The Tribe has surprised many this year by grabbing first place a week into the season and holding on to it at least through May. This success has been largely due to the Indians offense. May saw a drop off in runs scored compared to April, but the Indians still managed to do enough to win 14 games with only 12 losses. In April, the Indians were third in the league with 141 runs scored, while in May they were second to last with only 129 runs scored in the same amount of games. This drop in production was probably largely due to the fact that both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore missed 13 games from injury, including 8 games where both players were missing. During this stretch, Travis Buck and rookie outfielder Ezequiel Carrera were both called up from AAA Columbus and forced into immediate action. While both played well and were involved in a few exciting moments, especially Carrera's game winning bunt single, they simply could not compare with the offense prowess of Hafner and Sizemore. The following is a review of how each player played during the month of May on an individual level.
Leading off is the Indians lead-off hitter Michael Brantley. Brantley was one of two players to play in all 26 games in May (the other being Asdrubal Cabrera). For the majority of May, Brantley was the Indians lead-off hitter, but for a short time that role was relinquished to Grady Sizemore when he came back from injury. Brantley has since been returned to his lead-off role and shown that he is the best player for the job. During May he is second on the Tribe in almost every major stat including runs (16), hits (27), triples (1), home runs (3), RBI (14), total bases (42), and steals (4 with one time caught). Brantley is also second best on the team in base-running +/- [(extra bases + steals) - (tag outs + caught stealing)], with ten more bases gained than times tagged out. Michael vastly improved upon his first month stats, possibly taking advantage of batting in front of Asdrubal Cabrera. Brantley has been showing improved power over his past, increasing his slugging percent in 2011 to .410, almost a .100 points higher than his 2010 slugging percent of .327. This has not been without its own reward as Brantley is now 4th in the AL in RBI as a lead-off hitter and has already knocked in as many runs in two months (22) as he did all of last year.
Asdrubal Cabrera has been the lynch-pin of the Indians offense all season and that was especially true during the month of May. Along with games played, Asdrubal lead the Tribe in at bats (106), runs (18), hits (35), doubles (7), triples (2), home runs (5), RBI (19), total bases (61), steals (5 with no times caught) and slugging percentage (.575). Asdrubal was not only the best player on the Indians during this time, but was also the best hitting short-stop in the AL. Hitting second in the Indians lineup every game except one this year, Cabrera has been immensely impressive and an integral part to the Indians run scoring machine.
What to do with Shin-Soo Choo. Choo has been the best hitter for the Indians over the last few seasons, mostly due to lack of competition with Grady and Travis Hafner missing so much time to injury. Each season for the past two years he has held a batting average of .300 with an OBP around .400 and a sluggin percent of over .480. This season Choo has had two consecutive months hitting below .250, most recently in May holding a line of .247/.336/.344. While playing every game but one in the three hole, he was only able to knock in 7 runs during the entire month. The two hitters ahead of him were on base 66 times and the "best hitter on the team" only knocked in 6 runs (the 7th was himself on a home run). After hitting only .250 in April, most Indians fans expected Choo to bounce back to his normal self soon after, but he has done the exact opposite, dropping his batting average 3 points and his slugging percent 56. Shin-Soo ended May with a 6 game hitting streak, so hopefully he is starting to come around. Since Manny Acta has been reluctant to drop Choo in the order, we will all just have to wait until Pronk comes back to pick up some of the slack (and baserunners) that Choo is leaving behind.
Carlos Santana actually did have the turn-around that people were expecting from Shin-Soo Choo. After hitting below .200 for the first month of the season, Santana progressed and hit .263 during May. This was probably because of his increased patience at the plate. Santana has been thrown the greatest percentage of balls of all AL hitters and took almost twice as many walks (18) as any other Indians hitter in May. Like Choo, Carlos only has 7 RBI, which may make you wonder, "who knocked in Brantley and Cabrera all those times.
For 11 games in May, the answer to that question was Pronk. Hafner knocked in 11 runs in only 11 games, tieing him for third on the team for RBI in May, behind only Cabrera and Brantley and ahead of a lot of guys who played as many as 14 more games than he did. Hafner lead the team in batting average (.351) and OBP (.442) during that time as well. There is no presence more missed in the Indians lineup than that of big Pronk, but there doesn't seem to be any help short term as Hafner will be out at least the first two weeks in June with a strained oblique. In his absence Acta has used a plethora of designated hitters the majority of the at bats going to Grady Sizemore, Travis Buck and Shelley Duncan.
The other half of the disabled duo, has already returned to the Tribe after only missing 13 games. Grady has been an odd piece to the lineup this season as he has played extremely well when he has played, but he has missed about half of the games this season so far on two separate DL stints. Even with his missing time, Grady still lead the team in doubles over the first two months. Grady only knocked in 4 runs and scored 6 times in May, but with his extra-base power, the RBI will come in time. Most of his production issues come from the fact that he was leading off for the majority of his playing time this month and there aren't many RBI opportunities when following Jack Hannahan, Austin Kearns and Lou Marson. Since Manny has dropped Grady down in the lineup, we should be able to expect a lot more out of him. It may even be possible that if Choo continues to struggle, Grady could be moved into the three spot where he belongs.
That's it for now, but look out for part 2 of the offense and a review of Indians pitching coming soon.