Are the 2012 Indians different from the 2011 Indians? I’m glad you asked that question.
On this day a year ago, the Indians were on top of the world. They were 30-15 and leading the American League Central by seven games. They were not a dominant team in numbers of numbers, but they were resourceful and getting it done. If they could have frozen that moment, they would have. The Indians went 50-67 the rest of the way and went from seven ahead to 15 behind in the American League Central.
So here we are again. After winning the first two games of a series against the Tigers, the Indians are 25-18 and leading the AL Central by 3 1/2 games. Only the Rangers and Dodgers have bigger division leads. The Indians have spent the last 30 days in first place. Like the 2011 Indians, this team doesn’t blow you away with numbers. They’re in the bottom half of the American League in both runs (eighth) and ERA (ninth). They don’t have anyone in the American League’s top 20 in home runs or RBIs. (They’ve drawn 190 walks, which is 17 more than any other team in baseball.) They don’t have a pitcher in the top 20 in strikeouts although Chris Perez, who is second in the AL with 15 saves, is at the back end of a terrific bullpen.
But it would be easy to make the case that these Indians are better, way better, than the 2011 Indians. In fact, they’re fundamentally different, and as the Tigers stumble along, they probably can’t count on another collapse by the Indians. Thanks to John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press for pointing out the large number of players the Indians didn’t have on their roster at this point last season. For instance:
- Derek Lowe. He’s tied for the American League lead in quality starts and behind only Justin Verlander in ERA. He has failed to finish six innings just once, and while he has finished seven innings just twice, he has been a huge addition.
- Jason Kipnis. He was called up in late July last season, but got hurt on August 12. By the time he returned September 6th, the Tigers had an eight-game lead. He leads the Indians in RBI and is tied for the team lead in home runs.
- Nick Hagadone. He joined the Tigers in September and has been a tremendous addition to the bullpen as a left-handed specialist. Left-hander batters are 2 for 20 against him.
- Shin-Soo Choo. OK, he was around last season. The Tigers are 7-2 since Manny Acta moved him into the leadoff spot, where he’s hitting .351 with a .442 OBP.
- Ubaldo Jimenez. He has quality starts in three of his last four turns.
- Casey Kotchman. He’s has started to get hot the last week, and the Indians still hope he can end up close to his 2011 numbers for the Rays (.351/.442).
- Johnny Damon. He’s hitting just .156 since joining the club earlier this month, and because he’s 38, it’s fair to wonder how much he has left in the tank. He has a .355 OBP since May 13.