Four Noteworthy Storylines Heading Into the Indians Second Half

Well Tribe fans, it’s officially the second half of the season. Gone are the days of, “it’s still early,” and looming closer is the end of the season and the much-sought-after playoff spot. The Indians are in a position to go a myriad of ways in the second half, depending on the maintained dominance of their starting pitching, a possible emergence of their offense, hopefully a redeeming bullpen, hopefully little to no more serious injuries, the trade deadline…. The list could go on and on.

Although frustrating that the Tribe’s success could hinge on such a high number of factors, it does give Tribe fans quite a number of things to look forward to as the season moves closer to it’s end. If you haven’t tuned in to the Tribe yet this year (and there’s a good chance you haven’t, as the Indians’ TV ratings are down 30 percent from last year), maybe one of these spots of interest will grab your attention for at least a handful of games in the second half. And, even if you aren’t watching, try to pay attention to some of these storylines that could shape the Tribe’s future:

  1. Is this starting rotation real? The Indians have had one of, if not the best, starting rotation in baseball this season. With a group comprised that has four of its five starters (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer) in the top 11 of the American League in strikeouts (three of those four – Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar – are in the top ten), and their fifth starter third in the league in ERA (granted, Cody Anderson has only pitched 30.1 innings, but still), their dominance has to be seen to be believed. Barring the implosion of Anderson, being so new to the Major League stage, there isn’t any reason to believe that the talent shown by these starting five is anything less than the truth. Sure, some of these pitchers’ win-loss records don’t reflect their skill, but that’s more a reflection of the offense’s struggles rather than those pitching performances.
  2. The kids are definitely alright. The Indians called up their top prospect in Francisco Lindor soon after introducing Giovanny Urshela to the big league stage. The two haven’t faltered since joining the Major League team, and only show signs of improvement as the season goes on. Urshela has already hot two home runs and is batting .253 in 31 games. He’s committed two errors at third and has been a welcome change from the inconsistent play of Lonnie Chisenhall earlier this year. Lindor at shortstop has treated Indians’ fans to a defense that they haven’t seen since Omar Vizquel took the stage and is proving why he has been so high on the Indians radar since they signed him. At the plate, he is hitting .223 with two home runs in 26 games. As he continues to find his way against big league pitching, it stands to reason that his average will improve, so there isn’t much to worry about there yet. Urshela and Lindor are going to be a fun team to watch as they develop and mature as big league players, and could very easily already be shaping the future of the Indians infield.
  3. Is Carlos Santana safe, and what are the Indians going to do at the trade deadline? If you’re an Indians fan, you’ve griped about everything from Santana’s offense to his defense to his apparent attitude. Yes, the catcher-turned-first baseman can draw walks – he drew 113 last year and is already up to 58 this season – but his ability to step up to the plate in clutch situations leaves much to be desired. He’s hitting .193 with runners in scoring position and .188 with men on base. His defense is shaky at best, and his recorded two errors don’t really make up for the sloppy play that has been seen by him at first base. Trading Santana has been broached, but there probably wouldn’t be a huge market for Santana alone. With his team-friendly contract, Santana is likely safe, and there’s a good chance the Indians won’t make any big moves at the deadline to change that. Still strapped with the huge contracts of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, the organization is hindered with what they can do in the market. They will probably fall somewhere between being buyers and sellers, with some small moves that may not satisfy the need for some sort of bat and will not change the entire trajectory of the season. It’s just a guess that the Indians roster will look similar in August to what it looks like now, and fingers are crossed that Santana breaks out of his slump sooner rather than later, as it has to be tiring for an entire fan base to be calling for your head.
  4. Injuries are abounding, and could impact more than this season. Nick Hagadone was pulled from his recent rehab start in Mahoning Valley after reinjuring his elbow. The first opinion showed that the injury was fairly serious, and Hagadone is seeking a second opinion. He was making a rehab start after being placed on the DL with a lower back strain a week prior, though there is (clearly) more going on than just his back right now. Hagadone had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and, if the severity of his injury is to be believed, may be back on that route again this season. Keep a close watch on his progression and the verdict of the second opinion, as a serious injury for Hagadone could mean missing up to a year a play, if not more, should surgery be required. The Indians bullpen has already shown signs of wear this season. The reverberations of a Hagadone injury could have any number of results: the Indians could call up some new relievers from Triple-A (Shawn Armstrong has been outstanding lately in Columbus) who could provide dominance the bullpen has been lacking or, naturally, things could go the other way and a powerful AAA reliever could sink at the big league stage. There’s no predicting how a minor league reliever will do when he finally gets the call up to the show, but there’s only one way to find out.
    Swisher also found his way to the 15-day DL the season (perhaps not surprisingly) with inflammation in his left knee. He is scheduled to begin workouts this weekend, but, as fans have seen with Swisher in the past, his physical health can go in any number of directions. A less active role for Swisher could be the best-chance scenario for the Tribe.

Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images

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