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Cleveland Indians may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel

It still may not be time to break out hope for a playoff run, but maybe we can finally be cautiously optimistic about the Tribe.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

By nearly all accounts, 2015 has been a train wreck for the Cleveland Indians. Despite being predicted (or cursed if you want to take that route) by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series coming into the season, the Tribe currently sit at 16-23, good for the 2nd-worst in the AL and 4th-worst in the Majors. But with the bats starting to warm up, the starting pitching looking like we thought it would, and a slightly-relaxed schedule coming up, the worst of the season may be behind the Indians once and for all.

I am in no way implying that everything is roses from here on out, or that it's even time to get optimistic quite yet. There are still plenty of problems with this team, but for the first time in a long time a little ray of hope may be shining through all dark fog left by losing streaks and blowout losses.

The days of winning a game and then getting blown out by 4 runs or more are hopefully coming to and end. To date, this has happened to the Indians 7 times this season:

  • April 9th, 5-1 Win @ Astros -- April 10th, 4-8 Loss vs Tigers
  • April 18th, 4-2 Win @ Twins -- April 19th, 2-7 Loss @ Twins
  • April 21st, 6-2 Win @ White Sox -- April 22nd, 0-6 Loss @ White Sox
  • April 29th, 7-5 Win vs Royals -- April 30, 1-5 Loss vs Blue Jays
  • May 1st, 9-4 Win vs Blue Jays -- May 2nd, 4-11 Loss vs Blue Jays
  • May 10th, 8-2 Win vs Twins -- May 12th, 3-8 Loss vs Cardinals
  • May 16th, 10-8 Win @ Rangers -- May 17th, 1-5 Loss @ Rangers

Despite those two recent blowout losses following wins, the Indians have finally managed back-to-back wins twice in the last week, something they hadn't done even once since the first series against Houston. Also, as a team, the Indians are performing surprisingly well offensively and on the mound recently - both areas that they've struggled off and on throughout the year.

Over the last 14 days, the Indians starters are the best in the AL by quite a margin. Their 11.02 K/9 rate is the highest in the AL with the next closest teams being the White Sox with 9.04 strikeouts per 9 innings, the Tampa Bay Rays with 8.49, and the New York Yankees with 8.38. They have also issued the fewest walks in the AL over that span (1.43 per 9), and they've done it all with the 2nd highest BABIP (.324). All of this culminates into an AL-leading 2.98 team FIP, yet a 5th-best 4.30 ERA thanks to a lack of help from the defense. Keep in mind these numbers also include the two forgettable starts from Bruce Chen in which he allowed a combined 9 earned runs and only struck out 4 batters.

On the other side of the plate, again over the past 14 days, the Indians are one of the top offenses in the AL. Lead mostly by Jason Kipnis and his insane streak of 8-consecutive games reaching base at least 3 times, the Tribe offense is 6th in WAR with 1.8. They trail only the Blue Jays (2.0), Rangers (2.1), Rays (2.2), Tigers (2.9), and Royals (3.2). Coincidentally, the Indians have faced each team except the Rays in at least one series so far this year.

While the offense still lacks any kind of power - which is an issue - they are getting on base at an impressive clip. Their team 10.4% walk rate is a full 1.1% over the 2nd place Astros, and their team .339 OBP is good enough to put them just behind the AL-leading Tigers, who are at .343.

One explanation could simply be that the Cleveland Indians are currently experiencing their own "dead cat bounce," which is the theory that even a dead cat (or a losing baseball team) will bounce up once it hits rock bottom. I can't speak for everyone when it comes to the low-point of a season, but if the Indians did indeed already hit rock bottom, I feel as if it happened the day after Corey Kluber struck out 18 batters. Following the high of that game, Indians' bats couldn't hit anything home against Michael Wacha (despite racking up 8 hits in total), and another great Trevor Bauer outing was wasted. This was also the game where Lonnie Chisenhall managed to botch a bunt and get thrown out on a school yard hidden ball trick in a single inning.

It's also possible the team has finally started playing to its true talent level, and is ready to make a run.

The Indians will finally get the return of Yan Gomes any day now. With the Super 2 cutoff date slowly creeping closer, super prospect Fransisco Lindor could soon be called up. He'll likely disappoint a lot of fans expecting an All-Star performance out the gate, but if he can play replacement-level offense, solid defense at shortstop, and wreak some havoc on the bases he'll be an instant upgrade over the likes of Jose Ramirez.

Following a brutal couple of months of playing through the tough AL Central, the Indians schedule is also opening up. After tonight's series finale against the White Sox, the Indians go up against the Reds, Rangers, Mariners, Royals, Orioles, and then the Mariners again. Other than the Royals, those opponents are a combined 70-86. If the Indians can manage a few winning streaks in the next few weeks, they'd be riding high as they head back to Detroit for a series in the middle of June. Who knows, maybe it'll carry over to the rest of the season?