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Notes From the Wigwam: Tribes moves to a half-game back

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When the Indians made the moves this past offseason to sign outfielders Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, the message was clear: this team wants to compete… and now.

Almost a whole season later, it’s clear that that goal has been accomplished as the Indians sit here on September 16 with a record of 81-68. They’re also just a half game out of claiming one of the two American League Wild Card spots.

This week, the Indians will look to continue to gain ground as they’ll face the pesky Kansas City Royals before heading back home for a four-game set against the Houston Astros. The Indians really could not ask for a better way to end the season, so it’s imperative that they go out there and win the games that they’re supposed to.

Before getting too ahead of ourselves though, let’s take a moment to look back at the week that was — a week that could prove pivotal to the team’s chances of ultimately clinching a playoff spot.

Weekly Results

September 9 vs. Kansas City, W 4-3 (WP: Jimenez, LP: Santana)

September 10 vs. Kansas City, L 6-3 (WP: Guthrie, LP: McAllister)

September 11 vs. Kansas City, L 6-2 (WP: Shields, LP: Kazmir)

September 12 at Chicago, W 14-3 (WP: Kluber, LP: Danks)

September 13 at Chicago, W 3-1 (WP: Shaw, LP: Santiago)

September 14 at Chicago, W 8-1 (WP: Jimenez, LP: Rienzo)

September 15 at Chicago, W 7-1 (WP: McAllister, LP: Sale)

Player of the Week

Ubaldo Jimenez — Starting Pitcher

2 GS, 2-0, 15.1 IP, 2 R/1 ER, 15 H, 1 BB, 18 K

Ubaldo Jimenez has finally become the ace that the Indians envisioned when they traded for him in the summer of 2011. Can you believe that you just read that? While it may be hard to believe, it’s true as Jimenez has been outstanding this year and now has gone 12-9 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts and 162 2/3 innings of work. During that same span, Jimenez has also struck out 165 batters. The big right-hander had arguably some of his best starts yet as an Indian this past week as he was dominant in both outings that he started, and he also provided great length as he pitched at least seven innings in both games. Really, the one lingering knock on Jimenez was that he did not provide any length in his starts. While he had been effective earlier in the season, his night would often end after five innings, which took its toll on the bullpen. However, that has changed more recently as Jimenez has been able to consistently post quality starts in the second half of the season. The question that keeps coming up is who should the Indians start if they do manage to make it to the one-game Wild Card playoffs? For the longest time, the answer to that question seemed to be Justin Masterson but with his strained oblique, the most reasonable answer now seems to be Jimenez. That’s just crazy to even think about considering Jimenez was arguably the worst pitcher in all of baseball during his previous season and a half in Cleveland. Now, the only question that remains is will the Indians be able to retain the services of Jimenez this offseason? He certainly could prove to be a pricey investment, but he also could be well worth it.

A Rough Week

Jason Kubel — Outfielder

3 G, 0-for-8, 1 BB, 4 K

Since Kubel really only played in three games, this is hardly all that terrible of a performance, but the reality is that not too many Indians had poor performances during this past week. Kubel is not the huge difference maker that the Indians had probably hoped to receive, but he is at least another bat with a decent track record of success. Kubel is a sure-lock to be a part of the Indians’ postseason roster if the team does indeed qualify for the playoffs, but how will he be utilized? So far, Kubel has just played in eight games with the Indians, which really is not all that much, especially since he was a regular starter with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Indians seem content to utilize him as more of a pinch-hitter/utility outfielder, which is a role that Kubel will have to adapt to. Let’s hope he gets some opportunities in that role down the stretch as he could end up being a nice weapon off the bench for the Tribe come October.

Standout Stat

1.83

Ubaldo Jimenez’s ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star Break. All of Jimenez’s numbers are up during that span as well as he’s also struck out 71 batters in those 10 starts and walked just 23.

News & Notes

— Ryan Raburn may not just be the Indians’ best offseason signing, but he may be one of the best offseason signings in all of baseball. He certainly is one of the most valuable in terms of money spent. The Tribe signed him to a minor league deal for $1 million, and he’s rewarded them with a season where he’s hit .286/.379/.600 in 76 games. Raburn was especially valuable this past week as the right-handed hitting outfielder drove in a total of seven runs, including five in Thursday’s game against the White Sox. One of the biggest problems for the Indians this season is the fact that they do not have a legitimate cleanup batter, but it might be worthwhile for the team to explore using Raburn more in this role. There is always the concern that he would be overexposed as we also know that he did not succeed as an everyday player in Detroit, but the reality is that the team needs to desperately find some power, and Raburn can provide it. Earlier this year, the team resigned Raburn to a two-year deal with a possible option for a third season, so it’s clear that he’ll be in the fold for quite some time. Who knows, perhaps a change of scenery is all that Raburn needed, and perhaps he could succeed in a more everyday-type role. At the very least, this is definitely something for the Indians to look into.

— Carlos Santana has really heated up as of late as he currently is in the middle of a 10-game hit streak, and he also drove in four runs this past week. On the year, Santana owns a .270/.379/.449 average, which is plenty good, especially from the catcher position. Nonetheless, Santana is somewhat of a much-maligned player, simply because fans are always hoping for more from the switch-hitter. In his first full season in 2011, Santana hit 27 home runs, which may have led to unrealistic expectations for him. While he’s always been a productive player, Santana did not come close to hitting that number of home runs last season, and he likely won’t this year either. Nonetheless, Santana is still an especially valuable player as he is always willing to take a lot of pitches, and he seems to also always be among the walk leaders in the league. He may not be the devastating power hitter that fans for hoped for, but he is still a very valuable player that any team would be happy to have. Santana currently has 85 walks on the year, which is actually second in the American League. Any way you slice it, there’s value in a player like that even if he doesn’t hit 25-plus home runs a year.

— Jose Ramirez got his first real chance to make an impression this past week, and the undersized, switch-hitting infielder did not disappoint. Ramirez started Monday against Kansas City, and he proceeded to go 2-for-3 with a run scored. Yes, there were some flaws as well as he recorded an error in the contest on an errant throw to first base, and he was also picked off at one point. However, it was clearly evident that he has a nice broad range of skills that definitely can translate to the Major League level. The question just now becomes this: How do the Indians utilize Ramirez moving forward? At this point, it seems as if they’re content to utilize him primarily as a pinch runner, but given his skills, it appears as if a case could be made for Ramirez getting more playing time in the future. He seems to be somewhat of an infield version of Michael Brantley. While he will never hit for much power, he has such a soft stroke at the plate, and he’s capable of racking up base hits. His speed is also an asset as opposing pitchers and defenses have to be aware of him because he could take off at any moment. To be perfectly honest, Ramirez may actually one day profile as an everyday player. It might take some time for him to earn such a role, but he has the defensive skills and patience that teams desire from starting players. It will be interesting to watch how Ramirez finishes in these final two weeks of the Major League season. At the very least, Ramirez probably even further makes Asdrubal Cabrera expendable because he could certainly fill the utility role next year if Mike Avilestakes over as the everyday shortstop.

— Speaking of Asdrubal Cabrera, it appears as if the switch-hitting shortstop may finally be finding his stroke. In the past week alone, Cabrera hit four home runs to bring his season total to 14. His overall line still leaves a lot to be desired at .235/.292/.400, but it at least seems as if Cabrera is playing his best baseball of the season when it matters most. Of course, a one-week tear is not a large enough sample size to ensure that Cabrera has reemerged as a star offensive player, but perhaps it is a sign that he could be on his way. Another thing to consider is that Cabrera very well could still be traded this offseason, and his recent surge may also help reestablish his trade value. All in all, there are really nothing but positives to say about what Cabrera is doing at the plate right now. Not only is his performance helping to play an integral role in the Tribe’s winning ways, but it’s also helping to make Cabrera more valuable as a possible trade bait. He may still be downright atrocious in terms of plate discipline as he’s walked just 31 times this season but struck out 107 times. However, those plate discipline woes are becoming more and more passable because of his improved power and production at the plate. Now let’s just hope that this production can carry over into the playoffs if the Tribe is fortunate enough to grab a spot.

Quick Hits

— Scott Kazmir will face off against James Shields tonight in the opener of a three-game series against the Royals. It’s the second time in as many weeks that the two pitchers are facing off. Shields guided the Royals to a win in last week’s matchup, 6-2.

— Thirteen is often an unlucky number, but let’s hope it’s a lucky one for the Indians. The team has a total of 13 games left this season: three against the Royals, four against the Astros, two against the White Sox and four against the Minnesota Twins. If the Indians can win at least eight or nine of those games, then the team will probably have a very good chance at qualifying for the postseason.

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