The Cleveland Indians look like a team facing an identity crisis. They can’t seem to decide if they’re contenders or pretenders. They play equally average at home and on the road and continue to play to the level of their competition.
Their relative strengths and weaknesses are still unclear, as both the starting pitching and offense have been consistently inconsistent all year.
The Tribe has gone just 6-12 since reaching its high-water mark of eight games over .500 at 26-18. After initially playing very well on the road, the Indians have recently been swept in both Chicago and Cincinnati by the White Sox and Reds.
Despite such mediocre play as of late, the Indians remain just a game and a half back of the front-running Chi Sox, a team many predicted would finish fourth in the AL Central prior to the season.
The season’s midway point is usually a good indicator of where a team stands, and many questions will be answered as the Tribe trudges its way toward the All-Star Break and subsequent trade deadline.
Tribe was in a position to contend at the break in 2011, and showed its hunger to win by trading for Ubaldo Jimenez. While the youth, injuries and inconsistency of 2011 served as a valuable lesson for a team claiming to be a contender, the final 100 games of 2012 will determine if they can make the adjustments to take the next step this season.
Here’s five ways the Tribe can not only stay in contention, but make the playoffs in 2012.