Even after their improbable loss to the Royals Thursday night, the Cleveland Indians are sitting atop the American League Central with a 13-6 record; just as encouraging, all three of the preseason favorites -- Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota -- enter Friday's action with losing records.
How have they done it? You don't go 13-6 unless you're doing almost everything well, but the first thing you notice is that the Indians are leading the American League in scoring ... and this, from a team that ranked 12th in the league just one season ago.
Can they keep it up? Baseball In-Depth's Brad Templeman is skeptical:
They've gotten a boost from the return of Grady Sizemore who made his season debut (he had been on the DL) just last week and is hitting over .400. They have some quality hitters (especially Shin-Soo Choo), but you have to wonder how long a lineup with Carlos Santana (.215, 2 HR, 10 RBI) hitting cleanup can remain at the top. The bottom of their lineup is unimposing (Matt Laporta, Adam Everett, Michael Brantley, Jack Hannahan).
Ah, but here's the thing ... Shin-Soo Choo hasn't been hitting like the quality hitter he most assuredly is. And based on prior evidence, I will argue that Carlos Santana is a quality hitter, too. If we assume that Choo and Santana will eventually hit, and that Sizemore and Hafner will keep hitting, you've got the makings of a pretty good lineup.
Granted, the Indians aren't likely to keep leading the American League in scoring; Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley have both hit well over their heads, and the bench -- Everett, Tofu Lou Marson, Shelley Duncan -- has been insane.
But this is a team that should score some runs as long as the stars are healthy. I'm actually more concerned about the Indians' pitching, as there's little history to suggest their starters have the makings of a championship rotation.
On the other hand, considering the weakness of the division, almost anything seems possible. Before yesterday's games, Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report showed the Indians with a 25-percent chance of making the playoffs.
Say what you want about the Indians, but they're definitely worth watching.