So maybe I jumped the gun a bit when I practically proclaimed the Cleveland Indians the AL Central champs heading into the weekend series with the first place Detroit Tigers. Despite the series sweep and an ugly showing against the lowly Seattle Mariners, the Indians are still in a good position to enter the playoffs as the best team in the AL Central.
Cleveland fans have seemed to accept their teams fate, as beat writers try to stop the suicide rate from climbing by putting what the Tribe did this season into perspective. Who really expected the rebuilding process to show results this quickly?
But 2011 is still not over, not by a long shot. The main reason is because of one man.
No, I mean he's really back.
Since returning from his broken thumb, Shin-Soo Choo has shown that the injury and his distracting DUI arrest are behind him. The man who was fourth in the AL in WAR last year is once again proving he is the most unappreciated player in the league.
Choo has a .372/.438/.651 slash line since returning to the every day lineup. His OPS+ is even an outrageous 191.
The Indians finally have a reliable and healthy bat in the middle of the lineup that can drive in the runs they have lacked throughout the entire pennant race.
Some are now questioning the Indians pitching, but I don't have the same concerns.
I firmly believe that Justin Masterson is the second-best pitcher in the AL right now, behind Verlander. If Ubaldo Jimenez can settle down and get comfortable in Cleveland, he can be the best No. 2 starter in the American League.
Josh Tomlin has not been as effective as he was earlier in the year, but when your third starter has one of the best walk rates and is top 10 in K/BB ratio, you're in pretty good shape. Fausto Carmona has finally looked like the ace he's supposed to be, and I have confidence in either Carlos Carrasco or David Huff as the fifth starter.
The offense in the only issue, and Choo is the answer.
Injuries have slowed the Tribe's offense as of late, but Choo has the ability to pick up most of the slack.
Healthy returns of Grady Sizemore, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Travis Hafner (assuming he avoids surgery) can make the Tribe the offensive force they were in April and May.
When you glance at a potential lineup, you can't help but be impressed.
1. Michael Brantley, LF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Travis Hafner, DH
5. Carlos Santana, C
6. Grady Sizemore, CF
7. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
8. Matt LaPorta, 1B
9. Jason Kipnis, 2B
Kipnis, who was the Tribe's media darling before going on the DL, is now the last hitter in the lineup, solely because of depth.
The key, though, is Choo. It's his job to keep the Tribe in contention for the the next two weeks until Sizemore, Kipnis and Brantley—and hopefully Hafner—return.
As a whole, this team will need everyone to contribute. For the time being, Cleveland has Choo and I wouldn't want it any other way.
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