Keys to the Cleveland Indians Recent' Winning Ways
May 13, 2013
Yesterday the Cleveland Indians won the third and final game of their series with the Detroit Tigers, 4-3, bringing the two teams into a tie for the American League Central lead. By winning two of three from Detroit, the Indians have not lost any of their last seven series. They’ve been victorious in 15 of their last 20 games, and are a Major League best 11-2 since April 29th.
Several factors have keyed the Indians’ recent winning ways.
1. Hitting well with runners in scoring position, and hitting well when there are two outs:
In yesterday’s game, all four of Cleveland’s runs came with two outs. Jason Kipnis doubled home a pair of runs with two outs in the third inning. Michael Brantley brought in the tying run in the ninth inning with a two-out RBI single off Detroit closer Jose Valverde. The tenth inning saw Mark Reynolds score Carlos Santana with a two-out RBI single.
Coming into the game, the Indians were batting .341 with runners in scoring position in their previous 14 games. During a recent six game winning streak, in which they scored 53 runs, the Indians managed 30 two-out RBI.
2. A quality defense:
In 2012 the Indians ranked 12th in the American League in defense. According to Baseball Prospectus, Cleveland is second in this category at this point in the 2013 season. Changes in the outfield have made a big difference. The outfield has been transformed with the additions of Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Rayburn, and Nick Swisher. The lone holdover from last season, Michael Brantley, was already considered an above-average fielder.
3. Increased power:
This is another area where the Indians have improved since last season. They finished 2012 with the third fewest home runs in the American League. Coming into yesterday’s game, however, they led the American League with 49 homers and were leading all of baseball in slugging percentage. Newcomer Mark Reynolds, first in the AL with 11 home runs, has been leading the charge.
In 2012, the Indians hit a total of 38 home runs from the right side of the plate. Through May 3rd, just one month into the season, 23 of their 36 home runs had come from the right side.
During Cleveland’s recent six-game winning streak, they collected 31 extra-base hits, an average of five per game.
4. Rapidly improved pitching:
Prior to their winning stretch, Cleveland’s ERA had mushroomed to over 5.00. It’s now 3.96, and they’ve given up fewer hits than any other Major League team. From April 29 – May 9, according to Tribe Daily’s Nino Colla, Cleveland’s starting pitchers compiled a 2.50 ERA and gave up only 20 earned runs in 11 games, while amassing seven quality starts and recording three shutouts.
Earlier in the season, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir caused many Ohioans to bite their fingernails and peer through their fingers whenever they started. However, during this stretch, Jimenez lowered his ERA from 10.06 to 5.55 and Kazmir brought his ERA down from 8.64 to 4.87.
Starters Zach McAllister and Justin Masterson have ERAs of 2.63 and 3.67, respectively. Brett Myers, who is currently on the disabled list, has been a liability so far this season, and his ERA currently sits at 8.02. Cleveland’s bullpen has been solid so far, as it was last season.
The Indians are now 6-1 against Cy Young award winners this year.
The last two seasons (2011 and 2012) the Indians started very well, and then faded down the stretch. For example, in 2011 they were 30-15 on May 23rd and leading the division by seven games, but ended up trailing Detroit by 15 games at the season’s end. This season they didn’t start as well, finishing April with an 11-13 record, but they’ve come on strong since then.
They have a new manager in Terry Francona, and a dramatically changed lineup with greater depth, as I highlighted in a previous hub. Time will tell, but I believe this year’s Cleveland Indians are better equipped to continue winning more often than not, and that they have a genuine shot at making the playoffs once the regular season is over.
Taylor Bechtold, “Indians-Tigers Preview,” The Associated Press, May 12, 2013.
Dennis Manoloff, “Cleveland Indians’ Winning Streak Ends at Six after 4-2 Loss to Minnesota Twins,” The Plain Dealer, May 5, 2013.
Nino Colla, “Indians Hot Play May Be More Than Just a Streak,” The Tribe Daily, May 10, 2013.