Cleveland Indians Pennant Chase: Why the Ubaldo Jimenez Trade is Still the Key
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The on-again, off-again right-hander pitched a gem against the Chicago White Sox, working into the ninth inning in a 4-1 win over the Southsiders. Carmona ate up innings on the mound, providing some much-needed relief for a pitching staff that saw nine pitchers take the hill in a 14-inning marathon loss the night before.
That night, the recently acquired Ubaldo Jimenez struggled for the second time in three outings since arriving in Cleveland two weeks ago.
No matter. The acquisition of Jimenez is the key to the Indians' pennant hopes.
Since the trade, the Indians have gone 9-6 in five crucial series. They battled the powerhouse Red Sox and Rangers to a virtual standoff, won two of three against division-leading Detroit, and swept two games of a rain-shortened set against division rival Minnesota.
Now, they've split the first two games of a three-game set against Chicago, a division foe that is nipping at the Tribe's second-place heels.
This is no smoke-and-mirrors mirage. This is a young team that believes in itself and won't go away. They're now 61-58, two games behind the Tigers in the AL Central.
The numbers are nice, but they're not the only reason the Jimenez trade made the difference.
What mattered most about the deal is that Indians' management rolled the dice. They made a statement. They traded two outstanding pitching prospects, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, for a potential front-of-the-rotation guy.
Critics come out of the woodwork any time a major trade occurs, and it's happened with the Jimenez deal. Internet comments routinely take the Tribe brass to task for giving too much to Colorado in the trade, and lament how it's going to cost the Indians in the long run.
Maybe they're right; time will tell. But for now, the trade has given the Indians players—and they're the ones who have to play the game, after all—a much-needed jolt.
It put them on notice that the organization was serious about this season. It let them know that they were expected to keep on competing, right to the very last week of the season.
So what have the Indians done? They've stood in the ring, toe-to-toe with opponents who were no doubt licking their chops over a chance to put these young upstarts in their place, and landed more blows than they've absorbed.
Even in their recent losses, they've given opponents all they could handle. Over the last two weeks, five of their six losses have been by one run. The other was by two.
This, after a midseason swoon that had them stumbling and staggering and in danger of doing what their N.L. counterparts in Cinderella-ville, the Pittsburgh Pirates, have done—fade from serious contention.
After a blazing 30-15 start, the Indians skidded during June and July, going 22-37 to settle in at a nondescript 52-52. Fortunately, no one in their division seemed interested in pulling away, and they remained in the division race.
Enter Jimenez, and the team has looked like a contender ever since. Yes, the trade for Kosuke Fukodome added to the aura. So did the call-up of second baseman Jason Kipnis after Orlando Cabrera was shipped to San Francisco.
The signature move was the Jimenez trade, however, and it's not just a coincidence that the Indians have looked better ever since.
Michael Brantley is hitting. So is Carlos Santana, finally. Shin-Soo Choo, back from the disabled list, is showing signs of life. Fukodome is settling in. Asdrubal Cabrera has maintained his All-Star pace at the plate and has stepped up as the undisputed leader of the team. Travis Hafner remains a seasoned big-league hitter.
Combined with a surprisingly formidable pitching staff, it makes the Tribe a team to watch as the home stretch of the season approaches.
What matters most is that the team believes in itself. Manager Manny Acta has done a masterful job of keeping the team focused all season long. Add to that the guts it took for the front office to pull the trigger on some key deals at the trading deadline, and the pieces are in place for a legitimate pennant chase.
That's what the Jimenez trade was all about. If the early returns are any indication, it was worth it.
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