Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Daily Report - A Offensive Pulse From Ohio

Last night the Cleveland Indians won their 8th game in a row, the first time they've had such a streak since the 2007 club which won 96 games did so from August 25th from September 1st. The winning run was plated by a solo homerun from Asdrubal Cabrera in the 1st inning, his fourth of the season, then iced away with a three run, opposite field shot from Matt LaPorta in the 2nd. Through it all, Cleveland starter Mitch Talbot kept the Mariners off balance with a mixture of 89mph fastballs, sliders, and changeups.

The win was a microcosm of who the Indians have become, a largely nondescript group of of youngsters and retread veterans who you've likely either never heard of, or just stopped caring about. After an injury plagued 69 win season in which the Indians finished 26th in runs scored, and 24th in team ERA, the team returns relatively intact after ownership slashed payroll yet again, effectively hamstringing new GM Chris Antonetti. Instead of bringing in new blood, the Indians have had to rely on improvements from their own young core of players, assembled via the draft and the trades of many of their former stars.

The rebuilding process has been tough on the Indians fans, and nothing tells that story better than the sea of empty seats that dominates the view during Indians home games. With attendance in the first home series averaging less than 10,000 per game (after the home opener) it's easy to see just how unmotivated the fan base is. This is a franchise that once sold out 455 consecutive games at Jacobs Field (Now Progressive Field). It's a gorgeous park, but proof that a winning team matters more than a sterling venue. Hopefully the hot start paired with warming weather will lead to improved attendance, at least in the short term.

Perhaps most encouraging for the Indians during this eight game run has been the performance of some players who really struggled last year. After a hideous 2010 season for Michael Brantley he's emerged as one of the teams leaders early in the year. The toolsy Brantley posted an OPS of just .623 in 2010 but so far this year is hitting .306 with a .381 OBP at the top of the Indians lineup and has stolen a couple bases as well. LaPorta has also shown glimpses of the player he can be, a walk and power threat at first base.

In addition, they've made the most of the few veterans they were able to bring in. In left, Austin Kearns is filling in while Grady Sizemore is out, and Orlando Cabrera has had an early season career revival, posting a .872 OPS on the back of a .361 average while playing standout defense at second base. Most impressively, Travis Hafner has been reborn early this year, posting a .992 OPS with a pair of home runs.

In total, the team is 5th in runs scored, an incredible performance. That they've done so while getting essentially zero production from their two stars - Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana - is even more amazing.

What remains to be seen, is if this sort of production can be sustained. The easy answer of course, is no. That's a logical conclusion to come to. Typically early season production from unexpected sources is the result of luck. On offense that would generally mean trending away from BABIP norms. But while the Indians BABIP is high - .314 - it's far from the most drastic mark you'll see at this time of the year (The Phillies are at .381 for example).

There are definitely players that will regress - Cabrera being a prime candidate - but there are also others such as Choo and Santana that will heat up. If the "Return of the Pronk", which began in late 2010 is for real, and Michale Brantley can remain a force at the top of the order, and if Grady Sizemore can come back... That's a lot of "and if's," but it also means such sustained performance might not be as impossible as one might be prone to believing.

Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.

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