Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cleveland Indians Becoming the Surprise Team in the AL Central

Cleveland Indians baseball display case
For a team that usually struggles to an average record year after year, the Cleveland Indians have been the surprise of the season through the first 35 games 2013. After a predictably rough star to the year, the Indians have improved greatly. On a current hot streak, the Tribe has won 13 of their last 16 games, and has pushed to within just a half game of the AL Central lead. How has this team that was supposed to be in a rebuilding year with a new manager completed what seems to be such a remarkably quick turnaround?
It all started with the acquisition of manager Terry Francona, mastermind of 2 World Series Championships for the Boston Red Sox. Overcoming the Curse of the Bambino, Francona built a dynasty in Boston around players like Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez. But having since moved on from that club, Francona has now taken the reigns in Cleveland and looks like he may have a shot at working similar magic for the Indians.
Francona orchestrated a general house cleaning, ridding the Indians of familiar faces like Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo. However, these players have been replaced by quite a few well-known stars. Among the new members of the Tribe are Michael Bourn, Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and Scott Kazmir. These players have had a mixed bag of success, as any low-market team like the Indians will discover with their signings. But the Indians are winning right now, and with holdover players like Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson, and Zach McAllister performing well, they could be on to more success, especially if the bats of the newcomers can warm up.
Indians fans will be cautious about getting excited over this new-look team. Past seasons have begun well to peak interest, only for the team to suffer from mid-summer swoons and fade away into the obscurity of the AL Central.
Another problem for the Tribe this year will be division rival, the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers reached the World Series last season but were abused and swept by the San Francisco Giants. However, that experience seemingly forced the team’s hand into bringing in a powerful hitter and former Gold Glove winner in Torii Hunter. Although Hunter has just a single home run on the season, his .333 batting average is strong. Additionally, the team that houses superstars like Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Justin Verlander is also having a solid start to the year and currently lead the AL Central with a 21-15 record. For the Indians to overcome such a strong team and clinch the division would be quite the tall ask, even as they are within touching distance so far this year.
But if there’s one thing that suggests this could be a playoff year for the Indians, it is the fact they seem to have luck on their side. Last week, the Indians were gifted a horrendous non home-run call that would have seen the Oakland Athletics tie a game in the 9th inning with a Adam Rosales home run. Wrongly ruled a double, the Indians got a free win. If good fortune keeps going the Indians’ way, they might be in the mix come October.
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