Second Half Play Under Tito Bodes Well for Tribe’s Great Start to 2016

Lou Brown: “You know, there’s a lot of talent on this club, Charlie. The veterans are starting to play back to form and the rookies are developing faster than I thought. There’s two or three potential All-Stars in there. I think we’re a contender right now.”

Charlie Donovan: “You really believe that, don’t you?”

Brown: “I know it. All we need is something to bring it all together.”

– Major League

Twelve wins in a row. It doesn’t happen often. Like most things in Cleveland history, it came with a long drought attached to it.

Given that kind of recent performance, a stake of the top spot in the American League Central Division for 27 straight days, and an impressive 47-30 record as the first half draws to its final eleven games before the All-Star break, it’s pretty safe to say that the Cleveland Indians are off to an incredible start.

Coupled with the championship won by the NBA’s Cavaliers, this has become one great time to be a Cleveland fan. (It’s weird to write and even more strange to say out loud, trust me. Try me if you really don’t believe it.)

Much has been said this season about what the Indians have done through nearly one-half of their campaign so far. In many ways, they have defied the odds with some big chips stacked against them.

There’s been no Michael Brantley, basically. There was just one month of backup catcher Roberto Perez. The team lost Carlos Carrasco for five and a half weeks and Lonnie Chisenhall for two weeks to start the year. Two separate PED suspensions thinned out an already questionable and paper-thin lineup in the outfield. There were some concerns about how the team could fill the rotation spot vacated by Cody Anderson’s struggles.

Despite all of that, the team has not only maintained, but has flourished. Contributions have come in all shapes and sizes and from all 25 men on the active roster. Any given day, there is the possibility for a new hero.

The team is scoring in bulk. In 27 games in June, they have scored 139 runs (5.15 runs per game). This comes after scoring 147 in 29 games in May (5.07) and 91 in a wet and cold April (4.33).

The starting rotation is putting up incomprehensible numbers on the mound and is doing so at a sustained pace. They allowed 85 runs in April, 127 in May, and just 74 heading into the final game of June. After allowing more than four runs per game through the first two months of the season (4.05 and 4.38, respectively), that number has fallen to an incredible low of 2.74.

After outscoring the opposition by six runs in April, they did so by 20 in May. With one more to go, they are +65 for June and now +91 for the season, the second-best mark in all of baseball (Chicago Cubs, +170) and the only team in the division with more runs scored than allowed.

Whether it has been incredible starting pitching from Corey Kluber, Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, or Josh Tomlin, top of the order production from Rajai Davis or Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor, power production from Mike Napoli and Santana, or strong returns from Jose Ramirez, Chisenhall, and others, the Indians are getting nightly contributions and are finding ways to win.

The Indians have synergy – the whole is greater than the simple sum of all of its parts. Alone, just names on paper, the lineup may not scare opponents and may be statistically very much in the middle of the American League pack in most offensive categories, yet at the end of the day, they just win.

Given recent history, those winning ways may make for a fun summer and early fall on the shores of Lake Erie because, for each of the last three years, the players on Terry Francona’s rosters have stepped it up and charged hard down the stretch, trying to make up for large early season deficits, even during years that seemed over by the trade deadline (see: 2015).

This year is different. The Tribe didn’t dig a hole too deep to climb out of in April.

During the Indians’ last trip to the “playoffs” in 2013, they were 51-44 at the break, playing at a .537 clip. Cleveland played .612 ball in the final two and a half months, including a 21-6 September after a disappointing 12-16 August. They finished with a ten-game winning streak to clinch the top of two AL Wild Card spots. They lost in the Wild Card play-in game to the Tampa Bay Rays, but finished with a 92-70 record for the season in Francona’s first at the helm.

The club finished 85-77 the next season, but had to play catch up after an 11-17 first full month of play. They played at or above the .500 mark the rest of the season, including 18-9 in August and 14-13 in September to finish 38-30 (.559) after the break.

The Indians were four games below even at the break in 2015, hurt by a 7-14 April and an 11-15 June. Powered by a 16-12 August and a 17-14 September/October, the team finished 39-34 (.534) after the team unloaded several veteran players at the deadline. Their struggles throughout the year against the division hurt, as they finished eleven games below the .500 mark against the Central, a problem that they seem to have resolved so far in 2016.

In three years of games in the second half, Francona has winning records. The club is a combined 118-90 (.567) in those three years and 208 games, boasting a run differential in their favor of 130 runs, more than 43 runs a season. It includes 58 runs in 2013 and 48 runs last year.

If the Indians continue to play at their .610 pace, they will end the year a tick under 99 wins. Expecting a continuation of June’s .778 winning percentage is a bit extreme, but even if the Indians manage to cool to the numbers of the three second halves under Francona’s tutelage, they would pull in another 39-42 wins (86-89 total), and that’s not counting the final eleven games of the first half while the team is on fire with Major League Baseball’s longest winning streak of the season.

If Francona can get a similar level of production and wins from his team in the final half of the year, the Indians could be in for a top ten season in franchise history and bonus baseball in October.

Francona’s players have played well down the stretch during his time in Cleveland, and without the massive first half hole to climb out of, the second half of the season could become a very interesting time for the Indians and the collective Tribe fan base.

Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images

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