The Doctor Is In
Laurel Wilder | On 22, May 2014
It’s no exaggeration to say that things have not been easy for the Indians lately. They have suffered from bad defense, struggles at the plate, and some less-than-ideal outings from their pitching staff. Granted, there have been some glimmers of hope amidst the dull play – namely, the starting pitching – and, even when things have not gone well, at least fans can acknowledge that fact that things are still going Smoothly.
Michael Brantley has emerged as one of the strongest members of the Cleveland Indians’ roster, both on the field and with the bat. He has not seemed to suffer from the same woes as other players on the team, and has, if anything, even improved over last season. He is still living up to the Dr. Smooth moniker, proving to easily glide through the team’s rough patches without suffering himself.
Brantley was an incredibly strong performer for the Tribe in 2013, when he hit .284 on the season with 10 home runs. Already, Brantley is hitting .291 in 2014 and has nine homers, including Monday night’s walk-off the secured the Indians their first win since Wednesday, May 14, and giving them an early lead over the Tigers in the three-game series.
Brantley continued his streak of success against Detroit during the 13-inning game on Wednesday afternoon, when he contributed four hits and three RBI to the Indians’ 11-10 win and sweep of the Tigers on a walk-off balk. He singled a pair of runs home in the second inning, and offered up the base hit that tied the game at 10-10 in the 13th inning. His performance, along with that of David Murphy, kept the Tribe in the game into the late innings. His effortless ability to rise to the occasion and simply perform when needed could not have come at a better time. And, the best part, is that Brantley’s powerful performances on the field are not limited to this year. He has a track record of being a strong player.
2013 was Brantley’s year to truly start coming into his own. He emerged as a leader on the field, a consistent performer who could make and turn routine plays with ease. Despite not necessarily hitting for power, Brantley was a player who could get on base and deliver in clutch situations. He knocked in 73 runs last season, and hit .375 with runners in scoring position. Equally as impressive was his .364 average with runners in scoring position and two outs in the inning. Thus far, Brantley has an RISP average of .279 and only a .200 two-out, RISP average. Despite the drop in stats, he is hardly underperforming. He is hitting .367 in tie games this season.
Above all, though, Brantley brings relaxation to the game, to the team, and to fans. It’s hard to be nervous when Brantley is at the plate, because it’s become understood that Brantley, more often than not, will do no wrong. And, with his recent contract extension that keeps Brantley with the Tribe for another four years and another $25 million, this consistency is here for quite a while.
It’s easy for a player to have a good year followed by a season that is less than perfect. Luckily, Brantley is proving that his performances in years past have not been a fluke; he truly is the solid player that fans have seen before. He committed no errors in 2013 and has committed only one this season in left field, making Brantley more than necessary for a team that has been riddled with sloppy play.
Perhaps Brantley’s star is rising this season because so many others’ are sinking; when a majority of players are doing things wrong, it’s very easy to see what others are doing right. However, because this level of performance isn’t a fluke, and is indicative of Brantley’s seasons of the past, it’s more than likely that he is getting noticed because he is just that good. He may very well be one of the team’s few shots at an All-Star this season, as he consistently delivers where others do not. It also seems that he may be overlooked, stemming from the fact that he does not have a flashy style of play or other virtues that make players more talked about. He does his job, and it does it exceptionally well. It’s often those type of players – and people – that can, unfortunately, fly under the radar.
It would be a shame to see that happen to Brantley. As long as he keeps performing at the level he has been, delivering in clutch situations, executing plays effortlessly in the field, there’s no reason that Brantley should not be noticed as one of the strongest players in the game. It’s his name that comes up in every game recap, his name that is mentioned whenever you talk about what the Indians are doing right. I’ve said it before, but Cleveland needs a new number 23 to idolize – and Brantley is truly the player that can fill that void.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images