Indians playing quality baseball

By Matt Verderame

The Cleveland Indians are quietly playing some of the best baseball we have seen of any team through the first two and a half months of the MLB regular season.

While most of Cleveland is focused on the Cavaliers and the upcoming Game 7 in the NBA Finals, the Indians are trying to make their mark in an America League Central long owned by the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. In fact, the Indians have not won the division in this decade, and really have never come close.

Yet, on June 17, Cleveland is sitting in first place of the Central, holding a slim one-game lead on the defending-champion Royals and a two-game advantage on the Tigers. The Chicago White Sox, who started the season looking like a true title contender, are now a game under the .500 mark and 3.5 games off the pace.

At 36-30, the Indians have a run differential of +41 and appear to be fairly balanced. The lineup is coming into shape with the bat of Michael Brantley likely returning soon, as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery. The 29-year-old outfielder is arguably the best player in the order when healthy and would add a huge offensive spark for a team getting by with other parts.

With Brantley on the mend, the Indians have relied heavily on the bats of Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli. Both Santana and Napoli are hitting for brutal averages, but have combined to smash 28 home runs and collect 79 RBI while hitting .226 and .229, respectively. Kipnis is batting .267 with right home runs, but is reaching base at a .324 clip. Lindor continues to show why he was a top prospect in the minors, leading the team with a .304 average and is second on the club with 10 steals, only to Rajai Davis’ 18.

However, it is the starting rotation that should excite Cleveland. After missing ample time to begin the season, Carlos Carrasco is back on the mound to provide depth behind ace Corey Kluber. Kluber, the former AL Cy Young Award winner, should only get better as the season progresses after posting a 4.23 ERA to this point. Carrasco has only started in seven games and has just three quality starts, but has the arm of a top-shelf starter.

The best of the bunch has been fireballer Danny Salazar, who is leading Cleveland with a 2.19 ERA. If Salazar can get help from the talented duo of Kluber and Carrasco, the Indians will have a dominant rotation. That is to say nothing of Josh Tomlin, who has a sub 3.50 ERA and is leading the team with eight wins.

Oddly enough, the reason to be most excited about Cleveland is to look at all the things that have gone wrong. Despite all of those issues, the Indians are in first place.

If some of there best players start playing like it, look out.