Notes from the Wigwam: Tribe moves into first place

Seven games. Six wins. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that kind of week any day.

With another outstanding week, the Cleveland Indians are now currently tied atop the standings of the American League Central with a 20-15 record. The Tribe has now won 15 of their past 20 games, and the wins have come in a variety of ways.

Pitching duels? Check. Offensive outbursts? Check. Ninth-inning comebacks? Check.

The Indians have been one of the most enjoyable teams to watch over these past two weeks, and perhaps the most exciting thing is the fact that statistics do seem to indicate that this team could be good for the long haul.

Under former manager Manny Acta, the Indians would have a number of spurts where they would play effectively, but the numbers always seemed to show that the Indians were not as good as their record indicated. For instance, in recent years, the Indians have been notoriously poor in run differential. However, the Tribe’s current run differential of +29 is the fourth best mark in the entire American League.

Of course, pitching has also played a key role in the team’s success. Aside from a 10-4 loss to the Tigers on Friday, the Indians’ staff was outstanding all week. With that being said, let’s recap the week that was…

Weekly results

May 6 vs. Oakland, W 7-3 (WP: Jimenez, LP: Parker)

May 7 vs. Oakland, W 1-0 (WP: McAllister, LP: Milone)

May 8 vs. Oakland, W 4-3 (WP: Masterson, LP: Griffin)

May 9 vs. Oakland, W 9-2 (WP: Kazmir, LP: Colon)

May 10 at Detroit, L 10-4 (WP: Scherzer, LP: Kluber)

May 11 at Detroit, W 7-6 (WP: Jimenez, LP: Verlander)

May 12 at Detroit, W 4-3 (WP: Smith, LP: Downs)

Player of the Week

Ubaldo Jimenez — Starting pitcher

2 GS, (2-0), 11.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R/ER, 2 HR, 4 BB, 16 K.

It’s hard to believe that Ubaldo Jimenez of all players is earning this honor, but after his performance this past week, he’s more than deserving of the distinction. Jimenez earned two wins to improve to 3-2 on the season with an ERA of 5.55. Of course, the ERA is heavily inflated because of a pair of early April outings where Jimenez allowed seven earned runs in consecutive starts. However, Jimenez has been effective since then as he’s only allowed a total of seven earned runs in four starts since. Is Jimenez back? Who knows, and it’s hard to make that determination yet. He has looked different on the mound as of late as he’s shown confidence, generated swings and misses and he has also not imploded like we have seen him do in the past. Prior to the start of the season, everyone knew that the Indians’ chances of contention rested on the starting rotation, and Jimenez is a big part of that. If he is indeed back then the Indians just got an enormous boost.

Minor League Player of the Week

Chun-Hsiu Chen — First baseman/Designated hitter, Akron Aeros

7 G, 8-for-25, 5 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K

Doesn’t it seem as if it’s about time for Chen to make the jump to Triple-A Columbus? Chen is currently playing in Akron for the third straight season, and the numbers do not disappoint. In 34 games, the right-handed hitter has gone 40-for-121 (.331). He’s also shown decent patience at the plate as he’s drawn 22 walks yet struck out 36 times. Chen was at his best this past week as he recorded a hit in every game he played, and he’s currently riding a seven-game hit streak. The knock on Chen in the past is that he does not have enough power. However, this past week Chen socked two home runs to bring his season total to six, which is one more than he hit in all of 2012 with the Aeros. It’s blatantly obvious that Chen is a Major League capable hitter. But where does he fit? Since he’s not the greatest defender and is really more of a designated hitter, it’s going to be hard for him to ever find much of a role in Cleveland. Though the Indians will be forced to find some kind of role for him if he continues to rake at this torrid pace. He currently has a line of .331/.435/.562. Whether it’s Double-A or not, it’s hard not to be impressed by that.

A rough week

Lonnie Chisenhall — Third baseman

5 G, 2-for-16, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 E.

At this point, it’s getting somewhat tiring to write about Chisenhall’s struggles. He only managed to record two hits this past week and manager Terry Francona also decided to sit the left-handed hitter on two occasions. Chisenhall is hitting just .213 (20-for-94) in 26 games this season, and he’s really struggled against left-handers as he’s gone just 2-for-22 in that department. It’s still a small sample size, but it’s hard to be encouraged by what we’ve seen so far. The Indians clearly feel the same way as they made the decision to option Chisenhall down to Triple-A Columbus earlier today. Chisenhall is still very young, so there is time for him to show growth, but for now it appears as if the Indians have decided that they’ve seen enough. It was evident that they were somewhat concerned as they had given starts at third base to both Mark Reynolds and Mike Aviles. The hope was that Chisenhall would make huge strides this year and cement himself as the team’s everyday third baseman, but there still seems to be huge question marks regarding whether Chisenhall is an everyday player period.

News & notes

— Let’s see a show of hands. Who’s still on the Corey Kluber bandwagon? Hmmm, no one? Isn’t it amazing how quickly things changed in regard to Kluber? Last week, Kluber made a very good start as he allowed just three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins. This of course was coming off an outing where he allowed just two earned runs in seven innings against the Kansas City Royals. However, Kluber came back to Earth this past Friday as he was shellacked by the Detroit Tigers for eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings of work. I am not implying that Kluber is necessarily a bad pitcher, but he’s just not much of a good one either. For him to be successful, he has to pound the strike zone with consistency, but he struggled in that area on Friday as he threw 91 pitches, but only 55 of them were strikes. Many of his balls were up in the zone, and Tigers’ hitters were able to tee off. The important thing to note is that Kluber is not much more than a depth option at this point. Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are both higher priority options. Kluber is nice because he can come in and make a spot start here and there, but as Friday indicated, this is not necessarily something the Indians want to make a habit of.

— How great was Zach McAllister this past week? In two starts, McAllister went 1-0 and pitched 13 2/3 innings while allowing just two earned runs. He had arguably the best start of his young career on Tuesday against the Athletics as he pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings to lead the Indians to a 1-0 victory. As everyone knows, I have long been a McAllister fan. With his wide arsenal of pitches, solid velocity and strikeout rate, I have maintained that he can be much more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. In my opinion, he is proving that right now. He is also making tremendous strides in how mentally tough he is as well. For reference, think back to Sunday’s game against the Tigers. In the third inning, the Tigers loaded the bases with just one out. McAllister had already allowed an unearned run thanks an error from Chisenhall, and it appeared as if things were about to get much worse. If it were last year, that probably would have been the case, but McAllister buckled down and was able to keep the Indians in the game while sending down the Tigers’ top two hitters no less. McAllister was able to get Miguel Cabrera to pop out on the infield and he then followed that up by striking Prince Fielder out with the high heat to strand the bases loaded. From that point on, McAllister settled in a bit and ended up pitching six innings. Throughout the entire contest, his stuff was clearly not as good as it was days earlier, but he battled and persevered. You know what else? I really think the best is yet to come from McAllister. Stay tuned as he will be one of the most exciting players to watch develop in 2013.

— While we’re talking about the starting rotation, we must not forget about Scott Kazmir’s impressive start last Thursday. The left-hander was dominant as his velocity was up all the way to 96 miles per hour, and he also struck out 10 Athletics in the contest. In his last three contests, Kazmir has gone 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA while striking out 21 and walking just three. There is no way to tell for sure whether Kazmir can maintain this pace, but those numbers are scary good. The main concern for me is how will Kazmir respond come July when he reaches the 100-inning plateau? Will his arm hold up? Remember that he only pitched 64 innings last season with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Not only that, but also keep in mind that he really has not pitched anything close to a regular Major League workload of innings since 2010. It seems unrealistic to expect him to be able to go out there and even log 150 innings. However, the Indians might as well ride it while he’s hot, which is exactly what the team seems prepared to do.

— Yan Gomes saw his batting average rise considerably this weekend after his 3-for-4 performance in Sunday’s contest against the Tigers. The right-handed hitting catcher has now gone 11-for-41 (.268) in 14 games. The most impressive thing about those 11 hits is the fact that six of them have gone for extra bases as Gomes has recorded two doubles, two triples and two home runs. The sample size is still too small to say that Gomes could potentially be an everyday player, but he’s certainly generating a lot of excitement. Let’s say Gomes continues to hit and show power at an impressive rate. What do the Indians then do? Provided that they do not maintain an everyday designated hitter next season, the Indians could perhaps look to utilize both Gomes and Carlos Santana in a rotation of sorts. Gomes could catch one day while Santana gets the start at designated hitter and vice versa. There’s a long way to go before the Indians could conclude that Gomes is a player worthy of everyday at-bats, but he’s definitely intriguing thus far. If it keeps up, this is one scenario (albeit unlikely) that the Indians could explore.

— Mark Reynolds just continues to hit and drive in runs. Reynolds recorded two more home runs this past week, and he also drove in a total of six runs. He’s actually currently driven in at least one run in each of the past four games he’s played. A strong contingent of Tribe fans are clamoring for the front office to move to resign Reynolds, but it still appears as if it could be a bit too early. Remember that Reynolds has been known to be a streaky player throughout his career and while he’s going good now, he inevitably will come back down to Earth at some point. Still, he definitely does appear to be the bargain of the offseason so far. He currently has 11 home runs and 32 RBI. Even if he were to only double both of those numbers over the remaining course of the season, Reynolds would still be a colossal bargain at $6 million. One of the best things with Reynolds this year is that he’s been basically equally dominant against both left-handers and right-handers. Against lefties, Reynolds has gone 12-for-44 (.273) with four home runs and 13 RBI while he’s gone 22-for-73 (.301) with seven home runs and 19 RBI against right-handers. Really, Reynolds has impressed regardless of who he’s faced on the mound. Again, this is what you call money well spent.

Quick hits

— After 17 home games, the Indians’ average attendance still ranks dead last in the MLB at 14,103 fans per game. The next closest team is the Tampa Bay Rays with an average attendance of 18,341 fans per game.

— Indians centerfielder Michael Bourn made his return to the lineup Friday after being out of the lineup for a few weeks because of stitches in his finger that came when he was spiked while running to first base in a contest back in April.

— Chris Perez did not pitch in Sunday’s game because of soreness in his right shoulder. Perez said he should be ready to go for today’s doubleheader against the New York Yankees, but one thing to note is that Perez dealt with soreness in his right shoulder this past Spring Training. Let’s hope that this is not the return of a lingering issue.


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