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Why it's looking good for the Cleveland Indians, and they've only just begun

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What, you aren't excited for the Cleveland Indians? But there's so much going for them! Take a look at just a few bits.

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing in baseball is ever pretty, save for Junior’s swing, but things aren’t that bad for the Cleveland Indians. In fact, when you consider what a lot of other teams are going through, life is pretty sunny on the shores of the Cuyahoga. Heck, it's going pretty great when you look at it. Here’s but a smattering.

A little music to listen, while you read.

Carlos Santana is hitting

Whatever it is about Santana that so upsets a subset of fans, at this point in the season it’s nothing but wind. So far he is hitting like an All-Star with a 133 wRC+, hitting with power as he packs a .221 isolated slugging, and also happens to have walked more than he’s struck out.

He’s been instrumental in nearly every win the Indians have, whether getting a rally going, frustrating an opposing pitcher with a lengthy at-bat, or just simply lifting fly balls to move guys around the bases. And from the leadoff spot, he’s a revelation. He’s logged a 204 wRC+ when batting first, basically better than Bryce Harper. Is that ridiculous? Yes. But it’s also happening. This whole leadoff thing is something fans have been banging the drum on for seemingly years, and Santana’s performance is making everyone feel better about themselves for it.

Santana's batting average will never be shiny, but he’s still going to get on base about 230 times this year, and there’s going to be 45 or 50 extra base hits in that mix. He may not be Miguel Cabrera or the dearly departed Victor Martinez, but this is the kind of leadoff hitter I can get behind, and the Indians can score behind.

Corey Kluber is a top 10 pitcher in baseball

Most know it, but it’s still important to say every now and again. A couple rough outings tweaked Kluber’s numbers, but how about his last three starts: 24 innings, 23 strikeouts, 2 walks and 3 earned runs. That’ll work out just nicely. Knowing this is going to keep coming every five days is a nice little piece of peace in a sometimes chaotic rotation.

Kluber is ninth among starters in FIP, 12th in WHIP, 12th in SIERA, and 19th in strikeout rate. He’s also tied with Chris Sale for ninth in pitcher’s fWAR. That’s all among all of baseball, not just the American League. Add to all that his durability and past track record, we’re talking about one of the best in the game. This is what we get to watch once a week or so, and the silent, methodical, metronomical terror the opposition must fear most series.

It's not just the results either. I love reading about Kluber's thoughts on pitching. He's so aware of everything he's doing out there. Most pitchers understand why they're going good or bad, but Kluber knows every bit of his machinery. A couple starts back after he got shelled by the Mets, he didn't even need to watch film to know what happened, he just went to work with Mickey Calloway and next thing you know, he's lights out. Maybe I just nerd out a bit on it when he gets going in interviews, but the guy is marvelous.

They’re like three games back, and it’s the White Sox leading the pack

Nobody has done anything special in the American League Central so far, it’s not like anything is remotely out of reach. If anything, the Tigers and Royals look to be in shambles at the moment -- no pitching or hitting or defense working together to earn either of them wins.

Apparently the Indians now own Detroit too, likely bought at a bankruptcy auction. If anything, it’s the Tribe that can start to put some space between them and those two and the Twins, now that they’re clicking. It’s only those pesky White Sox, all of a sudden feeling their oats. But the Indians are only 3.5 games back and it’s May -- they’re going to play 16 more times this year including four times in three days later this month. While the Sox are 20-10, they are playing a bit over their head. Yes, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are incredible, we’ve known this for a while. But the Indians do okay against Sale, logging  .710 OPS last year. Its not incredible, but you can get some runs across like that.

No, it’s guys like Mat Latos, who despite a sub-2 ERA is only striking out 12.6% of batters and packs a 4.31 FIP. He’ll creep back to earth. Or Brett Lawrie, whose 154 wRC+ this year belies a 101 career, and his .382 BABIP hits at a fade sooner or later. To say nothing of his somehow flipping his GB/FB ratio on its head, somehow lofting many more balls in the air despite no discernable change to his swing. The White Sox are going to be a good team, but not .667 winning percentage and the Indians can slug it out with them all year.

Francisco Lindor

I shouldn’t even write anything here. That young man is just scintillating. Every night it’s a dazzling play, and in between he just wanders between second and third with a vacuum cleaner. You know the pitchers are loving it, so are Jason Kipnis and whoever might be playing third on any given night. In general this light dose of youth has been fun so far this year with Jose Ramirez losing helmets and clocking doubles, but Lindor is the focus, seemingly the key to everything.

The Indians could have three wins and I’d still watch just to see him field grounders, though there’d be a few more oat sodas consumed. There is nothing I don’t like about his game -- he hits, he fields, he runs, he laughs, and he stopped bunting like a nincompoop. This is what a franchise player really looks like. A reason to watch every night. What a nice luxury to have.

Sample Size, Run Differential

This is all the fun part the psychosis known as baseball. We get to go nuts over what turns out to be a trivial amount of it. There is so much of it, even a month’s worth of the game is but a drop in the bucket. We don’t know anything until July half the time. At the end of the day, it is May 6th as I type this. There are five months of baseball left to be played. That’s time enough for handfuls of sweeps going both ways, winning streaks and slumps, a hot month for Lonnie Chisenhall perhaps, and the return of Carlos Carrasco in about a month. Michael Brantley is still in Spring Training, if you think about it. Jason Kipnis is just getting into May, historically his most dominant month.

To add to all this, the Tribe has a +24 run differential. Let’s say you outscore your opponents by 20 every month. Last year the St. Louis Cardinals did just that, +121 run differential, en route to a 100 win season. Obviously blowouts skew these numbers, but with projections saying the Indians might win more than 90 games, this is what it starts from, this is why you can believe them. Scoring more than the other guy, consistently. It’s a good start.

Hopefully this all makes you feel better about the Tribe, or at least about baseball. There’s way more to be happy about of course. The aforementioned Jose Ramirez is really turning it on. Mike Napoli is as timely as it comes with the bat. The defense is very good. Josh Tomlin apparently learned witchcraft. The Tribe has already swept the Tigers twice, how good does that feel? So unrustle any jimmies you might have jiggling. It’s gonna be a good summer.