Finishing 68-94 last year, the Indians decided to “blow up” the team and bring in an array of fresh faces. After parting ways with Manager Manny Acta, Cleveland decided to roll the dice and take a gamble on former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Not only has Francona changed the presence in the clubhouse with his affirmative demeanor and personality, he has helped mold and develop the Indians young, but established, pitching rotation.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Justin Masterson has undoubtedly been the ace of the rotation with a 14-10 record and a 3.45 ERA, but Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez have been pitching better than anybody as of late. Kazmir is currently 9-for-9 with a 4.04 ERA, but a strong September has made his performance stand out. Kazmir has been 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA, along with a whopping 43 strikeouts. He has proven to be a strikeout machine over his career (2007 AL Strikeout Leader) and Saturday was no exception. Kazmir struck out 11 batters against the Minnesota Twins.
Like many Indians players, Jimenez has been enjoying his hot September more than earth, wind and fire. Though this season hasn’t been particularly stellar (Jimenez is currently 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA) he has been pitching superbly as of late, flaunting a 4-0 record with a 1.09 ERA this past month. Cleveland will hope that they can continue to ride the momentum from the success of their rotation, but as they gear up for October baseball their offense is also worth noting as the Indians have added a new look to their much-improved lineup. Cleveland spent this past offseason upgrading the offense with the marquee signings of outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Both have made positive contributions both on the field and off; their clubhouse chemistry has substantially helped propel the Indians to where they are now.
Cleveland also owes much of their success to some surprising production from a variety of players like Michael Brantley and Jason Giambi. Brantley batted .284 with 10 HR and 73 RBI this season, but he has been red hot as of late; in the month of September, Brantley is batting .345 and has come up big for Cleveland on numerous occasions.
Veteran Jason Giambi has been another surprising contributor to the Indians, though his average may speak otherwise. Giambi is currently batting .183 with nine HR and 31 RBI, but like Brantley, has come up big in key moments. In a season of walk of wins, Giambi added another one to the list as he belted a two run, pinch hit homer with two outs in the ninth inning to give the Indians a shocking 5-4 win over the Chicago White Sox on September 24. Giambi is also the first player with two-pinch hit walk-off home runs against the same team in the same season since 1968 (Gates Brown-Detroit Tigers)
Giambi has consistently exceeded expectations, as he was brought in to play a platoon role while providing a veteran presence and has solidified himself as a leader to the Tribe. No one expected Giambi to provide the spark that Cleveland needed off the bench and he has been a big reason for why the Indians are leading the Wild Card.
Since being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade for Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes has gone from a throw-in to becoming Cleveland’s top catcher and a big offensive contributor. Gomes is currently batting .294 and has out dueled catcher Carlos Santana for the job. Santana, who is only batting .268 with 110 strikeouts, has found a home at first base. Gomes has proven to be the more reliable catcher as he has quick feet and a strong, for the most part, accurate arm. Cleveland may hope that he continues his development en-route to becoming one of the best catchers in the game, but for now, they will rely on his hot bat to lead them into the playoffs.
As the Cleveland Indians look to clinch a postseason birth, only time will tell what they can accomplish in the playoffs, as the sky is the limit. For now though, their primary focus has to be on the Wild Card game, as that will ultimately decide who goes on, and who goes home.