Just a year after going 41-26 in the second half and taking the top AL wild card, the Cleveland Indians are 12-6 in July and sit only two games back of the Mariners for the final wild-card spot in the muddled American League. And there are reasons for optimism in Cleveland -- even those that don't include a certain basketball player or quarterback.
Let's paint that picture on the baseball side, because we all know I'm all about the optimism.
• The offense has been good, but there are reasons to believe it could be even better. Nick Swisher is a much better player than the .207/.285/.344 line he took into Tuesday night. He went 3 for 4 with a double Tuesday, too. Michael Bourn will be back in a few weeks and -- if he can remain on the field -- he should be better than he's been. Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana are also more than capable of hitting much better than they have. We've seen signs of it from Kipnis throughout the month while Santana went nuts Tuesday.
• Corey Kluber has morphed into a front-line pitcher, the Indians have won Trevor Bauer's past four starts -- in which Bauer has a 2.84 ERA -- and Justin Masterson is healthy and coming back after one more rehab start. Remember, Masterson was the ace for a playoff team last season. Additionally, Danny Salazar had an encouraging outing Tuesday. We won't be confusing this rotation for the one Detroit runs out, but it's still capable of being good.
• After some early rough spots, Terry Francona has -- not surprisingly -- sorted out his bullpen. The group as a whole has a 1.77 ERA in July. Cody Allen hasn't blown a save since May 19 (12 saves with a 1.01 ERA since then) to lead the way. Oh, speaking of which ...
• Terry Francona is still among the game's best managers.
• There are flaws, sure, but every team in the mix for the second wild card in the AL has myriad flaws. The Indians, though, are the only one in the mix that went 21-6 in September and won their final 10 games in order to make the playoffs. Been there, done that. They'll have plenty of confidence heading down the stretch.
See, that wasn't so difficult. How realistic is it? You make the call, but definitely don't count the Indians out. They are not to be ignored.
Please feel free to contact me with comments on Twitter (@MattSnyderCBS) or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Definitely remember that if we have differing opinions, it means someone is stupid and/or biased -- and probably doesn't even follow baseball.