Tribe hopes to duplicate early gains
CLEVELAND — The Indians spent 63 days atop the Central Division standings throughout a first half that saw them post the third-most wins in the majors with a 52-36 record — their best mark at the All-Star break since 1999.
Their home record (31-12) and 26 comeback victories are the best in the big leagues.
They produced a sparkling 18-9 record against division foes, including a 6-4 mark against the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers.
And they sent three players — C.C. Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore — to the All-Star Game, while receiving contributions from practically everyone on the roster.
All those accomplishments are worth a pat on the back, but the positive vibe the Indians felt before the break could quickly take a negative turn should they fail to complete the project in the second half with their first playoff appearance since 2001.
“We can’t really look ahead too much and we certainly can’t look back,” said third baseman Casey Blake. “We just need to keep working hard and doing what we’re doing.”
What they did in the first half was good enough for only second place in arguably the toughest division in baseball, with the Indians trailing the Tigers by a game in the standings.
It was a back-and-forth scrum between Cleveland and Detroit up to the break, which is the way many see it playing out in the second half, with always-dangerous Minnesota eight games back and the crumbling White Sox facing a 13-game deficit.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Blake said. “We can’t pay too much attention to what (the Tigers) are doing, though. We have to take care of our own backyard or it won’t mean anything.”
The Indians will test the Central waters early and often over the final 2 1/2 months of the regular season. They open the second half with consecutive three-game series against Kansas City and Chicago, playing 45 of their final 81 games against division rivals. In August alone, Cleveland meets Central rivals 19 times in 28 games.
“They’re all coming,” said pitcher Jake Westbrook. “It’s going to be week after week, playing someone in the Central.
“It’s going to be a battle, not only with Detroit, Minnesota, too. And Chicago’s not going to just lay down.”
With an offense that did enough to win in the first half without massive contributions from its top run producer, Travis Hafner, and a pitching staff that has been solid all season, Westbrook thinks the Indians are up to the challenge.
“I don’t really think we got the full potential out of our offense (in the first half) and we were third in the majors in runs,” he said. “It’s kind of scary to think about.
“If we can just continue on as a starting staff, the bullpen has been solid all year, I think we can have a better second half than we did in the first one.”
Westbrook (1-4, 6.27) opens the set for Cleveland against Kansas City, opposing Odalis Perez (4-8, 5.68).
Sabathia (12-3, 3.58) and Fausto Carmona (10-4, 3.85) are the scheduled starters Saturday (7:05) and Sunday (1:05), while the Royals counter with Gil Meche (5-6, 3.54) and Jorge De La Rosa (7-9, 5.16).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Kansas City
WHERE: acobs Field
PITCHERS: Westbrook (1-4, 6.27 ERA) vs. Perez (4-8, 5.68)
TV/RADIO: STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM