Tight Spending Team Could Have Staying Power
In modern professional sports many feel that he team that has the highest payroll, has the best chance for success. Surprisingly, the Cleveland Indians, a team that didn't spend boatloads of money in the offseason and wasn't expected to contend for the World Series title, is in first place in its division. After three straight losing seasons, the American League Central leaders are among baseball's most intriguing teams.
After losing more than 90 games in both 2009 and 2010, the Indians were a surprise team last season. They held the division lead over Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox until mid-July, despite injuries to some of their key players. Cleveland didn't fall behind the Tigers until mid-August.
This season, along with pleasant surprises such as the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Indians have gotten strong play and major contributions from their young players. It's almost as if last season was a preview of the direction the Indians are headed in.
Last week, they swept a three game series from the Tigers. They even beat Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander on Thursday, in spite of his complete game performance.
The Indians, who have the lowest attendance in baseball, are only averaging 16,374 fans per game. They have been a model for tight-spending, smaller-market teams. At the current pace, the following teams are on track to miss the playoffs: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, the White Sox, the Tigers, and the Los Angeles Angels. Of those six teams, four are among the five highest-paid teams in the league; all six are in the top 11.
How have the Indians gotten off to such a great start? They have a left-handed heavy lineup that has excelled in only one aspect of the game thus far: Indians hitters lead the majors in walks by a significant margin, and are near the top in on-base percentage. While they may not outslug or outhit other teams, they've reached base consistently and scored when needed.
Last season, the Indians defense was a weakness. However, this year they are off to a better start behind the offseason additions of players such as Casey Kotchman, a first baseman with a solid glove.
If the Tigers improve and make a summer run as they did last year, the Indians can still remain a formidable opponent. But for now, here's to watching the underdogs win.