Are You ALL IN with the Cleveland Indians?

A week ago, the city of Cleveland woke up and realized one undeniable fact – the events of Sunday, June 19, 2016, were no dream. Cleveland finally had its championship and the “curse” was over.

While the biggest celebrations have come to an end and the parade has finally run its course, the Indians have lurked in the background of the Cleveland sports scene for some, quietly making their steady march to the top of the American League Central Division. Heading into Monday’s action, they are a season-high five games up in the division (their biggest lead since June of 2011) and 14 games above the .500 mark for the first time since September of 2013. They are riding a nine-game winning streak, their longest since that same stretch of the final month of 2013, and completed a perfect month of June at home, a feat completed just three times in the 21st century by Major League clubs.

With all that said, have you caught Indians fever (and not that dreaded summer cold that seems to be making the rounds)? Is “next year” finally this year for the Tribe? Are you ALL IN again in the 216? The 440? 330? Whatever your area code might be for those supporting across the country?

The Indians have provided the city with a winner for three consecutive seasons. While that isn’t exactly something to brag about, it is a positive trend in the right direction and something certainly to build off of. Terry Francona has done his part in turning an inconsistent organization into a winner more often than not, and the numbers back that up.

Now, Cleveland has had the taste of that championship nectar, and it was so, so sweet. The Indians have seemingly taken notice of the citywide party more than a million fans deep, with the streets filled with jubilation and energy and pride in being from Cleveland, and are doing their part to get a parade of their own for their own winner.

If you’re not “all in” for the Tribe, what’s holding you back? To borrow another Cavaliers catchphrase, what’s not to like about the Indians?

That hyped “World Series-caliber” starting rotation has dominated in June. The five core starters over the month (taking out one Cody Anderson spot start) have made 23 starts, posted a 12-3 record, have a 2.38 ERA and 1.00 WHIP as a whole, and have struck out 143 batters while walking just 40 (with a chunk belonging to Danny Salazar). Bauer is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA, .182 batting average against, and 0.88 WHIP. Corey Kluber is 3-1 with two complete games and a shutout, a 2.17 ERA, and 0.76 WHIP. Tomlin has won a pair of games and walked just two batters in 34 2/3 innings in the month. Salazar is 4-0, while Carlos Carrasco’s 1-2 record, 2.91 ERA, and 1.21 WHIP are worst of the staff, yet are hardly bad numbers.

But better yet, they have pitched well all season long. They endured a month without Carrasco and the unexpected implosion of Anderson, yet the rest of the staff stepped up to carry the load. Bauer has returned from a temporary banishment to the bullpen and has systematically dismantled the opposition and looked every bit of the player once selected with the third pick in his draft class.

Francisco Lindor. There should be no need to say anything more when saying his name. Every day, fans of the game of baseball have the opportunity to witness something incredible as long as he is on the field. His glove work, his arm, his game-changing speed. His bat has been better than expected at the Major League level and he has even developed enough sneaky power to become a legitimate 20-homer threat at the plate (and is third on the club in the department!). He is as close to a can’t miss five-tools kind of player that Cleveland has seen in many years. He’s an All-Star, even if fans haven’t stepped up to ensure his trip to San Diego this July.

The Indians even got that right-handed power bat you have been crying about since Manny Ramirez left town. Yes, Mike Napoli strikes out a lot. Yes, he doesn’t hit for high average. But if you looked at that signing and hoped for those two things to be different, you didn’t understand what Napoli could do for the Cleveland lineup. He’s a playoff-experienced, veteran, right-handed bat with plenty of pop to abuse the wall in left field at Progressive Field. And he’s done just that. Six of his eleven doubles this season and eleven of his 16 homers have come in Cleveland, where he’s hit .276 with a .364 on-base percentage. It’s almost as if the ball park was built specifically to his needs.

Carlos Santana has become a multi-dimensional player. He’s no longer just a guy that draws a lot of walks and disappoints you with his lack of clutch and deflated power. He’s tied for the team lead in homers and is well on his way to establishing a new career high. At 30 years old and in the tail end of his contract, he has stepped up as a legitimate leadoff hitter, has provided energy and offense, and has made fewer mistakes in the field.

What else?

Yan Gomes’s arm? Jose Ramirez’s hustle? Jason Kipnis’s heart? Rajai Davis’s 35-year-old, AL-leading wheels?

Defense? Still not an issue. The team flashes some leather.

Can’t win against lefties? Problem solved against southpaws this season. They are 15-8, the best winning percentage against left-handed starters in the American League and third-best in all of baseball (Miami, .705; Chicago Cubs, .696).

They are winning the games that they need to. They have lost some heartbreakers, but they have taken care of their chief rivals in the Central. They completed their third straight sweep of the Detroit Tigers this weekend to improve to 9-0 against them while outscoring them 60-20. They have taken seven of nine from Chicago, scoring 23 more runs against the White Sox than they have allowed. After a 6-1 start against Kansas City, they have lost three straight on the road to the Royals, but are still +12 in the runs column. If only the Indians could figure out the Minnesota Twins (2-4 against them), their dominance of the Central would be complete.

No, the team is not perfect. They lost Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd to PED suspensions. They were pieces to the puzzle, but not ones whose absences would be impossible to overcome. They have banked on a revolving door outfield, plugged by several former infielders and rookie Tyler Naquin, and have gotten surprising results, but certainly not the prototypical offensive numbers of the corner spots. Juan Uribe’s bat has been slow to get going, but has come on of late. Gomes’s bat has been MIA for much of the season, yet he has delivered some shots at key moments. The bullpen leaves a little something to be desired and is probably a source of upgrade, but has performed well when considering that many of the pieces were brought aboard with low expectations. There’s been no Michael Brantley for all but eleven games this year.

What’s holding you back if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon? Are you still dwelling on the CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee trades or the failed signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn? Are you still unconvinced that the front office will step to the plate and make a move to put the Tribe over the top?

While the Indians were tasked with taking down the reigning World Champs at the top of the Central, here they sit with a five-game lead in the standings. They have not seen their record sit at 14 games above even in two and a half seasons and that mark is good for third-best in the AL. They are one of just four AL teams that boasts a winning record at home (23-12) and on the road (21-18).

So if you liked that championship feeling, the fun and excitement of a first place team and the playoff push, baseball, or a fun and competitive roster, get down to Progressive Field during the first week of July and pack that park for the first place Tribe. This Indians team deserves the support.

Cleveland is a title town once again. Your Cleveland Cavaliers are still the world champions (even a week later, it still feels good to say it).

Your Cleveland Indians? They might not be so far behind. I’m not saying start planning the parade, I’m just advising to enjoy the ride.

Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer

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