Promoted OF JJ Sherrill to Akron (AA) from Kinston (A+)
Sherrill at this point is an organizational guy, and was moved up to Akron for two reasons; to play center field while Franklin Gutierrez is on the shelf, and to make room in Kinston for Brad Snyder to play every day.
4 Games Out; 3.5 Games Out
The next two weeks should tell us once and for all whether the Indians are contenders or pretenders. After two more games with the Blue Jays, the Tribe plays the Minnesota Twins the next 6 out of 9 games. If my math is correct, they'll only face Brad Radke once and miss Johan Santana altogether in those two series. That's a huge break.
Although I'm less optimistic about the Wild Card, the Indians are closer to the Angels/Red Sox/Rangers than they are to the Twins. Sandwiched between the two Twins series is a trip to Arlington to face the Rangers, so they can make up ground against at least one of the wild card teams there.
A Critical Analysis: The Offense
Make no mistake about it; the major reason for the Indians being where they are this year is their offense. How did this offense go from the second worst in the AL last year to the best in the majors this year?
1. Everyone's been healthy. Matt Lawton, Travis Hafner, and Omar Vizquel were all hurt at some point last year, and all haven't gone on the DL at all.
2. Breakout seasons from Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. Travis Hafner has been one of the best 5 hitters in the American League, and Victor Martinez has established himself as one of baseball's best offensive catchers. The team didn't have anyone to hit in the middle of the order when the season began, but now it has two legitimate run producers.
3. Progress from Casey Blake. Blake, the Indians' most consistent hitter in 2003, has had a better season this year, hitting .280/.361/.482. Last year he hit .257/.312/411.
4. The unexpected contributions from Ronnie Belliard and Lou Merloni. Merloni, placed at first base versus left-handers because there were no other options, has hit southpaws to a tune of .356/.409/.577. Considering all the left-handers the AL Central throws at you, he's been a godsend. Belliard has also mashed left-handers, and has been a huge upgrade over Brandon Phillips last year.
5. Rebounds from Matt Lawton and Omar Vizquel. Lawton, although he's cooled off of late, is still hitting .290/.363/.452, which you'll definitely take. Omar Vizquel is having one of the best offensive season of his career, hitting .298/.361/402.
6. The team gets on base. The Indians as a team get on base at a .357 clip, best in baseball.
To summarize, the Indians have gotten really lucky with some players, while their patience with others (Hafner, Martinez, Blake) has paid off. Hopefully Mark Shapiro realizes that simply keeping the same cast of characters next year is not going to guarentee a better result. The offense still needs another big bat in the lineup; a right-handed right fielder or first baseman with power would look real nice in between Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez next year.