Early in the 2014 MLB season when Cleveland Indians‘ bats were quiet, Indians fans who took to websites, radio shows and other social networks were not. Fans were upset that it appeared the Indians had not done enough to ensure their offense would be better in 2014. They watched as teams like the Baltimore Orioles got big bats like Nelson Cruz, and their big offseason bat was a player trying to revive his career in David Murphy.
Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana got off to awful starts, and the team limped out of April with a 10-17 record, looking like a team that was going to have a tough time coming close to again making it to the postseason. All the while, the offense seemed to be the reason for the major letdown. They couldn’t get the big hits, and vets were having major issues getting hot when the team could have used a few to get going early.
Then, with their backs against the wall and Francona continuing to stay patient, the one thing that the club needed most finally happened: the bats, just like the weather, started to catch fire. While Swisher and Santana stayed in early slumps, four bats seemed to carry the team to from an afterthought to suddenly being a contender again in the AL.
Two of those bats were everyday starters: outfielders Michael Brantley, who has been good all year, and Murphy, who has overcome what was a tough 2013 and seems to get the big hits when they matter the most. Two other bats that got hot were totally unexpected: reserves Lonnie Chisenhall, and super-sub Mike Aviles, who took over the second-base role for Jason Kipnis when he went down with an injury.
Francona called for 1-2 players to get hot time and time again , and now while the Indians have crawled out of the basement of the AL Central to win 14 of their last 21 games to sit at 33-32, just 2.5 games back of the Detroit Tigers for the top spot in the division. The offense has settled down and now sits seventh in all of baseball with a .260 average thanks in part to the monster season from Chisenhall (.385), the consistent at-bats of Brantley (.307) and the rebound year from Murphy (.289).
Now the Indians know they don’t need to count necessarily on Swisher and Santana to keep coming through night after night. The offense has become the weapon the team always felt it could be. As good as it’s been in the last few weeks, Francona should get a ton of the credit for staying the course with the players he exited Spring Training with.
Matt Loede has covered the Cleveland Indians for 20 years for National Networks like AP Radio, Metro Networks and other local and national stations. Follow him on twitter @mattloede