This August Will Be Different
Laurel Wilder | On 31, Jul 2013
I think this story is best started with a cheesy quote: “Forget all the reasons why it won’t work, and believe in the one reason why it will.”
Why what will work? Why the Indians will work this August. Why they won’t fall apart like they did last year at this time.
And, luckily, there’s far more than one reason.
If I really wanted to, I would just list this season’s roster – because that’s the backbone of the Indians’ 2013 success and improvement, obviously. It’s the strength of the guys on the field and the increased success of the guys on the mound. It’s the camaraderie of teammates and the attitude of the clubhouse.
It’s a manager like Terry Francona.
It’s a startling Ubaldo Jimenez who went eight innings on Sunday against the Rangers. EIGHT INNINGS!
It’s a pitching staff who pitched 26 consecutive scoreless innings through Monday night.
It’s a team who’s winning – and having fun doing it.
A year ago, the Indians were in the midst of an 11-game losing streak that would tie the record for the longest losing streak in franchise history. They broke their losing streak in early August, but still found themselves an impossible 9 1/2 games back of the White Sox. The 2012 August Indians then proceeded to play their worst month in franchise history, going 5-24 in August and 5-27 since their losing streak began on July 27, 2012.
The Indians are 5-0 from July 24-July 29 this year, giving them the same amount of wins in five days that they earned the whole month of August 2012 alone.
But what’s to say another losing streak isn’t upon us? This is Cleveland, after all – that’s the one reason we need why it won’t work.
Last season had promise! The losing streak started right after we beat Justin Verlander! What’s to say this August won’t be the same?
Maybe it’s the fact that Justin Masterson is 12-7 on the season with a 3.42 ERA. At the end of last season, he was 11-15 and posted 4.93. This year, he just pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings on July 27 against the Rangers, and almost threw a no-hitter earlier in July against the Twins.
Follow Masterson with Jimenez, who last season (and even earlier this season!) struggled on the mound. He’s 8-5 right now with a 4.17 ERA as compared to his overall 9-17, 5.55 stats last season.
Even Zach McAllister, who’s been out with a right finger sprain, is showing promise of regaining his solid starter status. At 4-6 on the season, he’s posting a 3.48 ERA – down from his 4.24 last year.
Other starters last season ended with ERAs high over 5.00. Jeanmar Gomez went 5-8 with a 5.96 ERA and Josh Tomlin was 5-8 and 6.36. Tomlin and Gomez were among the 20 worst starters in the Major Leagues last season, along with being among the 20 worst in team history, as well. Derek Lowe was 8-10 and posted 5.52. Replace those struggles with guys like Corey Kluber (7-5, 3.75), and the Tribe’s already in a better place than they were a year ago.
Why else is the Tribe going to stay alive in August? Because not only are Tribe veterans producing, but off-season pickups are proving invaluable.
Last August, the Tribe had a decent outfield consisting of Shelley Duncan in left, Michael Brantley in center and Shin-Soo Choo in right. While the loss of Choo appeared detrimental – especially at the plate – this season’s outfield can be described as a place where baseballs go to die.
Brantley is virtually flawless in left and a strong, consistent hitter. He’s batting .282 and has proven his ability to deliver clutch hits when necessary.
Ryan Raburn shows immense promise in right, making impressive plays at the wall (sometimes in the wall!) and backing up Michael Bourn in center with ease. Raburn’s solid at the plate, too, as his 3-run walk-off homer Friday indicated. He’s batting a solid .268.
Bourn in center and at bat is one of my strongest arguments for a continually strong August. He’s a Major League veteran, knows his way around center field, and wields a powerful bat. He’s hitting .288 and hit a home run off Yu Darvish in the first inning on Saturday to give the Indians their only run in their 1-0 win over Texas. And he’s fast; his speed may be my favorite thing about Bourn. He has 13 stolen bases this season, but that’s nothing compared to the 61, 52, or 42 bases he’s stolen in seasons past. A guy who can run the bases and really capitalize on another team’s fielding boosts overall runs scored, increases the number of runners in scoring position, and just leaves a team all-around in a better position offensively.
Other improvements that will keep August hot are the continued success of Jason Kipnis and the defensive catching strengths and strong hitting of Carlos Santana. Although Asdrubal Cabrera is posting lower numbers than last season, he’s still an asset to the team rather than a detriment – and his performance at the plate has shown sudden improvement since switching positions in the lineup with Nick Swisher. Mike Aviles has proved a valuable utility man and substitute for Cabrera when he was injured or in need of a day off.
Swisher at first and Mark Reynolds or Lonnie Chisenhall at third are also improvements on the field over players such as Jack Hannahan and Casey Kotchman. Reynolds gave the Indians a strong first half, and while he hasn’t been at that level of hitting lately, was Hannahan at that level at all last season?
Swap Lou Marson for Yan Gomes and you’ve got another vast improvement. Gomes is strong behind the plate and has helped drive in 23 runs this season – hardly making fans disappointed in Marson’s lack of presence.
And while, at first glance, it would seem ridiculous to choose 42-year-old Jason Giambi as a designated hitter over Travis Hafner, Giambi proved Monday night that he’s the most valuable .194 hitter in the game.
More than anything, though, is the attitude fans and the team itself possesses this season. Yes, the bullpen has been struggling, and yes, the team has blown 7-run leads. But here’s still a sense of optimism going into August that wasn’t there last year. A sense of optimism that this team can – and will – stay here.
It’s scary to get your hopes up in Cleveland. You close yourself off after your heart gets ripped out and you swear you’ll never let it happen again.
But then someone new comes along – someone like Francona or Bourn or Giambi – and you find yourself forgetting your fears and thinking that this time, it will be different. You love like you’ve never been hurt.
Welcome to August in Cleveland.
Photo: Tony Dejak/AP Photo