At the start of the 2013 season, very few prognosticators would have pegged the Cleveland Indians as a playoff team, let alone a relative threat come the start of September. Fortunately for the Tribe faithful, the team has done a lot to prove its detractors—including myself at times—wrong this season.
The Indians own a 71-61 record to this point, as they find themselves 5.5 games in back of the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers. The two AL wild-card spots are in reach as well with just 3.5 games separating them from the final playoff spot
The Indians' offense has benefited immensely from the breakout season of Jason Kipnis, along with steady production from catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana. The pitching staff, though shaky at times, has been paced by team ace Justin Masterson along with solid contributions from Scott Kazmir and Corey Kluber among others.
Several players have begun to turn their otherwise disappointing seasons around and are peaking just in time to try and help the Indians secure a playoff birth for the first time since 2007. Others, however, have suffered through mediocrity all season long and have hampered the team's overall success.
The best time to wipe the slate clean in a bad season, or to break out of a lengthy slump, is the month of September.
The stakes are high in Cleveland and October baseball is the prize. In order to realize that goal, the Indians will need several players—six by my count—to step up in September and guide the team to the playoffs.
Let's take a look at those six players, starting with a relative newcomer to the team.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through play on Aug. 28, 2013.
Defensive metrics come courtesy of Fangraphs.com.
Has any offseason acquisition in Cleveland been more disappointing than Nick Swisher?
Technically, Mark Reynolds could be viewed as the bigger disappointment, but there wasn't much expected of him and he certainly wasn't handed a four-year $56 million deal last offseason.
In return, Swisher has rewarded the Indians with a .244/.342/.404 triple-slash line with 15 home runs, 46 RBI, 58 runs scored and a 109:62 K/BB ratio.
Sure, the on-base percentage is nice, but that type of production is hardly indicative of the player the Indians thought they were getting when they inked him to that massive deal.
There's still some hope for his 2013 season, though. The Indians find themselves in the middle of a dogfight for a playoff spot in the American League and sit just 5.5 games back of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central and just 3.5 games in back of Oakland in the AL wild-card race.
Swisher's hardly done anything to inspire confidence in his ability to turn things around in September. In August, the 32-year-old had a disappointing slash line of .232/.315/.404 with four home runs, 13 RBI and 10 runs scored.
Whether his play in August is a sign of things to come or not, the Indians will need Swisher to play to the best of his abilities if they're going to make a run at the postseason.
Ubaldo Jimenez time with the Cleveland Indians has been disappointing, to say the least.
Jimenez was brought in to be the ace of the starting staff back in 2011 but has yet to actually live up to that status over two-and-a-half seasons with the team. Over 67 starts with the Tribe—including this season—Jimenez owns a 22-29 record with a 4.83 ERA.
Though he struggled through the first half of 2013, he's been a man on a mission in the second half. In his six starts since the All-Star break, the 29-year-old owns a stellar 2.27 ERA with a WHIP of 1.32 and per-nine ratios of 9.8 K/9, 5.05 BB/9 and 6.8 H/9.
The Dominican Republic native seems to have figured something out since the break. Although he's allowing a few more walks per nine innings—5.1 in the second half, up from 4.8 in the first—he's allowing nearly two fewer hits per nine innings while striking out 1.2 more batters.
Jimenez is solid, but that doesn't mean the Indians don't need more from him. The young righty has a tendency to go on prolonged hot streaks just before a massive collapse.
The Indians and Jimenez both have a lot at stake in September. The Indians need the former AL Cy Young Award candidate at his absolute best to provide a solid one-two punch with Justin Masterson atop the Indians' rotation.
Jimenez also needs this stretch to be his best with the Tribe to avoid becoming a roster casualty in the offseason. Jimenez is slated to earn $8 million next season, but the Indians can buy out his final year for just $1 million if they deemed the price to be too steep for a pitcher who's amounted to nothing but a No. 5 starter in his time with the team.
There's a lot to gain, and much to be lost, on both sides of the argument. It should be interesting how things play out with Jimenez in the season's final month.
Lonnie Chisenhall was a stud in the minor leagues. Over 431 games between Low-A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, Chisenhall averaged a .282/.351/.470 slash line while posting season averages of 22 home runs, 40 doubles, 116 RBI and 102 runs scored.
Chisenhall broke in with the Indians during the 2011 season but has yet to realize the full extent of his perceived potential. In 185 big league games, Chisenhall owns a .242/.282/.395 triple-slash line with 19 home runs, 32 doubles, 66 RBI and 66 runs scored.
He hasn't hit for much of an average or gotten on base at a rate sufficient enough to warrant his use as an everyday player. However, there is a ton of power potential in his bat should he get the ball rolling.
Chisenhall is having a down year in 2013, even by his standards. He owns a paltry .217/.263/.357 slash line with seven home runs, 28 RBI and 23 runs scored. It's been a struggle for the young third baseman who is quickly falling out of favor among both the organization and the Cleveland faithful.
Chisenhall is still just 24 years old in his third season as a professional. In other words, there's still an abundance of time for him to put his tools together for a solid MLB career.
However, as the old adage goes, there's no time like the present. Chisenhall could be a huge piece in the Indians' playoff run. A solid month of September for him would do wonders for the Tribe, who have struggling players occupying both positions on the left side of second base.
Much like Ubaldo Jimenez, Chisenhall has a lot riding on this final month as well. Though it's true that Chisenhall is young, he's not young enough or talented enough, quite frankly, for the Indians to risk their season by allowing him to develop.
The Indians figure to contend for the AL Central title again in 2014. If the organization determines that he's not worth the risk, they may relegate him to a lesser role prior to next season.
Chris Perez really isn't a bad closer at all. Like all closers, Perez tends to draw a large amount of negativity when he blows a save. In his case, though, it may be a hair overblown given his production this season and his track record for success.
However, Perez hasn't been as good this season as he has in the past.
To this point of the 2013 season, Perez owns a 3.22 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP and per-nine inning ratios of 8.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 7.7 H/9 and 1.4 HR/9. In addition to those lackluster numbers, Perez has converted saves at an 84 percent rate while allowing a .224/.302/.429 slash line to opposing lineups. Both sets of figures represent the worst in his time as Cleveland's closer.
Teams tend to rely an awful lot on their bullpen in September. Starting pitchers get worn down and can lose velocity as the season winds down, leading to an increased use of the 'pen.
Given his role, a lot will be expected of Perez if the Indians are going to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, the months of September and October have been the worst of his career.
Over 49 games between the two months, Perez boasts a horrifying 4.59 ERA to go along with equally awful ratios of a 1.20 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 2.05 K/BB and 7.0 H/9. The right-hander has also lost significant velocity off his fastball—his bread-and-butter pitch.
Compared to last August, Perez has lost two miles per hour off of his fastball at 93.23 mph, down from 95.23, per Brooksbaseball.net.
All signs point to the idea of Perez falling flat in September. The Indians, however, are hoping that he can dial it back to 2010, when Perez was one of the most promising young relievers in baseball.
Asdrubal Cabrera has easily been the most frustrating player on the Indians' roster this season.
After back-to-back All-Star selections and a top-20 finish in AL MVP voting two years ago, Cabrera has fallen off to the point where he's nearly unrecognizable from a statistical standpoint.
Over 104 games, Cabrera owns a .243/.296/.394 triple slash—the worst of his career. If that weren't bad enough, the speed and power combo that made Cabrera one of the top shortstops in baseball has vanished completely. He only has nine home runs and seven stolen bases this year.
Quite simply, things are bad for Cabrera. It's not just his offense that has vanished from his game, though. His defense is worse than it ever was as well.
Cabrera has never been a great defender or even a good defender for that matter. The 27-year-old owns a -40.8 UZR over the course of his career to go along with a .974 fielding percentage.
This season, though, the Venezuela native has been especially bad, posting a -10.6 UZR and a .979 fielding percentage.
It's been a rough season for Cabrera, to say the very least. However, a good month of September could do wonders for the Indians in terms of team performance and for his trade value over the winter.
If Asdrubal Cabrera is the most disappointing player on the Indians' roster, than Michael Bourn is easily No. 2.
The 30-year-old center fielder was brought in last offseason to fill the void created by the Shin-Soo Choo trade, and while Choo has flourished in Cincinnati, Bourn has struggled in Cleveland.
Over 101 games, Bourn owns a .268/.321/.356 slash line with five home runs, 18 doubles, 38 RBI and 60 runs scored. His production is down across the bard with each of the three triple-slash components are below his career averages and even his stolen base total is severely lagging as he stumbles into September.
Bourn has swiped just 19 bags on the year—down from 42 last season. With that drastic drop-off in baserunning production, Bourn has morphed from a dynamic leadoff hitter to a slightly-above-average outfielder with very little to offer a lineup.
Over his eight-year-career, Bourn owns a 54.0 UZR. Last year, Bourn had a UZR value in the double digits at 23.3 and was arguably the biggest snub of the Gold Glove voting process.
He still possesses great range and a decent enough arm, but those two areas of Bourn's game have also taken a hit. When it's all said and done though, the biggest concern this year has been the decline of Bourn's all-around offensive abilities.
The Indians don't have much power in the middle of their lineup and when it comes to scoring runs, they'll take them any way they can get them. Getting Bourn going and running the bases would be a shot in the arm for the offense.
If Bourn is ever going to justify his four-year, $48 million deal, September would be a great time to start.