Once upon a time, nagging injuries were analogous to death knell in Cleveland. When Grady Sizemore started finding his name on the disabled list more often than not, the Indians were forced to replace him with Ezequiel Carerra. When Shin–Soo Choo was shelved in 2011, right field would subsequently be occupied by the likes of Austin Kearns. Chris Giminez, Jerad Head, Travis Buck, Jayson Nix…all potentially wonderful human beings, but men who did not exactly led to many wins when wearing Wahoo on their hat.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Cleveland Indians have finally been able to field a roster where days off for core players, be they due to day games or scheduled rest, does not lead to moans and groans when the batting order is tweeted ad nauseum roughly 90 minutes before the first pitch. The Indians are in first place in the AL Central despite having seen Carlos Santana, Michael Bourn, and Vinnie Pestano each deal with injuries that forced them to miss mulitple games. When Ubaldo Jiménez was forced to take additional days in between starts to work on mechanics, general manager Chris Antonetti has had no issues making calls to Columbus to fill in as needed. Sure, he had done this many times in the past, but starts that had previously been given to Aaron Laffey and Justin Germano are now being handed to high-end prospects like Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
Ryan Raburn was the hero—one of the league’s best hitters over a multiple-game stretch—just a few weeks ago. He has since cooled down in his reserve role, but this has not stopped Mike Aviles from playing lights out in a variety of positions. It was Aviles who channeled his inner Kenny Lofton by scoring from second base on a ball that was hit just a few feet in front of home plate; it was the same veteran who racked up putout after putout despite playing left field for just the third time in 502 big league games. Jason Giambi and Yan Gomes have both had their moments. Rich Hill has found a way to turn his once-promising career into a key role as a lefty with a lethal slider out of the bullpen.
During his rookie season, Carlos Santana was forced to bat third or fourth in 45 of his 46 games. This season, Santana has batted third or fourth just five times. Michael Brantley, last season’s lead-off hitter, is typically slotted in the seventh spot but has shown that he can hit third when needed. Drew Stubbs has batted ninth more often than not, but has shown no qualms about leading off. Lonnie Chisenhall gets off to a slow start? To Columbus he goes. The depth takes over while the third baseman works on his swing. It’s a level of versatility that is commonly found among championship contenders. It’s the versatility within the Indians line-up that is merely just another characteristic of a team that continues to show that something special might be happening within the confines of Progressive Field.
Last season, the Indians actually put out a lineup where Russ Canzler hit fifth. Two days later, he hit clean-up. The Indians lost by a combined score of 20-0 over those two games. It’s been a very long time since the Indians could field a line-up with reserves that still allow fans to be comfortable. It’s also been a very long time since we have gone into every game expecting to win rather than being simply relieved when they do. After years of trying to find utility relief in the bargain bin, the Indians appear to have found the perfect combination of bodies to help trudge through the 162-game marathon.
The Indians will take to the field this afternoon with Santana and Stubbs both getting the day off as Gomes and Raburn get the call. Last year, this would be enough to turn fans away at the gate. Today, your seventh, eighth and ninth hitters are hitting .301, .298 and .271, respectively and it would surprise absoltutely no one if the Tribe completes the four-game sweep despite one of the American League’s best pitchers taking to the hill.