We start a three-game series with the Indians at the rather lovely looking Progressive Field in Cleveland. It is a park that is still on my ‘must get to’ list.
The Indians are first in the AL Central, where they have been since June 4th. At the moment, they have a 6 game lead over the Tigers.
The Indians are second in the AL in runs scored per game, at 5.08. The Jays are sitting third at 4.84. On the defensive side, they are third in the AL in runs allowed per game at 4.21. The Jays are first at 4.05.
I sent off some questions to Matt R. Lyons of Let’s Go Tribe, SB Nation’s Cleveland Indians blog. Here is what he had to say:
The Indians seem to have been leading in the AL Central from the start of the season. How confident are you that they will finish the season on top?
Pretty confident. Being up six games this late in the season is huge; all they have to do is play .500 baseball and hope the Tigers don't rip off a couple huge winning streaks and they'll be golden. They also play the Tigers seven more times, and are 11-1 against them this season, so there's a lot of confidence there. I feel confident in saying they will be above .500 the rest of the season and they will still play well against the Tigers (even if they don't win 11 out of every 12 games).
I have to ask about our old friend Rajai Davis. How is he doing? What do Indian fans think of him?
He's been great! The Indians have not had this kind of base stealing threat in years. He's gotten on base well and, from what I can tell, he has been perfectly fine with being shifted around the outfield even though he has spent so much of his career as a center fielder. Considering all the bad contracts handed out this offseason, Rajai's $5.525 deal looks like a complete steal. I don't know if he always wore the oven mitt on his sliding hand, but he has apparently convinced Mike Napoli and the rookie Tyler Naquin to do the same -- they both sport one now, as well.
I do kind of wish he'd stop stealing third base with two outs, but so far he has been great at it, so I cannot complain too much.
Speaking of old friends, what’s Yan Gomes status? He wasn’t hitting much, before he was hurt, does he get the starting catcher job when he comes off the DL?
I have not heard much of anything since his injury. Saying he wasn't hitting before was a bit of an understatement -- he was really really bad. But the pitching staff, coaches, and front office all seem to love him so I'd assume he gets the start job when he is back no matter what. The pitching staff has recovered a bit lately, but there was a noticeable drop right after Gomes was injured. He handles everyone really well. Whether or not that makes up for his historically bad bat, I am not sure.
Thanks for Gomes, by the way. Not a bad deal for the Indians considering they only gave up half a season of Esmil Rogers. (Sure twist the knife)
Who has been your biggest surprise this season?
Tyler Naquin, for sure. He was a first-round pick who everyone just kind of forgot about for one reason or another. He was getting a bit "old" to be a shiny new prospect and he kept getting injured in the minors. Heck, if a lot of things did not happen the way they did (Brantley's injury, Almonte's suspension), he would probably still be in the minors, or just debuting recently. He had a bad approach at the plate early, but a quick trip back down to Triple-A apparently made something click because he's come back as a tremendous power hitter. He's also had some struggles lately, but been adjusting well to his biggest issue -- high fastballs.
Yan Gomes, for sure. He had a down year last year, but we thought it was just because of the injury and he'd back to his Silver Slugger self in 2016. That clearly has not been the case, and then he went and dove and injured himself. Just a mess of a year for Gomes.
What do Indian’s fans think of Terry Francona? What would you say are his strengths and weaknesses?
I love Terry Francona as the Indians manager. We've written a couple times about how much of a perfect fit he is for the team, and I think a lot of people feel the same way. The way he has handled Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in the bullpen has been tremendous, letting Miller pitch in high-leverage situations and Allen close. He's also done some interesting things with the lineup, like letting Carlos Santana -- a slow guy who gets on base a ton -- lead off. He's a manager with an old school attitude but is clearly embracing the sabermetric side of the game which, to me, is the perfect combination.
His biggest issue is definitely being too loyal to "his guys," which are usually utility players who can't really play defense and can't really hit. Going back to the Gomes trade, Tito latched on to Mike Aviles and played him everywhere, despite below-average production. He started in center field for several games! He also refused to take Bryan Shaw out of the 8th inning role during a stretch of awful games earlier this season, which feels like it cost the Indians some wins.
Looking back, the Jays hired away Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins? Do you miss them at all? Obviously, since the team is in first, you have been able to live without them, but what do you think of their legacy in Cleveland?
Like you said, the Indians look perfectly fine without Shapiro, so I don't miss him much, but I have no ill feelings toward him and I think he did good job with the Indians. I do think he got an unfair rep in Cleveland because he inherited the bloated corpse of the great '90s teams and was forced to rebuild. He did it once in the mid-00s, then had a few bad drafts and set the franchise back a bit. He did a lot of good for the Indians and Progressive Field in his time here, but Cleveland wants championships more than anything and he didn't quite get it done. Again, not completely fair, but a lot of Indians fans are happy to be "rid of him."