“In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the Indians have managed to win a few here and there, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar.”
The above is one of my favorite quotes from the classic film “Major League,” but it’s also a pretty solid way to sum up reality with the current Cleveland Indians, as well.
After stumbling through the first month of the season, looking nothing like a team many considered a sleeper contender, the Tribe appears as though they’re finally moving in the right direction. Their starting rotation is one of the best in the majors, their bullpen has settled down after handing out runs like candy early on this year and the offense is finally starting generate enough supporting runs.
Much of the scoring is thanks to both Michael Brantley being his usual, efficient self and Jason Kipnis having a record-setting month of May. Cleveland’s second baseman overcame an underwhelming start to the year by recording 51 hits and 30 runs last month, a stunning turnaround which went a long way towards helping the team move out of last place.
After taking a significant stumble down the standings, the Indians find themselves just 6.5 games back of the first place Minnesota Twins. They’re also heating up at the right time, as both the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers have gone from world-beaters to just average lately.
It’s a perfect set-up for tonight, as Cleveland begins a three-game series in Kansas City. Granted, the match-up won’t make or break the Indians’ season. However, if Cleveland truly is a team to look out for, if it really intends to make noise this year, now is the time to prove it.
More than a few times in the past couple years, the Indians have gone on a hot streak which had many around the league turning their heads. Said streaks typically led up to a big-time divisional series, one which would go a long way towards proving whether or not Cleveland was the real deal.
And, more often than not, the Tribe would leave these series limping, getting blown out and knocked back to reality. Those who thought the team was officially turning the corner were forced to assume there were still plenty of issues needing improvement.
So, as Cleveland preps to take on Kansas City, you can’t help but have the memories of these past results in the back of your head. No Indians fans want to get their hopes up about a team possibly getting its act together and making a run, only to watch them suffer a massive setback. They obviously hope Cleveland can at the very least take two of three from the Royals, but they’re likely prepared for a potential letdown.
Making things difficult, though, is just how bipolar the first two months of the season were for the Indians.
April was, in no uncertain terms, disastrous. If Cleveland had good pitching, they’d receive no scoring. If the offense finally showed up, the bullpen was there to ruin it. For the first 30 days of the season, it was Murphy’s Law for the Indians.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the month of May, where the bats finally started connecting, the relievers did their jobs and, hey, it ended up resulting in more wins than losses. Weird how that works out.
Regardless, their season so far has been a tale of two months, and it makes it tough to gauge just which month featured the real Indians. This is why the next three games will go a long way in determining whether or not Cleveland has left its funk behind.
The AL Central hasn’t been kind to the Indians this year, as they’re only 10-17 against divisional foes. They’ve only won two of their six games against the Royals. If Cleveland wants to start clawing back into the division, it has to start tonight.
Again, this series against Kansas City won’t singlehandedly determine if the Indians are the sloppy, uninspiring team of April or the bats-on-fire club of May. But, with the Royals series followed shortly with next weekend’s bout with the Tigers, Cleveland has been presented an opportunity to prove last month was no fluke.
If they can take advantage, things might finally, officially be turning around for this team.