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Cleveland Indians are Mashing Their Way Toward Relevance

Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Indians

The 2013 Cleveland Indians … relevant?

Tonight the Indians — owners of a 7-1 record in May and winners of 10 of their last 11 — head to Detroit to take on the American League Central-leading Tigers. It might be early May, but this still looks like an important series to set the tone in the division whether or not the Indians will hang with the Tigers and (presumably) the Royals. As of Friday afternoon Cleveland is 18-14 and trails Detroit by a game in the standings.

In the offseason Cleveland decided to spend money for a change, instead of singing the small market blues.

Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds were brought on board, joining a solid if not spectacular core that included Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. It’s a team that can swing the bats for first-year manager Terry Francona.

The big thing here is that Cleveland leads baseball with 49 home runs, led by Reynolds’ 11. Santana has seven homers and an OPS of 1.129, which are nice numbers to get from your catcher.

Their run-differential is +33, second in the American League behind the Tiger’s +49.

Reynolds is batting .291 this year, which figures to regress since he’s a career .237 hitter with 1,154 strikeouts in 3083 career at bats. His bat still has a ton of pop, ask Yankees and Orioles fans in September of last year. He’s on a one-year deal and could make some money if his power numbers continue.

The Indians have also gotten hot with Bourn on the DL with a hand injury.

Pitching has been pretty good for the Indians, despite the lack of household names in the rotation. Zach McAllister is 3-3 with a 2.63 ERA, while Justin Masterson appears to be bouncing back from last season when his ERA finished a shade under five. Cleveland even got 10 strikeouts in six innings from Scott Kazmir in a win over Oakland on Thursday.

Closer Chris Perez might be outspoken, but he is an anchor at the back end of a game.

Should Cleveland hang around into the summer, they’ll likely be gun shy about trading for an arm considering the deal for Ubaldo Jimenez in the summer of 2011 didn’t work out. Perhaps the Indians have that pitcher in Trevor Bauer, whom they acquired from the Diamondbacks in the three-team deal which sent Shin-Shoo Choo to the Reds. Bauer is in Triple-A and has big-time potential, but in ten innings for the Indians this year he’s walked 13.

This current Cleveland team seems to have the same DNA of the successful Indians’ teams of the mid-90s who could bludgeon opponents at Jacobs Field and pitch well enough to win games. So as long as the rotation isn’t a complete disaster, the Indians’ offense should keep them a threat most nights.

Or turn games this summer into Slow Pitch Softball by the Lake.

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