Indians appear to be for real

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Every year it seems there is a team that comes out of nowhere in Major League Baseball and competes for a playoff spot It never fails. There is always that one club that busts up everyone's preseason picks.

Well, the Cleveland Indians certainly have the look of being "that" team this year.

Here we are almost a month into the season and the Indians sit atop the American League Central 2 1/2 games in front of both the upstart Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers, and are tied for the AL lead in wins with 14.

In other words it might be time for the rest of the division to buckle in because this is a team that could have some staying power.

Heading into the season most people pegged the Central as a three-team race between the Tigers, Chicago White Sox and the two-time defending champion Minnesota Twins. While it certainly may be to early to anoint the Indians the new kings of the division, you can certainly find plenty of flaws with the supposed contenders. Enough so anyway that it doesn't seem so crazy anymore that the Tribe could still be standing late in September.

Grady Sizemore has returned like a man on a mission.
There were zero expectations for the Indians this season. I think most people thought they would hit, especially if Grady Sizemore returned and resembled anything he was pre-knee surgery. Well Sizemore has returned like a man on a mission. And that has been great news for an Indians lineup that is among the leaders in every offensive category.

While it was pretty much a fait accompli that Sizemore would deliver if he was healthy, I'm not sure anyone envisioned a resurgence from Travis Hafner. But, Pronk appears to be injury-free for the first time in like forever and has been the all-around power threat Indians fans thought he was going to be after swatting 99 home runs for them from 2005-07.

And as good as the Indians lineup has been, it could get even better once Shin-Soo Choo gets it going. Probably the most underrated player in baseball, Choo has gotten off to an awful start, hitting just .221, but his 14 RBI are tied for the team lead.

Actually things have been so good in Cleveland that the Indians haven't missed Choo's bat one iota. Why? Well mostly since their pitching staff has been terrific.

Fans in Cleveland probably won't get much time to enjoy pitching coach Tim Belcher's work, because he will be managing his own team next season. His top pupil has been right-hander Justin Masterson, who is finally living up to that vast potential the Indians saw when they made him the centerpiece of the package they received from Boston for Victor Martinez.

Masterson lost 13 games for the Tribe last season after going 1-7 for them after the trade in 2009. This year, though, the sinkerballer has been nothing short of brilliant, as he became the third Indians hurler since 1955 to win his first five starts of the season, while pitching to a sub- 2.20 ERA in doing so.

Who were the other Indians pitchers who did it? How about Hall of Famer Bob Lemon (1955) and Cliff Lee (2008), both of whom ended the year leading the league in wins by the way.

Masterson isn't the only breakout hurler on the staff. Josh Tomlin is also undefeated and pitching to a low ERA. Belcher's pet project from here on out, though, should be Fausto Carmona, who came into the year with high expectations, but has continued to be an enigma.

Carmona, of course, won 19 games for the Tribe in 2007, but has struggled ever since. He showed signs of getting back to where he was last year, but this season he has just continued to frustrate the dozens of fans who flock to Progressive Field. He's had three starts where he has been lights out, but two others have seen him surrender 16 runs in a total of eight innings.

Either way there is not a better tandem in the division than Masterson and Tomlin, at the moment anyway.

Belcher's work hasn't been limited to the rotation either. Take a look at some of the numbers in the bullpen. Closer Chris Perez has been marvelous up until his last two outings and Rafael Perez has yet to surrender an earned run in his nine games.

Let's face it. Cleveland is just a good team from top to bottom.

You can make a case against every team in the American League Central, but it's getting harder by the day to find the blemishes with this Indians club.

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