP: McAllister, LP: Oberholtzer)

September 21 vs. Houston, W 4-1 (WP: Kazmir, LP: Clemens)

September 22 vs. Houston, W 9-2 (WP: Kluber, LP: Bedard)

Player of the Week

Michael Brantley — Left fielder

7 G, 11-for-26, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K

Very few Indians are more consistent than Dr. Smooth, and he proved that even further this past week. The left-handed hitting Brantley is currently in the midst of seven-game hit streak, which started this past Monday against Kansas City. Brantley can certainly endure his fair share of ups-and-downs at the plate, but at the end of the day, the reality is that there are very few offensive players on the Indians that match his level of consistency. Brantley had one of his best performances of the year on Sunday against the Astros. In that contest, he collected three hits and also managed to drive in a pair of runs. Brantley is not thought to be much of a run producer, but here we are at the end of September, and he now has 68 total RBI, which is not bad for a player that really does not possess much power. If the Indians do indeed manage to hold on to their playoff spot this week, you can probably bet that Brantley will play a big part in that. Also, if the team does make the playoffs, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Brantley could be one of the catalysts that will ultimately determine how far the team goes. He's certainly taken on that role all season long, and that was definitely evident this past week.

A Rough Week

Jason Kipnis — Second baseman

7 G, 5-for-27, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K

While Brantley has been the model of consistency for the Indians, that unfortunately has not been the case for Kipnis. Kipnis' second-half slump continued during this past week as the left-handed hitting infielder collected just two hits in 27 at-bats. Overall, Kipnis is hitting just .243 in the second half after he hit .301 in the first half of the season. Kipnis' struggles have been magnified in September as he owns a .239 average for the month. There are a few theories that can be applied to Kipnis' struggles. Perhaps he is just tiring, which would make sense, especially when you consider the grind that is a full Major League season. The other theory is that Kipnis and his numbers may just be evening out as it was probably unrealistic to expect him to hit .300 for a full Major League season. Regardless, it is imperative that Kipnis begins to turn things around at the plate. He is arguably the most complete offensive player on the entire roster, and the team is definitely going to need him if they're to have any chance of making some noise in the playoffs. Whatever is going on with Kipnis, the bottom line is that he is going to have to get things figured out sooner rather than later.

Standout Stat

6

With their win over the Houston Astros Sunday, the Indians completed their sixth four-game sweep of the season. According to STATS, the Indians are the first team since the 1961 New York Yankees to sweep six four-game series in a single season.

News & Notes

— Ubaldo Jimenez had his latest impressive outing this past week as the right-hander allowed just one run across seven innings to lead the Indians to a 2-1 win over the Houston Astros. Jimenez also continued to show off his impressive strikeout stuff as he recorded nine punchouts in the contest. The numbers just continue to get better and better for Jimenez, who now has a 1.77 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star Break. The Indians have Jimenez lined up to start Tuesday's contest against the Chicago White Sox, and he's also in line to start Sunday's regular season finale against Minnesota Twins. By all accounts, this is a tremendous move as there's really no one that the Indians would probably rather have out there in a key situation than Jimenez. Additionally, this allows the team some flexibility down the stretch. If the Tribe is fortunate enough to already clinch a postseason spot before Sunday's game against the Twins, then they can simply decide to hold off on starting Jimenez until that playoff game. Regardless of what does happen, it's clear that Jimenez is going to play a crucial role in what the Indians ultimately accomplish in the coming days and weeks. In fact, he's already played a crucial role in the team getting this far.

— Right-hander Corey Kluber made two starts this past week, but it does appear as if he's just not yet himself since returning from the disabled list. Kluber, who missed time with a sprained middle finger, just has not provided the length that we had become accustomed to before he got hurt, and he also seems to be allowing a greater number of runs. This past week, Kluber pitched a total of 10 innings and allowed five earned runs. So far, since returning from the disabled list, Kluber has a 4.05 ERA in four starts and a total of 15 strikeouts in 20 innings of work. The numbers are certainly not bad by any means, but they're not in line with the type of performances Kluber was routinely having before he got hurt. Right-hander Zach McAllister seems to be going through a similar type of thing as he has a 4.34 ERA in 12 starts since he came off the disabled list. With this team now on the verge of a playoff appearance, it's imperative that at least one of these two players go out and regain the consistency that they displayed prior to coming down with the sprained middle finger injury. If the Indians are fortunate to make it past the Wild Card playoff game, there will be plenty of questions as to what kind of rotation the team will put out there for the American League Divisional Series. We obviously know that Jimenez would be a lock, and now there even seems as if there's a chance that Danny Salazar could be in the rotation. However, beyond that, one has to wonder who the Tribe will pick out of the bunch of Kluber, McAllister and Scott Kazmir? A month and a half ago, the answer to that question would have definitely been Kluber, but it's not a sure thing anymore.

— There seemed to be some angst from the Indians' fanbase during this past year's trade deadline as many believed the team did not make a strong move to significantly improve the club. However, that may not necessarily be true as left-hander Marc Rzepczynski has definitely helped stabilize the bullpen and become the left-handed option that this team so desperately missed. Rzepczynski logged four more scoreless appearances this past week and he now sports a 1.04 ERA in 22 games and 17 1/3 innings of work with the Indians. The nice thing about Rzepczynski is that he is a player that is as much a part of the present as he is a part of the future. He is not eligible for free agency until 2016, so he can serve as the team's primary left-handed specialist for the foreseeable future. The importance of that role can also not be understated as many fans may remember how valuable Rafael Perezwas to this team during its last playoff run in 2007. In fact, the Indians have really struggled with finding a player to replace Perez since his injury struggles that began in 2012, but it now appears as if they have found their guy in Rzepczynski. The other nice thing to note about Rzepczynski is that he does have major playoff experience as he played a key role in the St. Louis Cardinals 2011 World Series win. When you consider all of these factors, it's clear that the move for Rzepczynski may have been one of the more underrated moves made by any team at July's trade deadline.

— Scott Kazmir had his latest dazzling start for the Indians this past week as the left-hander struck out 10 batters across seven shutout innings to lead the Indians to a 4-1 win over the Astros. This was especially nice to see as the outing follows two up-and-down performances by Kazmir in which he allowed four runs in each contest. Kazmir has been a bit of an enigma this season as he has not pitched a full Major League season since 2010, yet here he now sits with a 4.14 ERA after 28 starts and 152 innings of work. Kazmir's strikeout stuff has been especially impressive this year as the left-hander is striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. However, perhaps even more impressive is how his control has dramatically improved. Kazmir is walking just 2.7 batters per nine innings, which is a career high and noticeably lower than any walk rate that Kazmir has posted at any other point of his career. The one knock with Kazmir seems to be that for every great start, he has a couple mediocre to average ones. He seems to be either really good or just really average. When he is good though, he does pitch like a top-flight left-handed starter, so the team is definitely fortunate that they've had him in the fold this season. It will be interesting to see what happens after this season, but a case can definitely be made that the Indians should do what they can to keep Kazmir a part of the starting rotation moving forward.

Quick Hits

— Justin Masterson is expected to return from the disabled list in a bullpen capacity. It's expected that the big right-hander could be available as early as tomorrow when the Indians begin a two-game series against the White Sox.

— With his innings total at 46 2/3, Danny Salazar is quickly approaching the 50-inning mark, which would mean he would lose his designation as a rookie for next season.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

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