"The Roundtable" is a regular feature that will continue throughout the year covering hot topics surrounding the Browns, Buckeyes, Cavaliers, and Indians. One question. Several different answers from TheClevelandFan.com panel.
The All-Star break is two weeks away, and the Indians (44-31) are still six games away from the season's midpoint of 81 games. That said, as we near the end of a rough June, there have been several MVP-caliber performances so far this season for the Indians.
C.C. Sabathia has anchored the starting rotation, gives the team a chance to win every time he pitches, is having his best season to date, and has established himself as a true ace. Fausto Carmona is having a breakout season, has filled the void in the starting rotation ravished with injuries and ineffectiveness and has established himself as a legit #2 behind Sabathia.
Victor Martinez is having his most productive season to date, and has carried the team offensively while Travis Hafner's struggles continue. Casey Blake is putting up another solid year, and moved back to third base after Andy Marte played poorly and was injured. Jhonny Peralta is having a comeback season offensively and defensively, and has been that power right-handed bat the team needs in the lineup behind Hafner and Martinez.
Joe Borowski doesn't make it look pretty, but he is 21-for-23 in save opportunities, which was an area the Indians struggled in the most last season. Rafael Betancourt has established himself as a legit setup man, and is having arguably the best season of any reliever in baseball.
The Indians certainly have had a lot of MVP-caliber performances in the first half of the season. We polled a few of TheClevelandFan.com writers for their opinion on the first half MVP...
Tony Lastoria: For the first time since 2001 the Indians are playing good baseball in the first half of the season, although, looking at the attendance to date, you would never think so with such a poor showing from the fans. That said, there certainly is a correlation between the Indians good start to the season and several of the outstanding performances we have seen so far from a few of the Indians players.Casey Blake and Joe Borowski have helped provide stability at positions of need at third base and closer, and Jhonny Peralta is having a much-needed bounceback season. Sabathia and Carmona have had excellent seasons to date, and have been consistently very good in a starting rotation that has had several disappointing individual performances this season, but it is hard to name either one them MVP when they only pitch once every five days. Also, Martinez has been a rock in the lineup and carried this team while Travis Hafner has struggled, but when it comes down to it the biggest difference maker the first half has been Rafael Betancourt.
The Indians 2006 season went awry because of an awful bullpen, and one can say the biggest reason the Indians 2007 season has been successful to date has been because of a solid bullpen. While others in the bullpen like Borowski, Aaron Fultz, and Rafael Perez are having good seasons, it is Betancourt's performance in the 8th inning that has provided stability to the bullpen and been a valuable bridge to Borowski in the 9th inning. Betancourt is 0-0 with a 1.10 ERA and has a ridiculous 0.67 WHIP. Only 1-of-19 inherited runners have scored, and in 32.2 innings he has allowed only three walks and a .168 batting average against. Yes, Betancourt is the first half Indians MVP, and should be an All-Star as well.Paul Cousineau: MVP - Victor MartinezSolidifying the middle of the lineup in the absence of consistent production from Pronk, Martinez has put up numbers worthy of consideration for AL MVP in the first half of the 2007 season. To date, The Stick ranks 14th in the AL in Batting Average, 7th in HR, 4th in RBI, and 15th in OPS to put the Indians 2nd ranked offense on his substantial shoulders and keep the Tribe offense productive and balanced. On pace for a 31 HR, 140 RBI season, Martinez has been the guiding light for the S.S. Tribe as it sets sail through the AL Central.However, bigger than his offense, arguably, has been the rebound in his defensive efficiency. Manning two positions, Vic has seen his defense behind the dish improve to the point that he's thrown out 28.6% of potential base stealers this year (up from 18% last year) and has yet to commit an error in 14 games at 1B. His versatility has allowed Shoppach and Garko to thrive in their limited, but expanding, roles and served as the leader of the defense - unafraid to challenge a struggling pitcher.If Grady Sizemore is the face of the Indians and Pronk and C.C. are the muscle that flexes to show this team's prowess, Victor is the heart of this team. His steadying influence on the offense and the pitching staff (he has the 4th best Catcher's ERA - or what the cumulative ERA of the pitchers he catches - in the AL) has been invaluable in the young season.
Erik Cassano: I don't see a single first-half MVP for the Indians. What I see is a small band of high performers lugging around the rest of the team.C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Victor Martinez, Rafael Betancourt, Grady Sizemore and Joe Borowski should get medals for being the collective reason this team has been in first place for most of the season.C.C. and Carmona have carried the starting rotation, the rest of which can be filed under "pray for rain" more times than not. Jeremy Sowers has been a major disappointment, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee have had their seasons slowed by injuries and Paul Byrd is just plain inconsistent.The same goes for Betancourt and Borowski out in the bullpen. Without those two, the bullpen would be an outright disaster for the third time in four years. Roberto Hernandez is gone because he's 42 and pitched like he was 42 (what a shock). Fernando Cabrera and Tom Mastny aren't ready for prime time, and Aaron Fultz, while having a decent season, can be maddening with the walks he gives up to lefties.Rafael Perez offers a glimmer of hope, but like Cabrera and Mastny, I'd caution against putting too much on another young pitcher's shoulders.The offense is probably the most frustrating part of the team when taken as a unit. Sizemore is having another .290-ish, extra-base-hit-parade Sizemore type of season and Martinez is making an MVP push in my opinion, but the rest of the offense just doesn't seem like it's there the way it normally is.From my perspective, Travis Hafner edges out Sowers for the biggest disappointment of the first half. Is it his contract situation? Only he knows, but a .260-odd average is very un-Pronk-like. David Dellucci and Trot Nixon have been virtual non-factors after hot starts, while Andy Marte whiffed his way to Buffalo.Props go to Josh Barfield and Jhonny Peralta, one of the better-hitting middle infields out there, but they aren't capable of carrying an offense. Guys like Pronk have to do that, and so far, he hasn't.