First in a meandering series on the state of the Indians.
The Indians arrived home in early July after an 0-8 road trip. CC Sabathia had already been traded, Jake Westbrook was out for the season, and Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez wouldn't be back for another two months. The stage seemed set for an excruciating last half of the season, tempered only by Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore's respective runs at postseason awards.
Except that that painful second half didn't happen. The Indians are making a run at .500 after being 16 games below it on July 10th, and the root causes of the second half success portend a much brighter future than any of us thought in early July.
(in no particular order)
Jhonny Peralta. After a decent first half, Peralta turned it on after the All-Star Break, hitting .306/.363/.472. His plate coverage and batting eye improved dramatically since his early season struggles, giving the Indians at least one productive infielder.
Kelly Shoppach. In his first chance to play regularly, Shoppach has been one of the best offensive - and heck, all-around - catchers in the American League. His weaknesses are obvious, but as he's gotten regular reps, he's hit the ball with power to all fields. Even if he remains with the Indians, he's not going to be used as a typical backup any more. I think the Indians can put both he and Victor Martinez in the lineup, solving one infield problem for next season.
Shin-Soo Choo. Ben Francisco has been productive for a longer period, but Choo's play has to me been much more impressive. He's gotten on base at a .396 clip and slugged .535, with most of his at-bats coming after the All-Star Break. He took full advantage of his last chance with the Indians, and the Indians as a result probably won't pursue an outfielder in the off-season.
Asdrubal Cabrera. After Asdrubal came back from the minors, he was given regular playing time thanks to Josh Barfield's injury. And he took advantage of the second chance, hitting .303/.393/.439. He changed his stance to adjust to inside strikes, laid off inside balls, and started to crank out extra-base hits. His prime is several years away, but he's already a productive major-league starter.
Because of the above successes, the Indians can concentrate their off-season resources on just a couple areas of need instead of having to make wholesale changes. There are still major questions with this team, including the long-term health of Travis Hafner, the mechanics of Fausto Carmona, and the bullpen. But a 2009 rebound seems a lot more plausible thanks in part to these second-half turnarounds.