Tribe confident for improvement in second half
Indians hoping injuries, inconsistencies, slumps have run their course
CLEVELAND -- The Indians are not where they want to be in the American League Central standings, but the club remains confident that it has the pieces in place to reach its intended finish line.
Cleveland has weathered injuries, inconsistencies and slumps en route to a .500 showing and a third-place standing in the season's first half. The team has not resembled the one that ended with the AL's top Wild Card spot last year, but that version of the Tribe was slow out of the gates as well.
"There's nothing that you can do about what's happened already," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "other than learn from it and see if there's opportunities for us to get better moving forward. I think everyone agrees that you'd always like your record to be better than it is, no matter where you are in the standings.
"But I believe in the group of the guys we have. I believe in our coaching staff and I'm confident we'll play better than we have in the second half."
Five key developments
1. Brantley's All-Star showing
The emergence of Michael Brantley has been a godsend for an offense that has dealt with early-season slumps from some key players. The outfielder has developed into the Tribe's top all-around talent, moving into the lineup's third spot and showing off a stellar arm in left field.
2. Kluber's rise in rotation
At the break, three-fifths of Cleveland's Opening Day rotation was either on the disabled list or removed from the staff. Throughout a turbulent first three-plus months for the group, Corey Kluber developed into a reliable arm, a strikeout artist and nearly was named an All-Star.
3. Allen takes over the ninth
The Indians signed John Axford to serve as the team's closer this season, but his struggles led to a shakeup in the bullpen in May. Cleveland began with a closer-by-committee approach, but youngster Cody Allen has seized the bulk of the closing duties in dominant fashion.
|MVP: Michael Brantley
Cleveland's lone All-Star, Brantley enjoyed a breakout showing in the first half. He has been the team's best all-around talent this season.
|Top starter: Corey Kluber
The right-hander has been a reliable arm within the Tribe's turbulent staff. He narrowly missed making his first All-Star team.
|Top rookie: T.J. House
The first-year southpaw admirably held down a rotation spot while a handful of other starters dealt with injuries and inconsistencies.
|Top reliever: Cody Allen
After the Indians adopted to a closer-by-committee approach in May, Allen emerged as the club's best option for the ninth inning.
4. Chisenhall seizes his chance
Without a clear role at the season's start, Lonnie Chisenhall made the Opening Day roster as a part-time bench player. The third baseman swallowed his pride, embraced his job and hit his way into more playing time. You can find him now near the top of the AL batting leaderboard.
5. Defensive deficiencies
The Indians headed into the All-Star break with a Major League-leading 76 errors. Antonetti called the defensive woes "the most challenging" aspect of the first half for the Tribe. Without an overwhelming offense, Cleveland needs to play a cleaner brand of baseball in order to succeed.
Five storylines to keep an eye on
1. Masterson's comeback
Sinkerballer Justin Masterson headed into this season as an All-Star and the unquestioned leader for Cleveland's rotation. A bothersome right knee, diminished velocity and poor results have plagued the righty in the first half, though. In order to build on their Wild Card run last season, the Indians need more consistency from Masterson in the final two-plus months this year. Eligible for free agency this winter, Masterson might be entering his final second half with the Tribe.
2. Situation at shortstop
The Indians have a promising shortstop prospect in Francisco Lindor and a solid Major League shortstop in Mike Aviles. Under the circumstances, Cleveland will surely be open to listening to any trade proposals for current shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is eligible for free agency this coming offseason. To date, the switch-hitting Cabrera has endured an up-and-down showing in what could be his final season in Cleveland.
Players to watch in second half
An All-Star a year ago, Masterson was a mess in the first half. Cleveland is hoping he can be healthy and dominant down the stretch.
The first baseman endured a rough first half for the second season in a row. The Tribe will be counting on a similar second-half surge.
A phenom last season, Salazar's struggles landed him back in the Minors this year. A return to form in the second half would be welcomed.
3. Bourn's balky hamstring
Center fielder Michael Bourn, who signed a four-year deal worth $48 million prior to last season, continues to have problems with his left hamstring, which was surgically repaired in October. Bourn has already had three setbacks this year and -- in the games he has played for the Indians -- he has been hesitant to steal bases like he did in prior seasons. The Tribe is hoping to have Bourn back at full strength at some point in the second half.
4. Counting on Swisher
When the Indians signed the energetic Nick Swisher to a long-term deal (one that has the potential to last through 2017), it was with the idea that he could be a run producer for the club. For the second season in a row, Swisher has dealt with injuries and struggled at the plate in the first half. Cleveland is hoping Swisher can enjoy a second-half surge similar to the one he turned in last September, when he played a key role in the team's run to the playoffs.
5. Salazar's return
A phenom on the mound for the Indians last year, Danny Salazar fizzled early on this season as a part of the Tribe's Opening Day rotation. The hard-throwing right-hander wound up back at Triple-A Columbus to sort through some mechanical and physical issues, with the goal of rejoining the Indians at some point in the second half. In a perfect world, Salazar would return to the big leagues and again be a force for Cleveland's starting staff.