Cleveland Indians' manager Manny Acta certainly didn't get off to the start he and his club were hoping for. After years of rough April outings, there was hope things under Acta would change.
The standings may not indicate it, but I think they have. Acta's Tribe only won nine games, but they were lucky to even do that after being outscored by 27 runs in the month of April. The team is showing a lot more promise than most expected and it has been the pitching that has carried them to this point.
May is a new month, which means they are closer to the point where they historically heat up. If they hang around long enough, who knows what kind of run this team could go on. Their best offensive players have yet to really take off and if the pitching remains consistent as it has been, the club could easily turn the 9-13 record around.
With that, here is the past month of Indians baseball highlighting the five biggest story lines and three hottest and coldest players for the month of April.
The club's most consistent starter this past month? Mitch Talbot anyone?
While you probably would have been better off throwing darts at pictures to pick the likeliest pitcher to pitch well one month into the season, I don't think anyone had Talbot leading the team in ERA.
In four starts, Talbot has gone at least five innings and in his last three, he's picked up three victories with just two earned runs surrendered. After a rocky first few innings against Detroit, Talbot has been baffling to opposing hitters. While he isn't a strikeout artist, Talbot manages to change speeds effectively while maintaining excellent control of all his pitches.
His first career win was also his first career complete game, but perhaps his most impressive outing was the one he lost against Detroit. In his first ever start as an Indian, Talbot put himself into a world of trouble against the Tiger lineup. Remarkably after giving up four runs and piling up a pitch count, Talbot turned it around and managed to put in five total innings to at least keep his team in the game.
So far, so good for the right-hander acquired in the Kelly Shoppach deal from Tampa Bay. After years of losing players like Talbot in situations similar to how they acquired him, maybe the Indians have finally hit on some luck of their own.
I think most people would assume Shin-Soo Choo is leading the club in runs batted in. But do they know who's second?
How about their batting average leader or the player with the most doubles?
That would be Austin Kearns, who's forced his way into the everyday lineup. The struggles of Michael Brantley initially got him more time, but with Russell Branyan being activated and Matt LaPorta's struggles, Kearns has not only put himself into an everyday role, he's put himself into the clean-up spot on a daily basis.
Kearns pretty much took off on the latest road trip in Oakland. It is a very small hot-streak, but the horrendous hitting display from the likes of counted on hitters like Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, and Travis Hafner leave much to be desired.
The Indians are one of the top defensive teams in the entire game.
Just not when it is of the utmost importance.
While they've only committed 13 errors, probably half of them have come in crucial spots. The club has surrendered 15 unearned runs and only the Cubs and Dodgers have given up more.
One of the biggest culprits has been third baseman Jhonny Peralta who's only committed two errors, but has committed both of them in big spots.
Probably the most puzzling defensive storyline involves the team-leading three errors by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who very well may be the team's best defensive player. Cabrera has had some rough early issues with the glove work this year.
Not only does he looks like Danny McBride's Kenny Powers from the HBO series "Eastbound and Down," he sort of acts like him too.
Perez is very much a bulldog of a pitcher. Armed with pretty much just a blistering fastball and a sharp turning slider, the reliever with the flowing hair brings some attitude to the back end of the pen.
He's filled in moderately well for Kerry Wood here in the early going, saving four games in five chances. However all four of his saves have come against the Chicago White Sox. But his chances have been limited.
Perez made some waves just this past week when he called Howie Kendrick's game-winning RBI bunt single a bad baseball play. Back-to-back outings against Detroit and Texas got the ire of fans when he blew a save against the Tigers and then proceeded to nearly blow a tie game against the Rangers.
When asked again about his comments, Perez didn't back-track. He gave credit to Howie Kendrick but maintained that it was a bad baseball play that could have easily turned out to be disastrous for the Angels.
I think everyone expected that this team would hit and not pitch. So far they've pitched but not hit.
Their 4.16 ERA is in the top half of all of baseball, while their 77 runs scored is third to only Baltimore and Houston for least amount in baseball.
They've also got the third fewest home runs, second fewest hits, third fewest extra-base hits, and they've grounded out in the fourth most double plays.
Meanwhile the pitching ranks eighth in quality starts and first in complete games. They're bullpen has pitched third least amount of innings pitched as well.
Fausto Carmona has shown some flashes that he may be a changed pitcher, David Huff has built off his great finish in 2009, and we already know about Mitch Talbot.
Jake Westbrook and Justin Masterson have been the so called weak links of the staff, but they've even had their moments. Westbrook looks to be healthy and is making progress in terms of re-establishing himself as he builds up his stamina.
Masterson has been a strikeout machine, yet he's struggled with left-handed hitters and it has prevented him from getting deeper into games.
The hitting has had a few bright spots with Shin-Soo Choo pretty much carrying the club on their only home stand of the month and the already mentioned Austin Kearns playing his way into the lineup.
But past that and some good games from Asdrubal Cabrera, the players they were expected to count down haven't come through. Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, and Travis Hafner have all struggled at the dish and have all as recently hit under .200 with less than 10 RBI.
The club has shown signs of breaking through the past few games however and Russell Branyan has only been around for one week. Thins should be expected to change sooner rather than later.
Three Up (Who's Hot)
Austin Kearns: 19/51, 6 R, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 11 K, 5 BB
Shin-Soo Choo: 26/82, 12 R, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 22 K, 15 BB
Mitch Talbot: 3-1, 4 GS, 2.05 ERA, 7 K, 11 BB
Three Down (Who's Not)
Matt LaPorta: 13/60, 0 HR, 5 R, 1 RBI, 14 K, 6 BB
Lou Marson: 7/41, 0 HR, 5 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 9 K, 4 BB
Justin Masterson: 0-3, 4 GS, 5.68 ERA, 24 K, 11 BB