This Indians Team Has the Look of a Contender

The Indians are in first place in May. We’ve heard this before.

This afternoon the Indians go for a four game sweep of the Seattle Mariners and their fifth straight win. Heading in to the game, the Indians have a two game lead on the Detroit Tigers, whose starting pitching is starting to become a question mark of their own. Instead, the Indians seem to be hitting on all cylinders as they are winners of 17 of their last 21 games. While Detroit seems to be stalling at the quarter mark, the Tribe seems to be hitting the gas and starting to speed ahead.But, we’ve seen this before in 2011 and 2012 as the Indians sped ahead of the competition to take first place leads in the standings in May and June, only to fall behind in July and out of the race by August and September. At 25-17 this year, they still can’t match their 30-15 start of two seasons ago that staked them to a seven game lead in the standings. Detroit still managed to catch and pass the Tribe, winning the division by 15 games in 2011.

And while the start of the story of the 2013 season seems to mirror that of 2011 and 2012, anyone who has watched the first 42 games of the season knows the Tribe has a whole different feel and vibe to its play.

Gone are the young, inexperienced players being asked to play in more expanded roles in order to win. This team doesn’t have Shelley Duncan trying to play left field every day. It doesn’t have Johnny Damon trying to find a way to play one more season while six-hopping throws in to third base. It doesn’t have all-glove, no bat Jack Hannahan catching those six-hop throws at third base. It doesn’t have Casey Kotchman or Aaron Cunningham.

What it does have is star power and a veteran presence that isn’t going to panic when they lose five in a row. They’ve actually already lost five in a row and didn’t wreck the season or grow into a 10-game losing streak. They have a true leadoff hitter in Michael Bourn that changes the defense when he gets on base, a power hitter and leader in Nick Swisher and a guy that makes you stay in your seat every time he strides to the plate in Mark Reynolds.

No longer do Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana have to be expected to be stars and leaders, they just have to be contributors. The lack of pressure seems to be brightening their stardom. Their veteran role players in Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi are just that, veteran role players. A year ago, they would have been asked for more and likely would have produced less.

Much is the ballyhoo about the Indians beating seven former Cy Young winners (R.A. Dickey, David Price, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez) but they’ve also defeated Cole Hamels, Chris Sale and Andy Pettitte. That’s a quarter of their season against top flight pitchers. It’s also 40 percent of their wins for the season.

Don’t worry about the Indians scoring runs, this team can beat the best.

So, the start of the season may have the same look and feel as the last two seasons, but the roster and way the Indians are playing the game has a whole different feel to it. A feel that says they are in it for the long haul.

This team has staying power.

The 2013 Cleveland Indians aren’t going anywhere. There won’t be a second half collapse. Whether that results in a playoff appearance remains to be seen. They aren’t perfect, for sure. In the first 40 games the Indians played their way onto the scene. Likely in the next 40 games they’ll prove just how necessary another starting pitcher is to their October hopes.

They might not finally beat the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, but they aren’t going to fall down and fade away either. This season will be a race deep into September.

It has a whole new look.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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