Cleveland and Baltimore are playoff contenders, but not because of their men on the mound.
The Thursday Takeaway
If there is one thing that stands between the 2013 Indians and the organization’s first postseason berth since 2007, it is a lack of dependable pitching.
The Tribe entered play on Thursday ranked fifth in the majors in runs scored and sixth in True Average, a considerable improvement from last year, when Cleveland placed 22nd and 18th, respectively, in those categories. The Indians’ fielding also has been markedly better this year than it was in 2012, enough to bump their park-adjusted defensive efficiency up from 24th to 12th in the league. Unfortunately, while the pitching is on the right track—with the team’s ERA down from 4.78 to 4.38—it still ranks near the bottom of the pack (27th).
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The Situation: Where others have tried and failed, 23-year-old Dominican pitcher Danny Salazar will attempt to step into the Indians rotation as a rookie and stake his claim at the highest level. The promotion might be seen as a surprise to some, but Salazar has been shoving it in the upper minors and has the mental fortitude to make the jump.
Background: Salazar was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 and started his slow climb up the professional ranks, logging 25 starts at the complex level before making the jump to full-season ball in 2009. The production was hit and miss. The electricity of the arm showed up but he was more often than not unable to harness it or find consistent utility of his secondary offerings. His career veered off course in 2010, when his elbow decided to have a sad and require Tommy John surgery, which basically ruined the better part of two seasons and cost the young arm valuable developmental time. Salazar returned healthy and his powerful fastball was not only lively but under more control than ever before, and the secondary offerings, especially the slider, were flashing above-average potential. Building on a strong recovery season, 2012 was the big step forward for the 6’0’’ righty, as he pitched his way to the Double-A level and put himself firmly on the prospect map, ranking sixth on the Baseball Prospectus Indians’ Top 10 list after the season. Another developmental step forward in 2013 has put Salazar on major-league soil, and the continued refinement of his command and improvement to his changeup can take a lot of the credit for the rapid rise.
Detroit reasserts its dominance in the AL Central.
The Monday Takeaway
Two days before their scheduled return home to welcome the Tigers, the Indians earned a 6-5, series-opening victory over the Royals to move into first place in the American League Central, a perch they had not held since May 23. The Tribe snuck up on a scuffling Tigers squad that had lost six of seven, bouncing all the way back from its own eight-game skid in early June.
Over the last four days, though, Jim Leyland’s club has reasserted its strength, ensuring that the Indians’ stay atop the standings would be a short one. The Tigers won the first two games of the four-game set at Progressive Field, running the home team’s losing streak to four contests and their own winning streak to five. A 9-6 victory on Sunday gave the Indians a chance to salvage a series split on Monday night, which would have left them just 1 ½ games behind first-place Detroit.
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The Indians have returned to contention in 2013, six years after the 2007 edition of the team won 96 games and appeared to be starting an extended run of success. In 2007, Kevin Goldstein took a look at how that last winning Indians team was assembled in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "Future Shock" column on October 16, 2007.
Given the Indians' early-season propensity to tattoo starters, fantasy owners should be wary of using pitchers that are facing them.
With the completion of Monday’s slate of games, we are officially one-sixth of the way through the season, as every team has played at least 28 games, or 17 percent of its allotted 162. Exactly half of the league has actually hit the one-fifth mark, having played 20 percent of its games, but the Twins and Royals finished off the first sixth of their seasons on Monday. We have also turned the calendar on the season’s first month, and the accumulation of data from that month is giving us some useful information.
For example, did you know that the Oakland Athletics lead all of baseball with 174 runs? They have 10 more runs than the Detroit Tigers and Colorado Rockies, who sit tied for second with 164 (because 174-10 = 164!). The A’s also have three more games played than the Tigers and two more than the Rockies. That doesn’t diminish their runs-scored achievement, but it does send them to the bottom of that trio when you look at runs per game: The Tigers have 5.47, the Rockies 5.29, and the A’s 5.27. Sitting eighth in total runs scored are the Cleveland Indians.
At the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, the Indians introduce a new sort of sabermetrics, without some of the usual secrecy.
Among the attendees of the second annual SABR Analytics Conference, which took place in Phoenix this past Thursday through Saturday, were statistical analysts from several clubs; some whose names you’d know from Baseball Prospectus or other sabermetric sites, and others who’ve kept a lower public profile. But with the exception of Bill James, whose stature is such that he can continue to play a public role even from the inside, the team statheads weren’t at SABR to take part in panels or present PowerPoint slides. They were there to keep their eyes and ears open for any ideas or developments that might give their employers an edge.
They sat silently in the back rows of conference rooms, or clustered together outside the exits with other delegates from their own clubs, talking quietly or sending messages back to base with their omnipresent phones. Occasionally, one team’s cluster would meet and merge with another’s, chatting amiably like less athletic versions of opposing players crossing paths before first pitch. But even (or especially) among their own kind, their words were guarded: they talked shop without citing specifics. As Zachary Levinewrote last week after returning from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, team employees tell few tales.
While Ben had a few things to say about Game 5 of the 1948 World Series, I recently listened to the full two-hour broadcast of Game 1 of the same series, a tight pitcher's duel between Bob Feller and Johnny Sain. Even for a game played when Jackie Robinson was the reigning Rookie of the Year, the game, at one-hour and forty-two minutes long, was a speedy affair. By contrast, Game 1 of the 2012 World Series between Justin Verlander and Barry Zito lasted three-hours and 26-minutes.
The routes the White Sox and Tigers have taken to contention in the AL Central are completely different.
The Indians, if for a fleeting moment last Thursday night, seemed to have seized the type of momentum that might vault them to the top of the American League Central standings. Trailing the visiting Tigers and Justin Verlander, 3-1, in the seventh inning, the Indians struck for four runs, including back-to-back home runs from catcher Carlos Santana and designated hitter Travis Hafner, two players Indians manager Manny Acta said needed to increase their production during his pre-game meeting with the media, and went on to a stunning 5-3 victory.