CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona is always quick to push questions related to last season aside. This is a new year with a new team forming its own identity, and the only thing gained from last fall's run to the World Series was experience.Given the backdrop of Cleveland's American
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona is always quick to push questions related to last season aside. This is a new year with a new team forming its own identity, and the only thing gained from last fall's run to the World Series was experience.
Given the backdrop of Cleveland's American League pennant, though, there is a strong sense that this summer's club has fallen short of the sky-high expectations to date. Courtesy of a weak AL Central, the Indians have been able to climb to first place despite injuries, inconsistencies and flaws. The team is hoping that consistency arrives with the second half.
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"The only thing we're really consistent in is being inconsistent," Francona said last month. "What I really care about more than anything is just our ability to value how important every game is, and leave it out on the field. If it's not good enough, then we'll come back tomorrow. If we do that, we're going to be OK."
Here's a look at where the Indians stand at the season's midpoint:
What went right
Jose Ramirez did not just get hot in late May, the third baseman's bat was scalding, helping him win the fan vote as the AL's starting third baseman in the All-Star Game. Ramirez joined teammates Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller and Francisco on the AL's roster. After missing a month due to a back issue, Kluber won the AL Pitcher of the Month in June, looking like an AL Cy Young contender again. Brantley made a successful return after missing most of last year with injuries. The bullpen was one of baseball's top groups, helping make up for some troubles in the rotation.
What went wrong
The rotation was extremely inconsistent. Kluber returned strong in June and Carlos Carrasco provided a reliable arm, but Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar each dealt with ups and downs. Salazar wound up on the disabled list in early June with a right shoulder issue, making matters more complicated. Lindor enjoyed an incredible April, but then slumped over the next two months. Similarly, second baseman Jason Kipnis struggled at the plate in the first half. Injuries forced constant turnover in the outfield.
What we learned
The Indians rotation remains one of the AL's best, but there is a lack of depth beyond the front five. While Mike Clevinger stepped up, Cleveland could stand to fortify its starting staff for the second half. Offensively, the loss of Rajai Davis over the winter led to an adjustment period for the lineup. The Indians pushed the envelope with the running game in '16, but are more reliant on home runs now. That contributed to drastic hot-and-cold spells for the offense, especially with runners in scoring position.
Off the field
Away from the diamond, one of the storylines of the first half was the health of Francona. The Indians manager missed two games in June after dealing with an elevated heart rate and light-headedness. The root of the problem was discovered earlier this month and Francona underwent a cardiac ablation procedure. Francona pulled out of managing the AL in the All-Star Game, but is expected to make a full recovery and plans on joining the Indians for the start of the second half.
First half everyday player
This goes to Ramirez, and it's not even close. After a breakout showing last season, the switch-hitting Ramirez has used his high-contact, aggressive style to emerge as Cleveland's best all-around offensive threat this year. If Ramirez's helmet is flying off -- revealing his orange locks -- it usually means good things are happening.
First half top pitcher
Carrasco logged the most consistent innings over the first three-plus months, but Kluber was the most overpowering and gets the slight edge in this category. Kluber racked up strikeouts at a ridiculous rate after coming off the DL, posting a 1.26 ERA with 64 punchouts against seven walks in June alone.
First half top rookie
When the season started, it was not clear when center fielder Bradley Zimmer might get his first big league opportunity. An array of injuries necessitated his promotion from Triple-A in May, and the big outfielder seized an everyday role. Zimmer offers elite speed, plus defense and occasional power.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.