The Cleveland Indians are just one game behind the Minnesota Twins as of July 28. They went from wanting to sell Trevor Bauer at the deadline to trying to win the American League Central in a matter of weeks. The Indians are 12-4 in their first 16 games since the All-Star break. Is this a fluke, or are the Indians a real threat to the powerhouse in Minnesota? Here are some factors to consider that can help understand this all-of-a-sudden tight division race of two teams:
The Indians took one of three games from the Twins right after the break. Since that series, they played against the Tigers, the Royals twice along with the Blue Jays. All three of those teams are at least 25 games below .500 at the time of writing. The Indians have been using this stretch to their advantage before starting up a stretch that won’t be as easy. However, the Indians could use this hot streak as a motivator and confidence booster against their upcoming opponents.
The tribe has Houston, Minnesota, Boston and the New York Yankees on the schedule in August. This will give the team some great tests to see if they are ready for a postseason run.
Guys Stepping Up
A lot of players for this Indians team are playing great right now, and some of them are heating up for basically the first time this season. A prime example of this is Jose Ramirez. The 26-year-old was surprisingly batting below .200 for a good portion of the season, but is now up over .240. A big reason for this is that he is slashing .373/.394/.761 with a 1.156 OPS since the mid-summer classic. This is a guy that Cleveland expects to perform well day-in and day-out, and this past stretch can help lead to him doing so.
Outfielder Oscar Mercado is also giving himself a rookie season to remember. He’s hitting .339/.391/.613 with a 1.004 OPS so far in the second half. This recent dominance at the plate has Mercado hitting just under .300 on the year and has also brought his home run total up to eight, four of them coming post All-Star game.
Tyler Naquin has been taking advantage of his playing time. Since July 12, the 28-year-old is hitting .472/.474/.778. This incredibly impressive line gives Naquin the seventh-highest slugging percentage among players with at least 10 games played after the break.
The Indians have the third-lowest team ERA on the season, and the lowest in the MLB since returning to action from the break. Even without Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar, this team is throwing the ball great.
Shane Beiber has stepped up for this Indians rotation. His 3.44 ERA and 0.99 WHIP is really impressive for a starter. He also won Most Valuable Player at the All-Star Game, and even threw a complete-game shutout in his most recent start against Toronto. Bieber is pitching phenomenally this season and will look to keep rolling through the rest of the season.
Trevor Bauer has been in numerous trade rumors over the last few weeks. He’s been upping his stock by posting a 2.30 ERA in his last four starts. But now that the Indians are back in the midst of the playoff race, Bauer may stay and continue to give this team some quality starts.
Cleveland also has the lowest ERA in the MLB out of the bullpen at 3.25. Some notable names like Brad Hand, Tyler Clippard and Nick Goody are having solid years in the bullpen. In fact, at the time of writing none of their current relievers have an ERA above 4.00. Goody has been insane this year as his ERA currently resides at 1.61 along with his 0.94 WHIP.
If this team continues to pitch the way they have all year, they could find themselves playing in October.
The Indians are 4-5 against Minnesota this season. They have been outscored by their AL Central counterpart 40-32. They play 10 more games against one another this season. These games will be crucial for both teams as it could end up being the deciding factor of who walks away as American League Central champion.
Feature Image Courtesy of Getty Images.