Second Thoughts Game #32: Indians 9, A’s 2
It's all aboard the bandwagon after a four-game sweep
It’s been nearly four years since Scott Kazmir last struck out 10 batters in a game. To put that in context, a teenager who was just starting college back then—August 26, 2009, to be exact—could conceivably be preparing for his graduation this weekend. That’s an awful lot of space between two bookends.
But before we get back to the phoenix that is the Tribe’s veteran southpaw, it’s probably a good a time as any to assess whether this red hot Indians club—winners of 10 of 11—is indeed more worthy of a bandwagon jump than the Tribe squads that showed similar sparks the past two seasons, only to collapse in a heap by early August. Rather than debate the subject in thoughtful detail, however, I’m just going to answer my own question with a succinct, “yes.”
All Aboard the Bandwagon!
If you’ll recall, even when those aforementioned Manny Acta teams were near the top of the standings, the statistics generally told a different story. Cleveland had a solid bullpen, but the sticks and starting pitching generally fell somewhere in the middle of the pack in most of the critical categories. This is why many fans balked at the Ubaldo Jimenez trade in 2011, feeling Shaponetti had overestimated just how close that club was to being a legitimate contender.
Flash forward to this season and it’s readily apparent that Terry Francona’s team has not required the same smoke and mirrors Acta often relied upon to win ballgames. Okay, so maybe sometimes a horrendous call by an umpire comes in handy. But for the most part, even a cursory glance at the current “American League Team Leaders” would lead one to presume—without even seeing the standings—that the Cleveland Indians are having a fine season.
After completing this four-game sweep of the Athletics (the first such occurrence in Cleveland since Manny Ramirez inspired a “wow” out of Dennis Eckersley back in ’95), the Tribe now ranks #1 in the AL in homeruns (up to 49 with 3 more dingers in this game), #1 in OPS (.809), #2 in batting average (.271), and perhaps more surprisingly, #1 in opponents’ batting average against (.227).
Of course, stats like that can fluctuate as easily as the standings can, but again, if there is one reason to go “all in” and just surrender to a summer of optimism this year, it’s this team’s remarkably improved depth. So far this season, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, and just about everybody else outside of Drew Stubbs has had to miss some time with one minor injury or another. In such instances, the team has been virtually unfazed—instantly repairing any apparent vulnerabilities like a cold-blooded T-1000.
The same goes for the bullpen, where Joe Smith, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen (who worked brilliantly out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam in this game) are already filling in admirably for the DL-bound Vinnie Pestano.
Long story short, if your team is built to endure the inevitable pains and strains of a 162 game season, your odds of being in the hunt come September improve astronomically.
! of the Day: Scott Kazmir
Pretty much a no-brainer here. Despite the Tribe battering around old chum Bartolo Colon all afternoon, it was Kazmir’s outstanding effort that has revived the Spring Training feel-good story we all nearly abandoned a couple weeks ago. After a DL stint and horrible first outing, Kazmir looked like he might wind up back in the Independent League after all. Instead, each subsequent outing has shown tremendous improvement from the previous one. Against Oakland, Kazmir looked less like a reclamation project and more like the smooth operator who led the league in strikeouts back in 2007. Even the radar gun went retro on him, hitting a high mark of 95 MPH.
Unfortunately, the hard part with catching lightning in a bottle is keeping it in there. But for at least one afternoon, the Indians had a version of Scott Kazmir that opposing hitters had long since presumed they’d seen the last of.
? of the Day: Michael Bourn
As the Tribe’s high priced leadoff man prepares to make his return this weekend, one can imagine he is chomping at the bit to join in the fun his team’s been enjoying in his absence. It’d be foolish to consider the return of an All-Star caliber player a potential “problem,” but there will certainly be a domino effect as it concerns the line-up and playing time.
The most obvious change will be Drew Stubbs returning from his center field comfort zone to right field, and Michael Brantley dropping down as low as the #7 spot in the order. As for the odd men out, reigning AL Player of the Week Ryan Raburn and grizzled greybeard Jason Giambi will likely see their ABs cut down the most in the weeks ahead. Francona has shown an excellent knack for keeping all the playing time plates spinning, however, so it’s safe to assume we’ll rarely see the same one-through-nine more than two days in a row.