It’s early in the season, but if you haven’t been paying attention, the Cleveland Indians are the hottest team in all of baseball. Even though their eight game winning streak came to an end last night at the hands of Dan Haren and the Angels, the Tribe have gotten off to a great start and have created a little buzz in the city. Not too many people had high expectations for the Indians this season and rightfully so. The Indians went 69-93 last year, their roster isn’t full of All-Stars, and their pitching rotation is full of young arms that are not recognizable just yet.
The odds of the Indians getting to the playoffs are still a long shot, the odds of even finishing third in the AL Central aren’t great, and this is still a team that is rebuilding, but the Indians are one of the biggest surprises in baseball so far and it has been fun to see a young team come together and play well after being one of the worst teams in all of baseball just one year ago.
Despite the good start though, fans are still not supporting the Indians the way you would expect them to. Ownership is getting questioned constantly, the weather isn’t great, and people still have not gotten past the team’s decision to trade away back-to-back Cy Young Award Winners in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
Indians GM Chris Antonetti joined ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland with Tony Rizzo to talk about the hot start to the season, the team coming together so quickly, whether or not they will be buyers at the trade deadline if they keep this up, why attendance has been so bad, and whether or not the hot start has increased expectations.
On the hot start:
“It’s been a really encouraging start. I think some of the things that we’ve talked about being keys for our season have played out that way so far; specifically one of the things that we thought would be important for our success would be the consistency of our starting rotation. If you take out the first game for Fausto (Carmona) and the first few innings of (Carlos) Carrasco we’ve gotten very consistent starting pitching and they’ve given us a chance to win games. That’s been boosted by an offense that has had consistent at-bats and everyone has contributed to helping us win games in every spot in the lineup. Combine that with some very good defense and sound execution. I think that’s led to the quick start.”
On the team coming together so quickly:
“Yeah, I think the short time they’ve been together they have jelled extremely well. You have spent some time around our camp in the spring and I know you’ve heard one of the consistent messages that we’ve talked about is having the expectation of winning and preparing to win. I think our guys have done an exceptional job of that in spring training and at the beginning of the season that they’re going out with the mindset that hey we expect to win tonight. We have the talent on the field, we’ve done the work, we’ve prepared to put ourselves in a position to win and they recognize the talent they have. I think some of the veterans that have been mixed in with the group have brought that mentality. I think there’s that mentality now that we expect to win games, not just hope to win games.”
Whether or not they can be buyers as opposed to sellers at the deadline if they keep playing well:
“Yeah I think that is our mindset. We need to be prepared for that. Manny (Acta) said this in the offseason that his job is to try and put the Dolans in a position to add guys at the deadline. That’s certainly my focus. Part of our job as we go into a season is prepare for all the different ways the season can go. We’re hopeful that if we can continue to play quality baseball and are in contention, we will make sure we examine all those opportunities to improve the club and give us the best position we can in the second half.”
Why the attendance has been bad so far:
“There are a lot of factors that go into that. Certainly how we’ve done the last couple of years, things that are going on with the city, then obviously the weather hasn’t been great yet. It’s been bitterly cold and tough to play let along being out there. We’re looking forward to this weekend, then we go on the road, then as things warm up and we continue to play well, I expect more people will be joining us at the ballpark.”
Whether or not the start has raised the expectation level of the team:
“We’re not going to limit the expectations on the team. We do feel good about the talent we have and how quickly they develop and take the next steps will determine our level of competitiveness. So far those guys really have taken a step forward. Now can they be consistent with it and continue it over the course of the season? Ultimately I think that’s going to go a long way in answering your question and I’m not sure any of us has the ability to answer that with certainty. That’s the beauty of baseball and the beauty of sports. We’re gonna have a chance to see that unfold as the season goes on.”
On what they still need to get better at:
“I think the same things. We try to be mindful of not looking into ten games. You can fall into some traps if you make evaluations based on that. I think the consistency in our rotation I think is going to really determine the success of our season. If those guys can continue to give us a chance to win games then I think we do have a chance to surprise some people. I think that’s the thing, because it is such a young group and they don’t have the same track record as other teams have, although they are exceptionally talented, I think that consistency is going to be the important thing for our season.”