Unfortunately for the Indians, being two games above .500 means that they are still nine games out of first place. The Indians are still five games out of the wild card race, with three teams ahead of them.

But let’s not dwell on that right now.

The Indians pounded the Colorado Rockies tonight 11-2. The Rockies have won only four games on the road this year, so Cleveland did what they needed to do. And in the process, they got Jake Westbrook a well-deserved win. Westbrook is not a 2-9 pitcher, or even a 3-9 pitcher. As I’ve touched on recently, Westbrook has been just plain unlucky this year. You could say that this is Jake’s luck evening out, but all things being equal, Jake should be a .500 pitcher with an ERA hovering around 4.25 or so. Just compare his numbers from this year compared to last:

2004: 4.84
2005: 4.90

2004: 1.90
2005: 1.88

2004: 8.68
2005: 8.71

2004: 2.72
2005: 4.00(!)

I guess this shows how volatile an extreme groundball pitcher can be.

The Indians offense looks to be getting healthy. And I’m not really saying this just based on the amount of runs they scored tonight; the approach at the plate is what makes me more excited. Even Aaron Boone, everyone’s favorite whipping boy, had some very good at-bats. What does that mean? The Indians have been pretty good the whole season at hitting for power; but they haven’t been getting on base, whether that be via the hit or the walk. The Indians currently rank dead-last in the AL in OBP at .311, and while a lot of that has to do with a very low batting average (.248), the team does a service to the opposing pitching by not working counts; it keeps the starter in games longer, and sets up the bullpen in the late innings.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the hitters aren’t chasing as many pitches out of the strike zone as they have been. Pitch recognition is extremely important to a hitter; by swinging at balls in the strike zone, the hitter has a much better chance of making solid contact. And the offense as a whole needs to get better in that department, even in the month of June, they still rank in the bottom half of the AL in most offensive categories. But I’m seeing some signs of progress.

Some random thoughts:

  • I had no idea that Matt Anderson, former high-velocity bust, was still in the majors. But I can say with certainty that Travis Hafner is glad he’s still around; I can’t recall when last someone hit a home run into the mezzanine deck in right field.
  • Grady Sizemore’s stats remind me of another center fielder who debuted at a young age: Rocco Baldelli. Rocco hit .289/.326/.416 his rookie year, and of course the only knock on him was his lack of walks. His next year, Baldelli improved his walk rate a bit and hit for more power (.280/.326/.436), so that’s a pretty good trend for the future.
  • A lot of people keep wondering whether Jhonny Peralta may someday have to shift over to third base. If I were running the Indians, I’d wait until it was absolutely necessary to move him there before I did so, judging by what shortstops are being paid. Jimmy Rollins, who is a pretty decent shortstop, just got a deal worth $40M over five years to remain in Philadelphia. I guess what I’m getting at is this: you keep Peralta, who can hit you 20-25 home runs a year at shortstop because he’s worth a heckuva lot more there than at third base. Now if Brandon Phillips can prove that he can hit at the major-league level, then you can start thinking about a position change for Peralta. But there should be a real good reason for him moving right on the defensive spectrum.
  • If the Indians are still out of it come July, they do have a lot of valuable trading chips. Number one would obviously be Kevin Millwood, but Bob Wickman may fetch some nice prospects as well. After all, he’s a “proven closer”, and there are a couple contenders (Atlanta, Texas, Boston, the Cubs, and Florida come to mind) who really need help in the bullpen. Now I’m not saying that Wickman will fetch a Sexson-esque prospect, but if there’s enough interest, the Indians could come away with a nice haul. Bob Howry, Scott Sauerbeck, and even Jose Hernandez also could be candidates for dealing. I’m not writing off this year by any stretch of the imagination, but the Indians could set themselves up for 2006 rather nicely if the White Sox and Twins continue to run away and hide from the Indians. There’s not much of a chance that Millwood would sign with the Indians before he reached free agency, and Bob Wickman isn’t the guy I want closing over the next few years. The Indians really need a corner bat, whether that be at first, third, or the outfield, and they could get a high-level prospect if someone is desparate enough at the deadline. I’ll get more into this if events warrant.

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