August 30, 2014

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This team hasn’t started playing – Tribe Commentary

The Indians are in first place in the Central Division and lead the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers by 4½ games in the standings through Friday.
They are off to the best home start in franchise history and own the majors’ best home record (19-4) after beating the Tigers for the fifth consecutive time in thrilling fashion at Jacobs Field on Friday night.
At 34-19, they were the majors’ second-best team, behind only the almighty Boston Red Sox, and not by much — two games. They owned a dominating 15-4 record against opponents in the Central Division — a division that is widely recognized as the best in the big leagues.   
All this and they still haven’t played their best baseball.
That might sound trite or trivial but it’s true, and Indians manager Eric Wedge has been saying it all year long.
“I don’t think we’ve been particularly great in one area, but we’ve been solid in pretty much all of them,” Wedge said.
Perfectly put.
The Indians have received consistent but not spectacular performances from their rotation, enough offense to back it up and acceptable bullpen work to close most of them out.
But they still haven’t played their best.
Consider that Travis Hafner hasn’t done what everyone knows he’ll do before the season gets much older — hit for power and average consistently . The designated hitter is hovering around .260 right now.
Hafner is one of league’s rising offensive stars, not a .260 hitter.
Even wunderkind Grady Sizemore isn’t on the mark just yet. Oh, sure, he’s played well where mere mortals are concerned, but we all know Cleveland’s leadoff hitter is on a different plane than most.
The Indians’ rotation — as good as it’s been — figures to only get better once all five starters are back and healthy. The team has reached these current heights without the services of Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook for a month each.
And the bullpen is headlined by a closer — Joe Borowski — whose ERA is over 6.00, a figure that has to go down in time, doesn’t it?
The Indians are not playing poorly by any means. They couldn’t be doing what they’re doing if they were. But just think what’s going to happen when their entire roster is healthy and playing to its potential.
It’s a scary prospect for Cleveland’s opponents and a pleasing one for the Indians.
Him again
Indians outfielder Trot Nixon has not forgotten the cruel fate former Indian Aaron Boone dealt his Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS, when the then Yankees third baseman hit a walk-off home run in Game 7 to propel New York to the World Series.
While searching for a batting practice bat by Cleveland’s dugout Saturday, Nixon picked up one of Boone’s old models. Reading the name on the bat, Nixon said, “Aaron Boone, Aaron bleeping Boone.”
Boone, who spent an unproductive tenure with the Indians from 2005-06, is back on track with the Marlins this season, entering Saturday batting .278 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 49 games as a regular in Florida.
That ’70s weekend
The Indians are in the midst of “’70s Weekend” at Jacobs Field, with promotions in remembrance of the groovy, psychedelic era early in the decade and the disco age later.
Fans got a ’70s C.C. Sabathia disco bobblehead Saturday, with a likeness of the big left-hander wearing an afro.
“Not much,” said the 39-year-old Wedge, when asked what he remembered about the ’70s. “My first year of little league was ’77. From what I understand, people don’t remember much about the ’70s.”
On second thought
Double-A Akron left-hander Chuck Lofgren, one of the Indians’ top pitching prospects, has had an interesting start to his career.
Several teams projected the 21-year-old Lofgren as more of a position player than a pitcher in the 2004 draft, with the Indians actually allowing the Red Wood City, Calif., native to begin his professional career as a two-way player at Rookie League Burlington after taking him in the fourth round.
It seemed like a novel approach until Lofgren was involved in a collision at the plate during that same season and the hitting idea was scrapped for good.
It’s worked out where both parties are concerned, with Lofgren tying for the minor league-lead in wins (17) at high Class A Kinston last year. He entered Saturday with a 4-4 record and 4.23 ERA in 10 starts for Double-A Akron this season.
Here’s what a veteran American League scout told Baseball America about Lofgren, who employs four pitches, including a fastball that tops out at 95 mph:
“He’s got a good mix of pitches, but he also has a good variance of speed on everything. He’s never the same velocity twice and he’s certainly never in the same spot twice.
“That’s not to say he doesn’t hit his spots, but it’s a three-way guessing game against hitters. First, what’s it going to be? Second, where it’s going to be, and third, how hard is it coming this time?”
Contact Chris Assenheimer
at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.