This edition of The Breakdown! (cue theme) arrives late on the scene and, for that, I apologize. I graduate in two weeks and the runway towards that departure has been crowded and cluttered. If you can hardly remember what we learned in the previous installment of The Breakdown! (cue theme), you can reacquaint yourself here.
Kansas City: Won 9-4, Won 7-2, Won 8-2
Detroit: Won 9-5, Won 3-2, Won 5-4
@ Oakland: Won 4-1, Lost 3-1, Won 4-3
@ LAA: Lost 2-1, Won 4-3, Lost 6-5
Tampa Bay: Won 5-4, Lost 8-2, Lost 7-4
Seattle: Won 5-4
@ Kansas City: Won 19-1, Won 7-3
@ Chicago White Sox: Lost 1-0, Lost 8-2
Cincinnati: Won 5-4, Won 2-1, Won 12-4
Boston: Won 3-2, Lost 4-2, Lost 14-2
@ Tampa Bay: Lost 5-0, Won 7-3, Lost 7-0
THE BIG STORY: My delinquency in writing The Breakdown! (cue theme) makes it near impossible to find a single 'big story'—I've waited long enough that a number of different narratives have emerged, faded, and been replaced. Last time we spoke, Grady Sizemore's resurgence was tabbed as THE BIG STORY—one could argue that Grady's DL stint and tepid return is a major story over the last month. In the same vein, Travis Hafner's trip to the DL for a strained oblique, which isn't ending anytime soon, has also been a major talking point. More sunnily, Justin Masterson's dominance against anyone not wearing a Rays uniform has continued. Faced with this abundance of options, my only choice is to go with the simple: THE BIG STORY is that the Indians have continued to play well while their divisional rivals have faltered. Since April 25, the Indians lead in the Central has ballooned by 4.5 games and the Tribe has gone from five games over .500 to eleven over. The Indians' attempts to run away and hide weren't undertaken alone, as every potential Central contender seems interested in giving the Cleveland Nine an assist: from April 25 to today, the rest of the Central has gone:
The Central has recently held a reputation for being lousy and it's living up to that heritage, but with a twist. The Central does, indeed, look bad, except, maybe, the Indians are actually pretty damn good? The Indians have not truly slumped all year—this team has not lost a three game series this season and only twice all year has lost three games in a row (April 21-24 and May 24-27). On the other side of the ledger, the 2011 Indians have gotten truly hot a number of times, cobbling together four streaks of four straight wins, including an eight game and a seven game winning streak. The team's proficiency for sweeps is well documented: they've swept six of their thirteen three-game sets.
There's no doubt the team has cooled of late, going 'only' two games over .500 in May (to this point) after a torrid 18-8 April. At the same time, everyone who's attentive and coherent has noticed the pitchers the Indians have faced over the past week: Buchholz, Beckett, Lester, Price, Shields, and Hellickson is essentially as difficult a six-game stretch as a team can possibly face and losing four of those six games is nothing to be ashamed of—what would've been shameful is if the Indians hadn't gotten fat off of the easier matchups preceding this past week.
THE BEST THING GOING: The incredible, inedible Asdrubal Cabrera put together a stretch for the ages. His triple slash over the last 29 games is .339/.395/.593. Sixteen of his last 40 hits have been for extra bases. He is sixth in the AL in OPS+, tied for seventh in home runs, and has played all but five innings of the 2011 Cleveland Indians season, and all of those 445 innings have come at shortstop. While it's not likely to keep up, as of today Asdrubal Cabrera is a legitimate MVP candidate. Good thing—otherwise, we'd be losing our ish over Jhonny Peralta's resurgent stick.
NOT AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS: Michael Brantley is a player who's easy to love—he's handsome, moves smoothly around the field, and has OPS'ed 1038 with men on base. At the same time, Brantley's prowess has been overstated at times: since April 26, he's hitting .264/.310/.406. He barely hits enough to pull off CF; he actually looks better in comparison to AL left fielders, who have bizarrely turned into a bunch of sinkholes thus far in 2011. However, if LF rebounds to a hitter's position (which it will), and that's where Brantley's long-term future is, he's going to need to keep improving. Brantley looks much better than last season and his 2% jump in BB% is an extremely positive indicator. He's not a finished product, though, not even close—he has a ways to go before he's obviously a career major league regular.
NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS: Choo has finally pulled it together (OPS of 830 over this stretch), so we can finally take him off the list. Santana has also rebounded, with an OPS of 780. Special mention ought to go to Matt LaPorta, who is able to look as little like a baseball player as anyone in the majors if you catch him on the wrong day. Overall, though, LaPorta is serviceable: OPS of 820 over this stretch, OPS of 801 on the year. He and Brantley are actually having similar seasons, asserting themselves as viable second division starters, while not assuaging all our fears. LaPorta, however, always seems to look totally confused, at least until he manages to make contact and push the baseball over the opposite field wall, as compared to Brantley's remarkable outward composure and control.
Chris Perez has been driving people absolutely nuts, and with good reason. He's looked like hell, with a 1:1 BB:SO and an every outing tightrope act. To borrow from TribeJay, though, I don't think this is all that big of a deal. Perez's issue is not diminishing stuff, at least from what I can tell, and as long as Perez still has his stuff, he can be an elite closer when he finds his control.
The question is, is his control gone forever? I can't imagine it is. Control has been Rage's bugaboo his whole life, dating back to college, and you have to imagine he's managed to right this ship many times in his young life. Perez has a long history of striking out more batters than he walks and I'm confident he'll get back to there. In the meantime, the Indians have gotten very lucky that he hasn't cost them more—his single blown save is a better record than he's earned to this point.
THE RISKY PLAY: Mitch Talbot was truly awful in his first start back from a rehab stint, raising his ERA over five points in a day. Talbot will get at least another turn to work things out but, if it's determined he's no longer an option, Zach McAllister is making a case for himself. McAllister has been excellent thus far in AAA, upping his K/9 to over 7 and being exceptionally stingy with free passes. McAllister was once known as a groundball pitcher, but that time seems to be gone and he actually profiles sort of like a younger Mitch Talbot: unexceptional stuff with a little bit of swing and miss, and a long march up the ladder. Talbot had injury issues beyond anything McAllister's ever gone through, and McAllister is four inches taller and four years younger. The whole reason Mitch is on the Indians is that he doesn't have any options (that's the only reason Tampa was willing to deal him) and it will be interesting to see how quickly the Indians are willing to swap him in for a newer model. McAllister looks like the go-to guy if the Indians need a fill-in, although Gomez has been solid since going back down. Huff, on the other hand, may be nearing the end of the line.