Looking ahead to the second half: The Indians are a good bet to improve

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The top of the AL Central is not terribly surprising. There the Royals sit with the biggest lead of any of the division leaders, four and a half games over the Minnesota Twins. Many people, of course, figured that the Twins wouldn’t be anyplace close to the top of the division and many suspect that they’ll falter as the second half wears on.

I can’t say I agree with that completely as the Twins have a lot of young talent and young talent has a way of not adhering to the expectations, both good and bad, people have for it. They’re not aware they’re supposed to falter, so maybe they won’t?

However the Twins shake out, it’s safe to say that no one expected the Indians to be in last place. Indeed, with their excellent rotation and big bats in Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall, they were thought to be a favorite to win the Central or, at the very least, give the Tigers and Royals a run for their money.

Except of that group, only Kipnis has been a big bat this year, getting a lot of help from David Murphy. Brantley has been OK, but far less of a threat than last year. Gomes and Chisenhall have fallen into the abyss, in part due to injuries. Carlos Santana has struggled mightily. While the rotation has continued to pitch well —-Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer all notched 100+ strikeouts in the first half — the Indians defense has been about the worst in the game, betraying its pitchers over and over again. That’s how a promising team winds up 11 games back and tied for last place.

But that really doesn’t seem sustainable for me. For one thing, the teams above Cleveland look to falter. Perhaps the Royals won’t collapse — there’s far too much talent there — but the Tigers are already in something of a freefall and will be without Miguel Cabrera for weeks. Those Twins, again, have overachieved and could very well slip. The team with which Cleveland is tied for last place, the Chicago White Sox, has been rumored to be in sell mode at the trade deadline and could be punting 2015, creating an opening for the Tribe.

More fundamentally, however, the Indians have to get better because they can’t be worse.

There has apparently been nothing wrong physically with Carlos Santana. He’s a streaky hitter and always has been, and in the final two series before the All-Star break, went 9-for-23 (.391) with a double, triple, home run and four RBIs over seven games. If he carries that momentum into the the second half, the Indians will have another weapon on offense.

The biggest challenge will be to right the ship defensively. And even a little ship-righting will be huge, because the Indians pitchers are just dandy at run prevention. Fortunately for Cleveland, that process has already begun.

Shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Giovanny Urshela were called up in June and, while they haven’t done much at the plate, they have totally revamped the left side of the Indians’ previously porous infield. Both have been dynamite with the glove and have drastically improved the Indians’ defensive efficiency in their short time. Perhaps that’s an anomaly and perhaps, with more time in the game, they’ll come back down to earth a bit. But both have good defensive pedigrees and couldn’t possibly be worse than what came before. Also, one or both of them could start hitting a little too to help even things out.

All of which brings us back to where we were before. The Indians are a wildly talented team with a great rotation and a couple of big stars on offense. On paper, it’s a team that should challenge for a playoff spot. Given the weakness of the non-Royals members of this division, they still may very well be able to in the second half, an 11-game deficit notwithstanding.

Royals outfielder Gordon to retire after 14 seasons

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Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, the former first-round pick whose rollercoaster career took him from near bust to All-Star and Gold Glove winner, announced Thursday he will retire after the season.

Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 first-year player draft following a standout career at Nebraska, where he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur in baseball. He made his big league debut two years later and, after a few years shuttling back and forth to the minors, moved from third base to the outfield and finally found success.

He wound up playing his entire 14-year career in Kansas City, joining only George Brett and Frank White as position players with that much longevity with the franchise. He heads into a weekend four-game series against Detroit with the third-most walks (682), fourth-most homers (190), fifth-most doubles (357) and sixth-most games played (1,749) in club history.

The three-time All-Star also holds the dubious distinction of being the Royals’ career leader in getting hit by pitches.

While he never quite hit with the kind of average the Royals hoped he would, Gordon did through sheer grit turn himself into one of the best defensive players in the game. He is the only outfielder to earn seven Gold Gloves in a nine-year span, a number that trails only White’s eight for the most in franchise history, and there are enough replays of him crashing into the outfield wall at Kauffman Stadium or throwing out a runner at the plate to run for hours.

Gordon won the first of three defensive player of the year awards in 2014, when he helped Kansas City return to the World Series for the first time since its 1985 championship. The Royals wound up losing to the Giants in a seven-game thriller, but they returned to the Fall Classic the following year and beat the Mets in five games to win the World Series.

It was during the 2015 that Gordon hit one of the iconic homers in Royals history. His tying shot off Mets closer Jeurys Familia in Game 1 forced extra innings, and the Royals won in 14 to set the tone for the rest of the World Series.

Gordon signed a one-year contract to return this season, and he never considered opting out when the coronavirus pandemic caused spring training to be halted and forced Major League Baseball to play a dramatically reduced 60-game schedule.

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