Five thoughts about the Indians heading into the second half of the season

All of the Indians' goals are still attainable

James Rapien
July 10, 2019 - 3:47 pm
Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez (11) and designated hitter Carlos Santana (41) celebrate after scoring during the eighth inning at Progressive Field.

© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – All-Star festivities have come and gone, which means regular season baseball is right around the corner.

The Indians were one of the hottest teams before the break, winning six straight games. They're a season-high 12 games above .500 at 50-38. 

They’re 16-5 in their last 21 and have pulled within 5.5 games of the Twins in the American League Central Division.

The Indians have to pick up where they left off, if they hope to win the division crown for a fourth-straight season.

Here are five thoughts about the Tribe going into the second half of the year:

Keep the Momentum – The Indians entered the break playing their best ball of the season. They need it to continue, especially against the Twins, who they host for a three-game series starting on Friday.

Beating Minnesota and then handling their business against the Tigers and Royals would do wonders for the morale in the locker room. Everyone in the clubhouse went into the break feeling good about the team and where they’re at in the standings. If they get off to a hot start in the second half, then it could set the tone for the rest of the regular season.

A 10-game homestand is the perfect time to continue building the momentum they had in the month of June and early part of July. 

Jose Ramirez needs to be his old self – Ramirez has struggled for most of the season, but he did post a .318/.392/.568 slash line in the last 12 games before the All-Star break. If the Indians are going to win the division and make a playoff run, they need him to play at a high level.

He has seven home runs this season. He had 24 homers at the same point last year. Ramirez’s struggles have been well documented, but no one has been able to solve them. The Indians believe he can turn it around and think his recent play could be a sign of things to come.

Ramirez has 69 hits this season, 14 of them came in the final 12 games before the All-Star break. If he gets hot, it's realistic to buy into their playoff chances, despite the stacked American League. 

Be Aggressive – The Indians were aggressive prior to the trade deadline in each of the last three seasons. They acquired important pieces like Andrew Miller, Brad Hand and Jay Bruce. 

The Indians also had talks with the Nationals about Bryce Harper prior to the deadline last season, but things came to a halt once Washington asked for Shane Bieber in a potential deal. 

If they’re going to make another playoff run, ownership has to give the green light on adding salary and being aggressive at the trade deadline. This year it is a bit different, as Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff will get plenty of calls about Trevor Bauer. Contending teams will want to add the right-hander to their rotation in hopes of making a deep playoff run.

There’s a path for the Indians to trade Bauer and still contend this season, but it won't be easy. The front office needs to find a team that is willing to trade a proven, versatile position player like Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield. Then, they can take Bauer and flip him for the necessary prospects to get a deal done with the Royals. It’s hard enough to complete a two-team trade. Bringing in a third team would be a challenge, but trying to contend while also building for the future is difficult. That's a hurdle the front office has been trying to overcome since last October. 

If the Indians can’t trade Bauer for proven talent, then maybe they’ll keep him until this winter and look at acquiring players who will be free agents at the end of the season. Yasiel Puig and Hunter Pence are veteran outfield options that could be available.

This trade deadline could be much harder on the Indians’ front office than in past seasons. It’ll be interesting to see what moves, if any, they make before July 31 at 4 p.m.

Health is Key – The Indians had plenty of young pitchers step up in the first half, including Zach Plesac and Jefry Rodriguez. As great as they were, Rodriguez is injured and Plesac has struggled in his past few starts.

Plesac’s struggles are expected, considering he went from Double-A to the big leagues in a matter of weeks. This team needs Corey Kluber to get healthy as soon as possible. The Indians’ trio of Mike Clevinger, Bieber and Bauer should be able to hold down the fort for the next few weeks, but Kluber’s return would be huge, especially if this team is going to make a playoff run.

Kluber's health could also play a role in a potential Bauer deal. If the Indians like where Kluber is at in his recovery, it makes it easier to trade Bauer.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner is making strides and working his tail off with his sights set on a return. The Indians haven’t released a timetable for Kluber, but if he can find his way back in August, it could give the Tribe a boost for the final month of the regular season.

Their Stars Can’t Regress – The Indians’ margin for error was as small as it’s been in a long time entering the season. They’ve managed to overcome multiple injuries to their starting rotation and their All-Stars are a big reason why they’ve had success this year. Carlos Santana is having a career season. He leads the Indians in batting average (.297), on-base percentage (.418), home runs (19) and plenty of other hitting stats.

Plenty of All-Stars, especially veterans, play well enough to make their first ‘Midsummer Classic’ and then struggle during the second half of the season. The Indians need Santana to be the same player he was during the first 88 games of the year.

The same goes for closer Brad Hand, who proved he was human prior to the All-Star break, blowing his first save of the season. He’s been automatic for Terry Francona and is the biggest reason why the bullpen has outperformed expectations this season. Hand is one of the most important players on the Indians’ roster. They’re going to rely on him in plenty of big moments during the second half of the season.

Francisco Lindor is the face of the Indians and everyone expects his stellar play to continue. Bieber leads the Indians with an 8-3 record and is eighth in all of baseball with 141 strikeouts. 

The Indians’ goals are still in front of them, despite injuries, adversity, roster turnover and the Twins getting off to a great start. It’ll be an interesting final few months of the season at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.