Indians Manager Manny Acta has pressed all the right buttons for the Indians in 2012.
The Cleveland Indians continue to sizzle in the early portion of the 2012 season. The Indians swept the Chicago White Sox in a doubleheader on Monday. Those two wins improved their record to 17-11. They are sitting in first place in the American League Central. Yes, ahead of the Detroit Tigers. Those same Tigers most experts thought had bought themselves a division crown when they signed slugger supreme Prince Fielder to a mega-million dollar contract this offseason.
The Indians started slowly, blowing a big lead on Opening Day in a loss to Toronto and going 1-4 in their first five games. But they went 7-2 on a West Coast swing and have been getting strong bullpen work and timely hitting to go along with strong starting pitching.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis (BA .300, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 6 SB) continues to provide productivity for the lineup while third baseman Jack Hannahan (.282 BA, 2 HR, 18 RBI) has played outstanding defense while adding clutch hitting.
Cleveland took two-of-three this weekend against defending American League Champion Texas. Sunday, Indian starter Ubaldo Jimenez went seven strong innings. Ubaldo's performance allowed some in the front office to breathe a sign of relief. The Indians dealt two first-round picks to Colorado last summer for Jimenez, who was supposed to be a top-of-the-rotation talent. The one-time All-Star had struggled during in his time in Cleveland and looked nothing like the guy who started the year in 2010 on fire and was the starting pitcher for the National League All-Star team the same year. Jimenez struck out seven and allowed just two hits in shutting down the potent Texas lineup.
The Indians' quick start has not drawn the attention of the fans in Cleveland. They are taking a wait-and-see approach before buying tickets. The team is last in baseball in home attendance.
Attendance may be down but the team is not. Here are five reasons the Indians are off to a strong start:
The Indians are road warriors early on. They have won four-straight road series to open the year for the first time since 1961.
The Indians have been tough on the road. They are 9-3 away from Progressive Field and have won their first four road series of the season for the first time since 1961.
Asdrubal Cabrera is putting up big offensive numbers again in 2012.
Asdrubal Cabrera is following up on an All-Star year in 2011 with a hot start in 2012. The shortstop is hitting .333 with three home runs and 11 RBI through the games of May 7. In a 15-game stretch that ended on May 7, he hit .377 with 10 runs, eight RBI and a homer.
Jason Kipnis is becoming a major presence in the Indians lineup.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis is becoming the heart of Cleveland's lineup. He is hitting .300 with five home runs and 18 RBI. He's also stolen six bases. Kipnis plays to get his uniform dirty it seems and went to Arizona State University. Kipnis reminds some of Dustin Pedroia and has made just one error at second base as of May 8 and has a fielding average of .992.
Chris Perez has been lights out as the closer for Cleveland.
Chris Perez blew his first save attempt of the year on Opening Day before a sellout crowd in Cleveland. But he's been lights out since that day, saving 11-straight contests. In a year when the Yankees lost Mariano Rivera to a knee injury and firemen across the league are getting roughed up, Perez has been almost perfect.
The Indians have a solid bullpen that also includes outstanding setup man Vinnie Pestano (2.08 ERA).
Derek Lowe has been sterling in the early going.
Cleveland picked up Derek Lowe from the junk pile. He was terrible down the stretch for the Braves at the end of 2011 and finished 9-17 with an ERA over five a game. This year he is 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA. His start has been invaluable as the Indians wait for Ubaldo Jimenez to straighten himself out. Cleveland is ninth in the American League in pitching with a team ERA of 3.98.
Strong pitching has not translated to sales at the ticket office. Cleveland is 30th out of 30 teams in home attendance. The Indians average an MLB-worst 15,355 a game at home. That's a far cry from when the fans filled then Jacobs Field 455 straight times to set an then ML record for consecutive home sellouts.