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The Indians win, even though the numbers say they shouldn't -- and won't

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Manager Manny Acta (left) has his Indians at 12-2 in one-run games, the best in baseball. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK -- The easy way out is to say the Indians shouldn't be winning.

The easy way out is to say that the Indians won't keep winning.

I really don't want to take the easy way out.

I want to tell you this team is better than it looks on the stat sheet, better than they looked in Monday's 7-1 loss to the Yankees. I want to tell you to ignore the numbers, the ones that show that the Indians are 10th in the American League at scoring runs and 13th in the AL at preventing runs.

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I know the game is about scoring more runs than you give up, and the Indians give up a lot more than they score, but I also know that they've spent almost three months doing that and still winning games.

I know that every conversation about the Indians starts with, "They can't keep this up, right?" But we're nearly at the halfway point of the season, and they began play Monday half a game out of first place in the American League Central (after spending much of the month in first place).

This can't be a fluke. There's got to be a reason.

Right, Chris Perez?

"I really don't know," the Indians closer said Monday. "We grind it. We play good in close games."

OK, so this isn't going to be easy. How can it be, when the Indians have allowed 48 runs more than they've scored? How can it be, when Monday's game was the Indians' 13th blowout loss (by six runs or more), the most in baseball?

The easy way is to say that the Indians are going to fade, just like they did last year, when they were in first place as late as July 20, but ended the season two games under .500 (and 15 games behind the Tigers).

I could even predict that the fade will begin this week, on a trip to New York and Baltimore, with the Indians beginning a 25-game stretch of games against the Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Rays and Blue Jays.

"We have a tough part of the schedule coming up," Johnny Damon admitted.

But why take the easy way out? The Indians don't.

"Our guys are resilient," hitting coach Bruce Fields said. "They grind."

They grind, so I will. I'll grind through an explanation of how this team wins, when every number says it shouldn't.

Here's how:

1. If they're close, they win. The Indians' 12-2 record in one-run games is the best in baseball.

2. If they're ahead, they win. The Indians are 29-2 when they lead after six innings.

"If we're ahead, I feel we're in," manager Manny Acta said.

3. If the opposing starter is right-handed, they usually win. Before losing to Hiroki Kuroda on Monday, the Indians were 32-19 when facing a right-hander, the best record in baseball.

The Indians can start an all left-handed hitting lineup, even if it didn't help them Monday against Kuroda.

4. They're in the AL Central, where you don't need to be good, you just need to be a little better than the ultra-disappointing Tigers.

5. The numbers lie. They don't really lie, but they are a little misleading. While the Indians bullpen has the worst ERA in the American League (4.62), the trio of Perez, Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano has a 2.66 ERA.

That explains why the Indians rarely lose games that they lead -- and, since the rest of the bullpen has a 5.98 ERA, it also explains why so many games that they don't lead turn into blowout losses.

And while the Indians' overall offensive numbers aren't good, that all-lefty lineup has combined to give the Indians the fourth-best OPS in the American League against right-handers (behind only the Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox).

You can understand why so many Indians fans wanted the team to trade for Kevin Youkilis. The Indians may not have needed third-base help as much as the White Sox did, but they need right-handed help a lot more.

The often-outspoken Perez wasn't among those complaining.

"Honestly, we didn't have the trade pieces [that the White Sox did]," he said. "They gave up two players [who had been in the big leagues this year].

"My whole thing is that the pitching has got to be better. Youkilis doesn't pitch. I think our offense is more than adequate."

Acta hints that he wouldn't mind some offensive help, but Indians people admit it won't be easy to make a deal. After trading their best two pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez last summer, the Indians don't have much left to deal -- and have little free money to pick up a significant contract.

The money issue is related to the attendance issue. Despite spending so much time in first place, the Indians are 30th in baseball in home attendance.

Perez, who criticized Indians fans earlier in the season, said he thinks many in Cleveland were more excited about watching the NBA finals (and hoping that Lebron James would lose) than they were about watching their first-place baseball team.

It's not just in Cleveland, either.

"This is our first prime-time [national] telecast this year," Perez said, when he saw the ESPN Monday night announcers walk in. "It just comes with the territory. Households aren't going to tune in to watch the Cleveland Indians."

And people in baseball aren't going to believe that the Indians can keep winning.

It's a lot easier to say they can't keep this up.

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