07/12/2004 6:21 PM ET
Indians eyeing strong second half
With young core of talent, anything is possible
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- First, the Cleveland Indians accomplished an unlikely feat -- placing five players on the American League All-Star team.
|Matt Lawton has 15 homers and 49 RBIs at the break and is in the heart of a productive lineup. (Daria Debuono/MLB.com)
Now they're talking about something just as unlikely -- winning the AL Central.
"We're just four games out of first place and in baseball anything can happen," catcher Victor Martinez said Monday.
Actually, the Indians are 5 1/2 games out but, hey, who's counting in the giddy, upbeat atmosphere of the 75th All-Star Game?
"We probably could," left fielder Matt Lawton said. "You look at our division and nobody really runs away. Nobody has really been dominant."
Martinez and Lawton were joined at the AL media madness by second baseman Ronnie Belliard and pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Jake Westbrook. The Cleveland section dominated the room, why not the division?
Martinez, 25, is probably the most surprising choice. The players voted him in behind Ivan Rodriguez of the Tigers but ahead of the Yankees' Jorge Posada. AL manager Joe Torre said telling Posada he didn't make the team was the toughest thing he's done in connection with this game.
"I knew I might have a chance," Martinez said, "but I knew it was going to be tough with guys like Ivan Rodriguez, Posada and Javy Lopez."
The Rodriguez-Martinez pairing is a delight for the Indians' catcher.
"It's a great feeling for me," Martinez said. "He's my favorite player right now, my favorite catcher."
Martinez, from Venezuela, and Rodriguez, from Puerto Rico, got to know each other in Spring Training. Martinez asked "Pudge" to let him know if he spotted anything he could do to improve his catching skills.
Martinez came into his own with the bat this season, hitting with power (12 homers, 63 RBIs) as well as average (.290).
"To me, he was great behind the plate and he hit both right-handed and left-handed [pitching]," Belliard said. "He even surprised me. But he didn't surprise the guys who were his teammates in the minors."
Lawton is hitting .305 and Belliard .304. Lawton has 15 homers, 49 RBIs and is in the heart of a productive lineup.
Sabathia is 5-4 and Westbrook is 6-4. Modest records, but they rank 4-5 in the AL's ERA standings, Westbrook at 3.21 and Sabathia at 3.33. The Athletics' Tim Hudson leads the league at 2.98.
They've got a pretty good supporting cast, too. Maybe they could make a second-half run at the title.
"Victor Martinez is definitely going to be one of the great catchers in the league for a long time," Lawton said. "C.C. Sabathia is one of the best pitchers in the American League, and we've got a whole lot of young guys.
We've tightened up the bullpen. We're looking forward to the second half."
Martinez senses a return to the Indians' glory days of the 1990s.
"I do have a real good idea of what they did in the '90s," he said. "They were a very special ballclub, always winning the division and always in the playoffs. Now we're rebuilding again."
Westbrook, who replaced injured Curt Schilling of the Red Sox, became the fifth Indian selected.
"It says a lot about our team," Westbrook said. "We have young guys and we're hungry."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.