The Cleveland Indians may be 22-26 and in last place in the American League Central going into Saturday night’s game in Seattle, but the club has 114 games remaining to make up their 7.5 game deficit to reach the top of the division, which is something that many, including myself, thought was possible going into the season. The club was nine games under .500 on May 18th prior to starting a six game winning streak, and things finally look to be heading in the right direction after the Tribe went 7-14 in April. The Indians can thank reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and second baseman Jason Kipnis for their sudden return to relevancy.
In his first seven starts of the 2015 season, the Indians went 0-7 in Kluber’s starts, while Kluber, himself, was 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP over 44.2 innings. It was easy for people to think that Kluber had a career year, as he appeared to be tumbling towards the irrelevancy that some may have thought he came from leading into his incredible 2014 season; however, Kluber was still showing positive signs throughout his struggles, including his 9.27 K:9 and 3.15 FIP. Things took off for Kluber on May 13, and, over his last four starts, he has been as dominant as he has ever been in his career:
Those totals leave Kluber with a 1.41 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, a 1.17 FIP, and an incredible 50:2 K:BB over his last 32 innings. Kluber’s 18 strikeout game on May 13 is the highest game score of season to this point by a whopping seven points. Kluber appears to be on track to get the all-important win-loss column back in order, for the weakest of baseball minds, but it appears that things are breaking the way that they should have been all season for the dominant right-hander.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) May 30, 2015
While Kluber has been dominating on the mound, Kipnis has taken over the lead-off role for the Indians’ offense and become an offensive force. Since moving there on April 26, Kipnis is hitting .400/.494/.669 over 156 plate appearances, ripping 14 doubles, three triples, and five home runs, while driving in 20 runs and posting an 18:18 K:BB. His .434 BABIP over that time screams regression, but his production screams a return to his healthy, capable levels that he showcased in 2013, prior to his injury-riddled 2014 catastrophe. Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma detailed the trends that have allowed Kipnis to return to All-Star level production in a recent piece, stating how his health, mechanical adjustments, hitting lead-off, facing fewer lefties, and seeing more fastballs, have all played a roll in his recent outburst.
While Kluber and Kipnis have done their part to get the Indians back on track, the club still needs to overcome some weaknesses and struggles. The Tribe have gone just 10-17 against AL Central foes, including 1-5 against the Detroit Tigers. Additionally, Cleveland could use more consistent production out of everyday players Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Moss, Jose Ramirez, and Carlos Santana, who have gone a combined 66-for-323 (.204) in May. While Santana continues to get on base (19 walks and a .356 OBP), the team must find ways to get production out of more players than Kipnis to rise up from the division cellar.
The Indians certainly have the talent to be relevant, and, with time on their side, they’ll continue to ride Kipnis and Kluber to compete and be contenders in 2015.