As the month of August dragged on, it looked as if the Cleveland Indians were going to spoil all of the city’s optimism – yet again – by experiencing yet another late-season fade into obscurity. The Tribe posted a 12-16 overall record for the month.
Seven days into the final month of the regular season, however, the Indians have now won four out of their last five. The Wahoos are looking to heat up at the plate, following a month in which the team’s bats remained in a collective slump throughout.
The pitching staff has surprisingly held its own throughout the course of the season, and the re-emergence of Ubaldo Jimenez as a quality starter has been a very pleasant surprise. Ace Justin Masterson was recently placed on the DL following an oblique injury he sustained during Monday night’s start. The extent to which Masterson’s injury will keep him out of action is currently unclear, although he is technically listed as day-to-day. Speculation from various sources suggests that the injury could keep Masterson out until the end of the regular season, which would obviously strike a major blow to the Tribe’s playoff aspirations.
As the Indians look to continue their current hot streak en route to a possible playoff appearance, there a number of key players whose performances could have a major impact on the club’s chances of making their first postseason appearance since 2007. Here are the three key players who stand out among the others:
There’s no denying that, when healthy and motivated, Cabrera is one of the game’s best all-around shortstops. That’s why the Venezuelan native was the centerpiece of numerous trade discussions during the offseason.
Cabrera’s trade potential peaked at the wrong time, as the shortstop has been arguably the most disappointing member of the 2013 Indians. Cabrera started the season off rather slow, and then sat out the majority of June with a quad injury. July and August were not friendly to Cabrera, either, as he assembled a horrid .212 batting average between the two crucial months. He has not collected a single hit yet this month.
As if he hadn’t been awful enough offensively, the once-superior defensive abilities of Cabrera have diminished to the tune of a -0.7 defensive WAR (wins above replacement) rating this season.
Considering the Indians have gotten this far in 2013 without much production from their former All-Star shorstop, a similar lack of production during the season’s final weeks would probably not completely shatter the team’s playoff hopes. However, anything at or above the “average” mark would go a long way in pushing the Tribe to the top of the AL Wild Card race.
When the Indians signed Swisher to a four-year, $56 million contract, more than a few fans jumped the gun by anointing Swisher as the long-awaited big bat that the club’s lineup had so obviously lacked for a number of seasons. In reality, fans should have realized that Swisher was a nice addition who could provide the Indians with a solid run producer in the middle of the lineup – that’s it.
In no way was the Columbus-born Swisher going to step right in and be the team’s Messiah. Unfortunately, it seems as if that is the role that Swisher has been trying to take on since the season began, and there is little doubt that the added pressure has affected his play.
In an effort to remove some of the weight on Swisher’s broad shoulders, manager Terry Francona moved Swisher’s position in the lineup from cleanup to second in late July. The move has produced mixed results thus far, as the man behind “Brohio” has continued to struggle at the plate over the past few weeks.
Fans are hoping that Saturday night’s grand slam could ignite a hot streak for Swisher, which would definitely provide a major spark to an Indians lineup that has been seemingly stuck in neutral since the All-Star break. Don’t expect much of an increase in the slugger’s low average (.242), though. Driving in runs should be Swisher’s main focus in September.
There’s nothing more irritating than a closer who can’t close out games. While it is true that blown saves are an inevitable part of every major league season, Chris Perez just seems to do a better job of blowing games than most.
Perez has served as the Tribe’s closer for the past four seasons now, so fans are more than accustomed to seeing Mr. Scruffy make Bob Wickman proud by routinely making things interesting in the ninth inning of close ball games.
As Perez’s normally above-average velocity has dipped, so has his already-limited dependability. Perez once thew consistently in the mid-to-upper 90′s. His fastball now sits right around 93 mph, a number that doesn’t allow Perez to overpower hitters in the manner that he once used to.
Hitters are making contact against the 6-foot-4, 230-pound closer at an alarming rate, as the right-hander has allowed 21 hits in 21.0 innings pitched since the All-Star break.
If I’m Francona, the last member of the Indians bullpen I want to send to the mound in any situation that could make-or-break my team’s playoff chances is Chris Perez. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not (okay, a tie with Rich Hill may be plausible). The fact of the matter is that Chris Perez is simply not a reliable closer anymore. Honestly, I question whether he ever was.
Here’s to hoping that you can make me eat my words, Chris.