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Joe Nelson - Blogs

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PRETENDER OR CONTENDER: CLEVELAND INDIANS

By Joe Nelson
Posted 07/19/2013 at 11:38 PM

Cleveland has been an exciting team with some of the better scoring numbers in the AL and surprisingly staying within contact with Detroit in the AL Central – just 1.5 games out heading into the weekend. Cleveland is only six games above .500 and just +24 in run differential after game 1 of the second half but the Indians have done enough to live up to the sleeper status that some appointed in spring training. Only four teams have scored more runs than Cleveland and the starting pitching has shown some promise with improvement from Ubaldo Jimenez and unexpected solid results from Scott Kazmir and Corey Kluber.
 
Cleveland’s biggest issues have been in the bullpen and on defense. Chris Perez has returned to the closing role with some early success but the depth of bullpen is poor, particularly with Rich Hill and his high ERA being the lone left-handed option. Cleveland has the eighth worst bullpen ERA in baseball and only the Cubs and Diamondbacks have more blown save opportunities this season. Cleveland is actually 17-12 in games decided by relievers despite the problems but adding a left-handed reliever needs to be a priority at the trade deadline if the Indians are serious about being in playoff contention.
 
The downfall for Cleveland is likely going to be a marginal defense. The Indians are 19th in baseball in errors but that does not tell the whole story. The first game after the break is a perfect example of the deficiency as the Indians wasted a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 against the Twins in a game where Minnesota had very few hard hit balls. Cleveland had two errors in the game but a few other misplays that proved to be costly. Asdrubal Cabrera made a foolish throw to third base which allowed the tying run to advance to second and then with the next batter Drew Stubbs took an extremely conservative run at a weak fly ball, allowing it to drop in to tie the game. Both are key examples of plays that good defensive teams would have handled better.
 
Cleveland leads MLB in wild pitches and has had several defensive mishaps that have not always shown up as errors but have helped opponents to move into scoring position or get extra outs. The Cleveland lineup has a lot of potential and with Justin Masterson emerging as a true ace and the rest of the rotation looking good enough to compete in a weak division the Indians have the chance to stick around. Knowing that the AL West will almost certainly take at least one wild card team and the AL East also has several strong contenders it looks likely that the Indians could experience another second half fade however and end up outside of the playoff picture as Detroit can certainly play better than they have and is a strong candidate to start to pull away.

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