With the White Sox opening a three-game series tonight against Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field, we reached out to Lewie Pollis of the fantastic Indians blog Wahoo's on First for his thoughts on the state of the first-place Tribe:
The Indians enter this series at 10-2 in one-run games and eight games over .500. On a broad scope, is Cleveland's success sustainable?
To that extent? Probably not I don't think the ability to win close games is generally seen as a consistent skill. That said, the Indians are well built to win close contests.
The back end of the Tribe bullpen really is outstanding. Vinnie Pestano is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, and until Thursday night he had gotten at least one strikeout in 23 straight appearances (a franchise record). Plus Nick Hagadone has looked great so far, Joe Smith has been solid, and despite his reputation Chris Perez has been pitching more like Rick Vaughn at the end of Major Leaguethan the beginning.
The other thing this team does is come up with big hits. The idea of being "clutch" is generally seen as reading too much into a small sample size or at least a skill that is very difficult to maintain consistently, but as a whole this team just has had a knack for it since last year. It's anecdotal and I don't want to say that it's sustainable, but that 10-2 record is a reflection of the Tribe coming through when it counts.
At what point is Ubaldo Jimenez hurting the team more than he's helping them?
He's been below replacement level this year, so you could say he's already been "hurting the team." We don't need him, that's not the problem. There's no shortage of potential MLB starters in the organization. The Indians have a full five-man rotation now even with Josh Tomlin injured and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona still working on his visa. Scott Barnes, Chris Seddon, Corey Kluber, and Kevin Slowey are all waiting in Triple-A, and Zach McAllister is probably headed back there too once Tomlin returns.
The problem is that Jimenez is too good to give up on. I still think he has the best raw stuff of anyone in the rotation, and there are times (like when he outpitched Yu Darvish by throwing seven shutout innings against Texas earlier this month) when he still looks dominant. He's under team control through 2013, and while Alex White and Drew Pomeranz are sunk costs at this point it would be hard for the Indians to admit that Jimenez is a total bust after they gave up so much to get him.
If Jimenez were in a situation like Derek Lowe's was at the start of 2012 declining seemingly low-upside pitcher in the last year of his contract he'd have lost his rotation spot by now. But there's too much potential reward for the Indians to cut him loose just yet, and until he turns things around or the team gives up on him we'll continue to wring our hands every time he takes the mound.
Two-parter: How underrated is Jack Hannahan, and what ever happened to Lonnie Chisenhall?
I used to say that Shin-Soo Choo was the most underrated player in all of baseball; now I think the torch has been passed to Hannahan. He's a phenomenal fielder and he's a much, much better hitter than people give him credit for. He's shown great plate discipline and decent power ever since he came to Cleveland, yet everyone still thinks of him as a Quad-A utility man for some reason. A good illustration: He OPSed .719 last year and he's at .801 now, but ZiPS' rest-of-season projections have him at .676. It's kind of sad that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves.
As for Chisenhall, he's still the Indians' third baseman of the future, butthe future isn't quite here yet. His problem when he got promoted last year was that his plate discipline collapsed he took just eight walks in 223 plate appearances while striking out 49 times. He then struck out 16 times with just one walk in spring training to earn a demotion to Triple-A Columbus. He's been tearing the cover off the ball in the minors he's hitting .340 with a .946 OPS but he has just four walks in over 100 plate appearances. With both Hannahan and Jose Lopez playing well the team isn't in any rush to bring him up, and since he lacks Vladimir Guerrero-like power he wouldn't be a very effective hitter in the majors at this point anyway.
Who's pitching for the Indians this weekend, and what should the Sox expect?
Tonight you get Jeanmar Gomez (3.19 ERA, 4.34 SIERA), whose pitch-to-contact, groundball-inducing style is fairly emblematic of the Tribe's organizational philosophy of developing young arms. Game two is Derek Lowe (2.15 ERA, 4.17 SIERA), whose crazy sinker has helped him to lead the league in ERA even though he's striking out only 2.3 batters per nine innings. Then there's Ubaldo (5.02 ERA, 5.95 SIERA) as I said he's still a force to be reckoned with when he's on, but it's anyone's guess whether or not he will be Sunday.
Got a prediction for the series?
The Indians have won 8 of 10 and just swept the Tigers. I know streaks don't mean much, but I have to say anything less than the Tribe taking two of three this weekend would be a huge disappointment.