Tribe times: The Indians held down first place in the Central Division briefly and remained in contention for the entire first half – three games behind front-running Chicago at 44-41 — despite dealing with injuries to key players and performance issues from others. Cleveland’s offense was inconsistent, but it did enough to offset a subpar effort from a pitching staff that employed few reliable arms outside of starting pitcher Justin Masterson and relief pitchers Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith.
Hereeeeeeeee’s Johnny: After searching all offseason and through spring training to find a suitable replacement for Opening Day left fielder Shelley Duncan, the Indians acquired — drum roll, please, 38-year-old veteran Johnny Damon. Damon didn’t attend spring training, and it’s shown — .215, 4 HR, 17 RBIs. His play in the field has been comical at times, darkening the black eye on one of general manager Chris Antonetti’s “key” signings.
Fan-ning the flames: It was an effective and outspoken first half for fiery Tribe closer Chris Perez, who called out Cleveland fans, among others, for their lack of support. Oddly enough, Tribe Nation, which angered Perez by booing him in a previous outing, supported him after his comments, cheering him in each of his subsequent outings at home. Of course, it was easy to root him on. After blowing his first save, Perez proceeded to convert 24 straight opportunities — the second-longest streak in club history. Along with one of the majors’ top setup men in Vinnie Pestano, Perez gave the Indians a 1-2 punch that was tough to top in the first half.
Same old Sizemore: The Indians played the entire first half without the services of oft-injured center fielder Grady Sizemore, who began the season on the disabled list, once again, after a February injury resulted in back surgery. The Indians pointed at June for Sizemore’s return, but a setback delayed that and left his status in limbo for the second half.
For the future: The Indians signed a pair of their core players to long-term contracts, agreeing to terms with All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on a two-year deal ($16.5 million), while locking up catcher Carlos Santana for five years at $21 million. It was a sign that ownership was willing to spend on players they considered cornerstones of the club.
Taming the Tigers: After being swept by division favorite Detroit at Comerica Park in early June, the Indians returned the favor in a three-game set at the end of May. Perez notched saves in three close games shortly after his inflammatory comments about Tribe fans.
Ubaldo on track: Ubaldo Jimenez continued to make last year’s trade look bad, struggling with inconsistent outings out of the gate. But the right-hander finished strong with seven straight quality starts to finish the first half.
Brantley’s beauty: In one of the defining defensive moments of the opening half, Brantley conjured up memories of Kenny Lofton by scaling the center-field wall to steal a home run from Alex Rios at U.S. Cellular Field on May 26.
Fancy fielding: As he has been prone to do since replacing Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, Cabrera offered up a defensive gem, June 19, at Progressive Field against the Pirates. Back-pedaling into the outfield grass, Cabrera snared a grounder from Brandon Wood on one hop, whirled and made a strong throw to get the out at first.
Sour start: One of Cleveland’s most forgettable memories of the first half arrived early – Opening Day at Progressive Field. Perez made ruins of a sparkling debut from Justin Masterson, blowing the save in a 7-4, 16-inning loss to Toronto. Yes, Perez was booed.
Bronx beatdown: Riding high after a sweep of the first-place Reds (June 12-14) at Progressive Field, the Indians found the road wasn’t as welcoming. They dropped two of three to last-place Houston before culminating the disastrous trek with a sweep at the hands of the hated Yankees.
Where’s the peeps?: Perhaps the reason Tribe fans didn’t boo Perez was that it was tough to argue with his case. At the time, the Indians were in first place in the standings, but last place in attendance — where they remained until the All-Star break, despite staying competitive. It wasn’t a proud moment for baseball fans in the city.
Man down: After making an immediate impact upon his promotion, one of Cleveland’s top prospects, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall sustained a broken right forearm when he was hit by a pitch. The Indians will have to wait another year for him to arrive, with Chisenhall expected to miss the rest of the season.
TOP 5 PLAYERS
1. Jason Kipnis, second baseman (.277, 11 HR, 49 RBIs, 20 SB): Though he didn’t make the All-Star team thanks to a wealth of competition at his position, the Indians Kipnissed an impressive first half from their best overall player before the break.
2. Chris Perez, relief pitcher (0-2, 3.34 ERA, 24-of-26 save opportunities): A ninth-inning lead was almost always secure thanks to the right-hander, who made the AL’s All-Star team for the second straight season.
3. Shin-Soo Choo, right fielder (.299, 10 HR, 34 RBIs): Once he moved to the leadoff spot, Cleveland’s only legitimate five-tool player found his stroke. He appears poised to have a big second half, and the Indians will need it.
4. Asdrubal Cabrera, shortstop (.286, 11 HR, 42 RBIs): Had a solid first-half offensively and continues to progress into one of the league’s elite players at his position, but he made too many errors (10), many of them silly ones.
5. Vinnie Pestano, relief pitcher (3-0, 1.75 ERA): Thanks to Pestano, there were few, if any, times that the Indians weren’t able to get the ball to Perez in the ninth with the lead intact.
BOTTOM 5 PLAYERS
1. Carlos Santana, catcher (.221, 5 HR, 30 RBIs): The Indians were expecting big things from Santana, who has been healthy from the start of spring training. They have gotten little from one of their biggest offensive weapons.
2. Johnny Damon, left fielder (.215, 4 HR, 17 RBIs): Damon has shown signs of shaking his slump, but it’s been too little, too late.
3. Tony Sipp, relief pitcher (0-2, 5.65 ERA): With fellow left-hander Rafael Perez out for much of the season, the Indians needed Sipp to step up. Instead, he has been as bad as he has ever been.
4. Jairo Asencio, relief pitcher (1-1, 5.96 ERA): Somehow was given a job out of spring training and promptly lost it after a string of ineffective outings.
5. Jeanmar Gomez, starting pitcher (4-7, 5.18 ERA): Gomez won the final spot in the rotation out of training camp and pitched well at the outset of the season. But his outings got increasingly worse and he wound up back in the minors, with Zach McAllister taking his spot in the rotation.
Additions, not subtractions: The consensus is that the Indians will be on the look for a bat at the trading deadline, preferably a right-handed one. Of course, the Indians have to stay in contention to make it worthwhile. Cleveland made a big move at last year’s deadline and many believe they will need to make another to stay in the race this season.
A call to arms: Cleveland’s pitching, which finished at the bottom of the majors with a 4.50 ERA, undoubtedly has to improve. For the most part, the bullpen lived up to its advanced billing, but the Indians got too many inconsistent performances, without a member of their rotation from the start of the season posting an ERA under 4.00. Masterson and Jimenez have been more consistent as of late and that has to continue.
Catch a break: Everybody can use some luck, and the Indians are no different. They can’t afford any injuries to key players down the stretch and need the talented Tigers to stay mediocre, and the for the White Sox to cool of a bit.
COACHING REPORT CARD
Manny Acta, manager (B): Acta’s Indians remained in contention throughout the entire first half, avoiding prolonged losing streaks. Scores some points for moving Choo into the leadoff spot.
Scott Radinsky, pitching coach (D): Cleveland’s pitching staff was one of the majors’ worst. Someone has to take the blame.
Bruce Fields, hitting coach (C): The Indians’ offense was inconsistent and average at best overall through 85 games, with Fields failing to help solve the struggles of Santana or Damon.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.