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A midsummer night's dream: a Cleveland Indians second-half preview

No, I am not good enough to do this second-half preview in iambic pentameter.


Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;

Four nights will quickly dream away the time;

And then the moon, like to a silver bow

New bent in heaven, shall behold the night...

...of the beginning of the second half. That quote, as you can probably guess, is from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and although the speaker of those lines was talking about waiting for his upcoming marriage vows, I think a lot of us have spent the last four days in a similar anticipatory mood.

On Wednesday Jason and I talked about the first half as well as what we thought the second half would bring. As I prepared for the podcast, I had up the Baseball-Reference Indians page, looking up and down the OPS+ column. After a couple seconds I realized that something was off. Normally a typical Indians roster had a least a couple painful lines, whether it was Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon in 2012 or Orlando Cabrera in 2011, usually someone was the Tootsie Roll in the punch bowl. This year there have been no Tootsie Rolls. Of the 13 players who have more than 10 plate appearances, the lowest OPS+ is 90 (Mike Aviles). Now you can say that Mark Reynolds (97 OPS+) has been in a freefall the last six weeks, but his insanely hot start counts just as much his June swoon, and he was hot when other players (like Jason Kipnis) wasn't. And that depth has allowed the Tribe offense to weather some key injuries (Michael Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher) and not really lose a beat. The Indians don't have the best offense in the AL, but their depth and versatility has served them well. They lead the league in stolen bases with four players with ten or more thefts, are fourth in the league in doubles (with ten players having ten or more) and rank fourth in the league in walks. You don't normally see an offense excel in those three categories, but this one has. It's often the team with the fewest holes, not the team with the stars and scrubs lineup, that prevails over the course of the long season, and unlike recently, the Indians not only don't have any real holes, but have enough depth to weather a couple injuries in the second half.

That's the good news.

The starting rotation has been a pleasant surprise, though there's still some huge warning bells going off. You'd like to think that the Indians would plug in a Masterson/McAllister/Kluber/Kazmir/JImenez rotation with Salazar as the fill-in the rest of the season, but chances that starting 5.5 either won't be as effective or healthy in late August and into September. Salazar isn't going to pitch much more than 110-120 innings this year, as he only pitched 87.2 innings in 2012, and he's already thrown 82 innings this season. Scott Kazmir has thrown a grand total of 87.2 major-league innings in the last three seasons combined, with 86 of those innings coming in this year, and that's assuming that his back will cooperate. Neither Kluber nor McAllister had thrown over 125 major-league innings in a season before this season, and those two will be absolutely key down the stretch (and that assumes McAllister can come back from his finger injury on time).

Which is why you are hearing the Indians in connection with just about every major starting pitcher thought to be on the marker, whether it be Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Phil Hughes, or even one of the St. Louis youngsters. With Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer apparently not going to help in 2013, in my opinion the Indians are going to have acquire some outside help to fortify the rotation, for I just don't think this patchwork rotation is going to hold up as is down the stretch.

The bullpen has some problems, but I don't think the Indians need to break the prospect bank to fix it. CC Lee and Blake Wood could help in the second half if needed, and a left-handed reliever (Oliver Perez? Darren Oliver?) shouldn't be too expensive to obtain.

I do think the lineup can hold up, with Asdrubal Cabrera a key reason why. He played with a sore quad through the first couple months of the season, and eventually had go on the DL because of it. He's healthy now, and past the normal post-DL adjustment period. Lonnie Chisenhall, after his timeout in Columbus, is not only hitting, but showing better plate discipline than at any other time in his short big-league career.

The schedule will help somewhat, especially if the Indians can remain in contention through August. After September 4th, the Indians do not play a single team with a current record over .500, and of those teams, only Kansas City really has a chance of getting back to .500 by then. But the Tigers have a similar schedule, and they are going to upgrade their bullpen by July 31st. I think the Indians have a better chance at the Wild Card, as though there are right now five teams for two spots, three of those teams are in the AL East and will be playing each other.

So is this the midpoint of a comedy or tragedy? Last year the Indians were in contention through the end of July, and then everything fell apart in a King Lear-like August. I don't think that comedy of errors happens again, but the second half could end up being much ado about nothing, with an unsatisfying, mediocre record. They could take the Tigers measure for measure, just missing out at end of the season for both the division and Wild Card spots. Or everything could end as you all would like it, with the Indians making their first playoff appearance in six seasons.

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