Entering September excitement filled Cleveland baseball fans as the Cleveland Indians remained competitive in the AL Central pennant race. Despite an injury riddled season featuring DL stints for all positions but shortstop, third-base, and catcher the Tribe played meaningful September baseball, at least for the first week in the month. The feat may not seem too impressive but no one could argue watching your hometown team battle for first place proves much more entertaining than seeing them battle to NOT finish last, like the Indians did the previous September.
Cleveland’s baseball playoff hopes came to a close when the second place Indians hosted the first place Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field for a three game series Monday, September 5th through Wednesday, September 7th. As the series began the Tribe remained 6.5 games back. A well-played series could put the Indians right back into the hunt for first place. Game one saw starter Ubaldo Jimenez pitch seven solid innings garnering eight strikeouts and only giving up two hits. Unfortunately one of the two hits, a three run homerun from ex-Indian Victor Martinez, did enough damage to give Detroit the win. Starter Fausto Carmona plunged the Tribe deeper in trouble the following day as Detroit whipped the Indians 10-1. Game three saw Indians utility player Shelly Duncan crank two homeruns off Detroit’s ace, the seemingly untouchable Justin Verlander. However Victor Martinez yet again found a way to haunt his old team, hitting a grand slam which led the Tigers to a three game sweep. At 9.5 games back and three weeks left in the 2011 baseball season Cleveland found their playoff hopes ripped apart.
A constant struggle causing the 2011 Cleveland Indians to go from the best American League team in May to an 80-82 finish involved overbearing injuries. Several crucial injuries stopped the team from continuously building momentum. For instance, rookie second-baseman Jason Kipnis who hit .279 with six homeruns and 11 RBIs in his first 18 MLB games and starter Josh Tomlin who at the All-Star break remained on pace to win 20 games both went down with injuries in August. In September third-baseman Jack Hannahan who hit .420 the month before suffered an injury right before the big three game series with Detroit. Now, could Jake Hannahan single handedly proved the difference maker in the series? Probably not but we in Cleveland will never really know.
All in all Clevelanders shouldn’t complain. As Associated Press’s Tom Withers pointed out in a preseason article baseball experts gave the Tribe “little chance to contend in 2011.” Yes, the final 80-82 record appears disappointing when you consider at one point the Indians enjoyed a record 15 games above .500. Still 80-82 looks a lot friendlier then the 2010 69-93 and 2009 65-97 campaigns. Perhaps most encouraging, 2011 shows the young Indians ball club when healthy possesses great potential.
Cleveland Indians Official Website