The Twins come into town tonight for a huge three game series. The Indians could be in a tie for first place by the end of the weekend.
Would I in my wildest dreams imagine I'd be saying this in the middle of August? Hell no. I thought I'd be continuing to hold out hope that the Indians would contend in 2005, that the upcoming offseason would be the first time since 2001 that the Indians as an organization would act as a contender. I thought the development of minor league prospects such as Michael Aubrey and Franklin Gutierrez would be the highlight of the season for the Indians. I thought....
I thought wrong. The team is contending in August. They are hitting the bejeezus out of the ball, and seemed to have found a combination in the bullpen that works. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Jake Westbrook, Scott Elarton, and Chad Durbin were in the starting rotation, I would immediately start to envision a 100 loss team. But that's how baseball works sometimes; you can envision the end, but cannot predict the means to get there. As I said on Monday, this team is outscoring everyone in baseball, including the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox, and even the Rockies. That's an astounding turnaround from last year's offensive ineptitude.
You've Come a Long Way, Baby
What's even more astounding is the fact that the team making a run for the playoffs in 2004 is a completely different team than the 2001 Central champs. In fact, of the players currently on the 40-man roster, only these players were in the organization in 2001:
- Josh Bard (2001 trade)
- Fernando Cabrera (1999 Draft)
- Jason Davis (1999 Draft)
- Jody Gerut (2001 trade)
- Mariano Gomez (Signed in 1999)
- Tim Laker (Signed in 2000)
- Victor Martinez (Signed in 1996)
- John McDonald (Drafted in 1996)
- Jhonny Peralta (Signed in 1999)
- David Riske (Drafted in 1996)
- CC Sabathia (Drafted in 1998)
- Jason Stanford (Signed in 1999)
- Corey Smith (Drafted in 2000)
- Brian Tallet (Drafted in 2000)
- Omar Vizquel (1993 trade)
- Jake Westbrook (2000 trade)
- Bob Wickman (2000 trade)
Of those 17, only 7 spent time in the majors in 2001, and only 4 (Wickman, Sabathia, Vizquel, Riske) were on the postseason roster. That's an extremely quick rebuild.
A Cautionary Tale and a Tease
For a dose of reality, you need look only as far as last night's opponents, the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2003, they were the team on the rise, a team with a great offense but suspect pitching. Now, after injuries and regressions, the Jays are one of the worst teams in the American League. What happened to them, and how can the Indians avoid a similar fate? I'll tackle that tomorrow.