Surging Indians Look to Make up Ground in K.C.
Don’t look now, folks, but the Cleveland Indians are surging. Winners in seven of their past ten contests and 12 of 17 overall, the Indians have begun to show signs of life and, in the process, climbed their way out of the AL Central basement.With a three game series on the horizon against the Royals, the opportunity is in front of this team to not only climb up over .500 for the first time since week one, but also to close the gap between themselves and their divisional foes.
A big reason for the Indians recent success has undoubtedly been the result of Jason Kipnis‘ return to all-star form. After a disappointing 2014 campaign plagued by injuries and questions about his conditioning, the 2015 version of Jason Kipnis looks every bit like the blossoming super-star everyone thought he could be. After a month in which he slashed .429/.511/.706 while racking up 51 hits, 30 runs scored, 17 RBI, 15 doubles and 4 homers, Kipnis is far and away the hottest hitter currently in the Indians lineup and quite possibly all of baseball.
May 16, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) hits a two run home run against the Texas Rangers during the ninth inning to win the game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Indians defeated the Rangers 10-8. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not as if we haven’t seen this type of hot streak before. Remember back during the 2013 season? Kipnis went on a similar stretch throughout the month of June. He hit .419/.517/.699 with four homers, 25 RBI, and 17 runs scored. So while 2014 was a statistical rarity, the idea that Kipnis could carry an offense for a month is anything but. Let’s just hope he can stay hot as we head towards the dog days of summer.
Another move that has received less news but is no less noteworthy has been the move of Carlos Santana into the #2-hole in the lineup. While Santana has held a reserved spot in the Indians lineup over the past two or three seasons, it’s become apparent that his on base ability and not his run driving in prowess that is his true value to this team. By inserting Santana into the two spot in the lineup, Terry Francona has front loaded his lineup with three of the best players in baseball in terms of OBP. Kipnis, Santana, and Michael Brantley are getting on base at rates of .411, .381, and .379 respectively. All that’s doing is adding to the likelihood of runners on base for the Indians mashers, Brandon Moss, Ryan Raburn, and Yan Gomes.
It’s a sound strategy; one that makes sense in theory and has proven to be successful so far. More runners on base leads to more stress on opposing pitchers. More stress leads to mistakes in the zone, wearing down sooner, and hopefully, getting into the opposition’s bullpen sooner rather than later. In addition, it has also increased the number of promising run scoring situations for the Indians and as the weather has warmed up, so has their success rate. Kudos to Francona for choosing such a forward thinking approach rather than sticking to the notion of leaving Santana in the cleanup spot.
As for the Royals, they have struggled of late, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. Over that stretch, they have seen their once sizeable lead in the AL Central standing completely disappear. However, this probably has less to do with them than it does with the surge made by the Twins who went 20-7 in May compared to the Royals 14-12. Entering play tonight, the Royals currently sit a half game back of the Twins at 29-19.
Raise your hand if you saw that one coming.
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The Royals, despite what the standings and records might say, are probably the best all around team in baseball. Their lineup is solid one through nine, the pitching staff has once again been effective, and their defense has been otherworldly. They currently lead all of baseball in defensive runs saved with 38. The next closest? The Blue Jays with 20. Basically, if you hit it anywhere in the vicinity of a Royals’ defender, it’s going to be an out. In fact, the Royals defense has been so good they actually make their pitchers better. Whereas the Indians have the largest gap for ERA minus FIP for their staff as a whole, .54, the Royals have the second largest gap in the opposite direction, -.49.
What this means is that the Royals defense is so good that it has actually contributed to their staff having a lower ERA than they should otherwise have. The Royals’ pitchers simply do not do as good of a job controlling the things they can control than say the Indians. For the Indians, the pitchers, particularly the starters, take care of their business. It is the shoddy defense behind them that makes their stat line look worse than it really is.
This should be an interesting series and one that can serve as a litmus test of sorts for the current state of the Indians. Are they a team that is truly on the rise, or are they simply taking advantage of a weaker portion of their schedule. I’m inclined to say it’s the former. While they have faced several scuffling teams during their current run, the Mariners were a formidable foe with one of the best power packed lineups in baseball. The Indians were able to take three of four in Seattle. That should be viewed as an accomplishment. Let’s just hope the success can carry over to the next three days.
Probable Pitching Match-ups:
Carlos Carrasco (6-4, 4.24/1.19) vs. Jeremy Guhrie (4-3, 6.70/1.66)