Some observations on the division-leading Cleveland Indians
The fact that the Indians are in first place at this point is a pleasant combination of two factors: They are playing well in one of baseball’s weakest divisions, and the Tigers are off to a slow start. That the Indians are in the AL Central matters not. They are winning the games they have been assigned, and they are in first. That the Tigers are struggling is relevant. A year ago, Detroit started 15-18 and the Indians started 21-10. At year’s end Detroit ran away with the division. Just as it’s not proper to react to a poor first four games, it’s not proper to make judgments after 28 games. Except that it’s enjoyable to be in first place, no matter if it’s eight or 28 games.
—The Indians have scored 128 runs, which is seventh in the league. They have given up 124, which is a run differential of four runs. Run differential is considered a valid indicator of a team’s strength. A plus-four run differential indicates a team is slightly better than average.
–What accounts for the Indians 17-11 record then? They have won seven-of-eight one-run games, which is a credit to clutch hitting, managing and clutch pitching. If this one-run record evens out over the course of a season, the Indians record may also even out.
—Casey Kotchman is hitting .167. Is this a concern? Consider that in 2009 he hit .218 and in 2010 he hit .217. In nine major league seasons, he’s hit over .280 four times. But in three of the past four seasons – including this one – he’s been under .220. Matt LaPorta is hitting well in Columbus, but he seems like a classic AAAA player – too good for AAA, not good enough for the majors.
— Derek Lowe has been invaluable with a 4-1 record and a 2.39 ERA. But he’s done it despite giving up more hits than innings pitched, and more walks than strikeouts. Justin Masterson has really struggled. Is Lowe that good? Is Masterson’s 2011 a mirage (he did go 7-20 with a 4.74 ERA in 2009 and 2010)? That’s the beauty of the 162-game schedule. It will even out.
—Why is Cleveland winning? It leads the league in walks, ranks third in on-base percentage and is seventh in runs. The pitching staff has given up the fewest home runs in the league, and the bullpen leads the league in saves. And Detroit has not gotten it together. The Tigers may emerge as the team everyone expected to see before the season ends. That seems likely, given the lineup. A year ago, Detroit won 61 of its final 100 games. But it may not. There is a reason people say lineups on paper mean nothing. It’s a trite cliché (as if there’s another kind), but you have to play the games.