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Cleveland Indians should be taken seriously

It’s no accident that they’re on top

Although the Cleveland Indians went into the weekend having lost six of their last nine games, they still have the best record and largest division lead in the major leagues. And Kansas City Manager Ned Yost says it’s time people start taking the Indians seriously.

“Cleveland’s got a heck of a team,” he said. “You don’t get this far into the season [in first place] unless you’ve got a real balanced team.”

Take a deeper look at Cleveland’s 12-game improvement from this point last season and you’ll see Yost is right. The Indians are scoring nearly a run a game more while the team earned-run average is almost a run lower. The bullpen is even better. Through its first 54 games last season, the Cleveland pen had a 5.39 ERA and opponents were batting .292. This season, those numbers are 3.08 and .235.

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“They’ve got pitching. They’ve got good hitting. Their defense is very, very good,” said Yost, whose team has lost seven of its nine games against the Indians. “They’re young. They’re hungry. They play the game hard; they play the game right.

“They’re no fluke.”

The Indians will get a chance to prove that over the next five weeks since they play just nine of their next 34 games against teams that entered the weekend with losing records.

Last shall be first

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Cleveland is one of three teams that finished last or next to last in their division last season only to enter this weekend within 11/2 games of first place.

The others are the red-hot Arizona Diamondbacks, who have won 14 of their last 17 games to pull to within a half-game of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants in the National League West, and the formerly hapless Seattle Mariners, who are hanging tough in the American League West.

Last season, all three teams lost at least 93 games and finished an average of 25 games out of first. Arizona and Seattle have new managers.

Vision quest

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Former Angel Casey Kotchman has also made an amazing turnaround. After his release following a career-low .217 season in Seattle, Kotchman visited Newport Beach ophthalmologist Tom Tooma, who discovered a bacterial infection that was blurring the first baseman’s vision.

“It was like looking through a dirty windshield,” Kotchman told the Tampa Tribune.

The treatment was painful but apparently worth it. Promoted from the minors by the Tampa Bay Rays after Manny Ramirez’s retirement, Kotchman is batting .361 in 132 at-bats. He’s hitting .333 with two strikes, best among major leaguers with at least 50 two-strike at-bats, according to Stats Inc.

Stat watch(M*A*S*H edition)

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The Chicago White Sox’ Carlos Quentin has been hit by pitches 11 times this season — more than the entire rosters of the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves and Mariners. The White Sox have been plunked a baseball-high 35 times — one fewer than the Pirates, Padres, Braves and Mariners combined.

With San Francisco’s Buster Posey and Houston’s Humberto Quintero going on the disabled list in the last two weeks, that brings to 11 the number of teams with catchers on the DL.

— Kevin Baxter


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