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Hopes and Fears for the Tribe in 2012

Spring training is finally over, the Cleveland Indians are back at Progressive Field to open the season against Toronto and take on, over the next 162 games, the supposedly unbeatable Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.

That means it is time to embrace our hopes and confront our fears about the upcoming 2012 season for the Tribe.

Head to The Cleveland Fan for all the details.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

Just another night at the ballpark

It was a normal night on Friday at Progressive Field – at least for the Indians.

The Tribe won its sixth consecutive home game in their last at-bat, beating the Reds, 5-4.

There seems to be no obstacle the team can’t overcome right now, especially at home.

The opposing pitcher is throwing a no-hitter into the sixth inning and you are losing 4-0? No problem.

A couple of hits, a hit batter, a few walks, a sacrifice fly and the score is tied.

“These guys are not going to give up,” manager Manny Acta said in published reports. “We’ve done that a few times now. They do feel they are never out of it and that’s a good feeling to have.”

Runner on third with two outs in the bottom of the eighth? No problem.

Just send rookie Ezequiel Carrera to the plate and have him bunt for his first major-league hit, driving in Shin-Soo Choo with what would turn out to be the winning run.

“It was a perfect spot for Carrera,” Acta said. “We needed a hit. We didn’t need an extra-base hit. Even if he hits a ground ball, he might beat it out.”

Need the bullpen to shut down the opposition so you can get back into the game? No problem.

Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez combined for four innings of shutout ball.

Just another night of the Tribe being the Tribe.

The Indians have baseball’s best record at 27-15, and lead the Central Division by six games over Detroit and Kansas City.

Acta has the players believing anything is possible. With more than 30,000 in attendance Friday night and a sellout in place for today’s game, the fans are starting to believe as well.

After Friday night’s win, is there any reason to doubt?

Tribe bullpen is human after all

After rocking it since the start of the season, the Indians bullpen finally proved to be human on Sunday.

Rafael Perez and Joe Smith couldn’t hold an eighth-inning lead and the Tribe fell to the Angels, 6-5, to finish their six-game road trip at 3-3.

While it would have been great to see the Indians go 4-2 on the trip, there are still several positives to take from the past week.

The Indians hit the road to Oakland last week with a 4.5-game lead over second-place Kansas City. They come home with that lead still intact.

The Indians faced some top-notch pitching on the trip, but the offense kept battling. They scored three runs in the ninth to beat Oakland 4-1, scored two in the 12th to beat Oakland 4-3, put up four against the Angels after falling behind 2-0 in their 4-3 win, and scored two in the eighth on Sunday to take the lead, and put up another run in the ninth and had Asdrubal Cabrera in scoring position when the game ended.

The starting pitching was once again lights out. The Tribe went through the starting rotation one complete turn, with Fausto Carmona going twice, and the starters went 41 innings and gave up only eight earned runs, a 1.76 ERA.

The Tribe’s starters went pitch-for-pitch with the two best staffs in the American League and more than held their own. We’re now five weeks into the season and the starting pitching shows no sign of slowing down.

The Indians come home this week to Progressive Field to take on Tampa Bay, who are 2-17 at Progressive Field since 2006. The Tribe is also riding a 13-game home winning streak.

Don’t worry, Tribe time is rolling along just fine right now.

It’s still early for the Tribe … or is it?

The Indians started May the same way they finished April, with a come-from-behind win against the Tigers.

The Tribe finished Sunday in first place in the AL Central with some pretty impressive numbers:

  • They are riding a 13-game home winning streak
  • They have the best run differential (+47) in the majors
  • They have the best record in the majors
  • They are tied with Colorado for the largest division lead (4.5 games)
  • They had the best April in the team’s 111-year history

For the past few weeks, while the Tribe has built their lead, we’ve all heard that “it’s still early.”

But is it really?

Since Major League Baseball went to six divisions in 1995, there have been 96 division champions, according to ESPN.

Not counting 1995 (since the strike-shortened season started in late April), 49 of the 90 champions were in first place on May 1. That’s just a 54.4 percent success rate, so the numbers suggest the Indians may want to hold off just a little bit on printing playoff tickets.

But if you go a little deeper and look at the Central Division, the Tribe may be in a better position than the other division leaders.

Five times in the past seven years, the team leading the Central Division on May 1 has gone on to win the division. The two times it didn’t happen, the Twins beat out the White Sox, in 2006 and again in 2009.

The Twins came from nine games back in 2006, but they were only a half-game back in 2009.

So the fact that the Indians carry a healthy lead over the rest of the division (4.5 over KC, 7.5 over Detroit, 10 over Chicago and Minnesota) is important. Not only do Central Division teams rarely overcome the early season leaders, they also don’t make up large deficits.

Tribe manager Manny Acta likes to say that every team wins 60 games and loses 60 games, and it is the other 42 games that matter.

Well what if the come-from-behind wins this weekend against Detroit are part of those other 42 games?

Why can’t the Indians keep this going? They can pitch and play defense, which are two things will keep them in the game most nights. Just because the national media didn’t think they were going to be good this year doesn’t mean the team has to buy into it.

Sure, it’s only May 1 and there is still a lot of baseball to be played.

But maybe, as Yogi Berra once said, for the rest of the teams in the division, it really is getting late early.

Streak stopper strikes again

Justin Masterson did it again for the Indians Tuesday night against the Royals.

Masterson won for the fourth time this season following a Tribe loss, as the Indians beat the Royals to run their home winning streak to eight games.

”Masterson was overpowering at times,” manager Manny Acta told The Beacon Journal. ”He used that sinker then he’d throw a four-seamer up in the zone.”

Masterson is off to the best start by an Indians’ starter since Cliff Lee won his first six starts in 2008. Lee won the Cy Young Award that year.

Hey, we’re just saying.

As good as Masterson was, allowing three runs and five hits in six-and-two-thirds innings, reliever Vinnie Pestano rocked it in the seventh.

With the Tribe holding on to a 4-3 lead, the Royals loaded the bases with no outs. Pestano came in and shut it down, retiring three consecutive Royals to end the threat.

On the season, Pestano has worked in 10 games, giving up one run in nine innings, striking out 12.

This was a true team effort as the Indians hit five home runs – two by Jack Hannahan, one by Grady Sizemore and one by Shin-Soo Choo.

“It’s not the same guy doing it every time,” Masterson said in published reports. “It’s a different guy, that’s what makes this fun. Guys are making plays here, there and everywhere. It’s not the same person every time, we’re kind of doing it collectively, and it’s kind of the sign of a pretty good team.”

The first-place Indians have a 2.5 game cushion over Kansas City and Detroit. The Tribe is also off to its best start since 2007, when they won 96 games.

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