Senior Writer

For a team with no expectations, Indians are making headway


What in the name of the late, great Bob Feller is going on here?

The Cleveland Indians have stormed back from trailing 14-0 after four innings on opening day to win eight of their past 10 and seize first place in the AL Central.

Talk about a rapid turnabout, the likes of which would make Rapid Robert proud.

"For a team with no expectations from anybody -- from around the league, from the experts -- the wins have given us a lot of confidence that we can win on a regular basis," infielder Orlando Cabrera says. "It creates that environment in the clubhouse where we get surprised when we lose."

Asdrubal Cabrera already has four homers after coming into the season with just 18 for his career. (Getty Images)  
Asdrubal Cabrera already has four homers after coming into the season with just 18 for his career. (Getty Images)  
How about that for a cool 2011 motto? The Cleveland Indians: We're surprised when we lose.

Really, the only reason so many experts picked the Indians to finish fourth or fifth is because it's darned hard to pick a team sixth or seventh in a five-club division. Well, that and the presence of the Kansas City Royals, who currently are running second in this bizarro AL Central world.

Meanwhile, All-Star Grady Sizemore hasn't played since last May 16 because of a microfracture in his left knee, and Shin-Soo Choo (.200, .275 on-base percentage) and Carlos Santana (.205, .280 OBP) have yet to achieve liftoff.

So how in the world did the Indians roar to their best start since 2002?

And how did they build their longest winning streak since 2008?

Like this:

Too many Cabreras are confusing opponents

This is my theory. And with sweet-swinging shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera already at four homers and 10 RBI after hitting just 18 long balls in 1,415 major-league at-bats heading into the season, I'm sticking with it. Very clever move for the Tribe to add Orlando Cabrera at second base just before spring training.

Clearly, opponents are confusing the reports of their advance scouts.

"I think you're really close," starter Justin Masterson says. (I just knew there was a reason I've always liked him.) "They see Asdrubal Cabrera and say, 'We want to spin him' and they do and he hits a home run. Then they see Orlando and say, 'We'll give him a heater' and he's hitting to right field all day.

"And it could be worse. In spring training, we had [outfielder] Ezequiel Carrera. If we had Cabrera, Cabrera and Carrera, that would be really confusing."

Too much muscle from Asdrubal

Truth be told, the Cabrera overload has been hell on wheels for opponents partly because it was Orlando who suggested Asdrubal should swing harder.

"He told me in spring training, 'Hey, kid, you have good power. You can hit a couple of home runs this year,'" Asdrubal said.

What prompted the advice?

"He was swinging like a [wimp]," Orlando says. "Remember when he used to do this?"

With Asdrubal watching from the next locker, Orlando grabs a bat, moves into an exaggerated stance, chokes up halfway on the bat and scrunches his face into a clown-like expression.

No, Asdrubal is no longer choking up. He's swinging harder, no longer like a, ahem, wimp.

And has the early power surprised him?

"A little bit," says Asdrubal, who missed three months last year with a broken left forearm. "I feel more strong."

Too many good vibes from Travis Hafner

Look: .324 before Wednesday's 0 for 5 in Anaheim dropped him to .282, with two homers and six RBI. He hasn't hit over .300 in a season since 2006 (.308), he hasn't had more than 20 homers since '07 (24) and he hasn't smiled like this since early '08 (before a wrecked shoulder sent him to the surgeon's table).

"I feel better than in past years," says Hafner, 33, who conducted his regular winter workout routine this year for the first time since the winter of 2007-08, before the shoulder injury. "I was able to hit more over the winter, so I feel like I'm more prepared. I'm taking more swings. I'm not having to limit my swings to stay fresh."

True, Hafner and the Indians have barely scratched the surface of 162 games. But so far, so good.

Too much pitching and defense

Since Fausto Carmona's little opening day mishap, he, Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot and Josh Tomlin have combined to post a 2.57 ERA. And the bullpen has checked in at 2.10. Cleveland has allowed the fourth-fewest home runs in the AL and is holding opposing batters to a .214 average.

The Indians' .989 fielding percentage is the AL's best and, through midweek, the two errors committed by their infielders were the fewest of any major-league infield. Jack Hannahan, who inherited third base when Jason Donald suffered a broken left hand this spring, has been impressive.

"Our pitching has really picked up where it left off last year, throwing first-pitch strikes and working deeper into games," manager Manny Acta said. "And defensively, there's no comparison with where we were -- when you add Orlando Cabrera, Adam Everett, Hannahan and Asdrubal."

Too much picking up where they left off

For any team, early wins are important, period. For a young team like the Indians, who went 35-39 after the All-Star break last summer, wins are like oxygen.

"We really hammered on our guys in spring training about our second half success last year," Acta said. "And by winning in our first 10 games, that gives more weight to it. If we started horribly, whatever we told them in spring training would be thrown off the cliff."

Instead, it feels like they're building something.

Now all they need is to win back a fan base that largely has stopped showing up (worst attendance in the majors last year) and bring back Sizemore, who is on an injury-rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus. No official word yet on his return, but he's "close."

"Believe me," Acta says. "We'll announce it in enough time that we can get Grady's Ladies to the ballpark.

"That's a big boost."


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