CLEVELAND -- The Indians do not believe in jinxes. What Cleveland would not argue is that it needs to play better in the second half to realize the kind of potential that prognosticators saw in the ballclub before this season began.
When Indians stars Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated during Spring Training, the duo downplayed the significance. The publication predicted Cleveland as its World Series winner, but the players inside the clubhouse had the same kind of expectations with or without the national spotlight.
Over the course of the first three-plus months, the Indians have not met the hype. The offense has dealt with inconsistency, and the lineup has gone through a series of changes. While second baseman Jason Kipnis has enjoyed the best start of his career, a variety of issues (injuries among them) have taken a toll on others in the order.
Cleveland is not out of the postseason discussion by any means, but the team has plenty of ground to make up in both the division and Wild Card races in the second half.
FIVE KEY DEVELOPMENTS
1. Kipnis' All-Star comeback
A year ago, Kipnis was hindered by an oblique injury that sapped his signature ability to hit to the opposite field with authority. Now healthy, the second baseman tore through the first half with one of the league's top offensive showings.
2. Sorting out the left side
The collective struggles of third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and shortstop Jose Ramirez convinced Cleveland to transform its left side in June. Chisenhall and Ramirez went back to Triple-A, leading to the promotions of shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Giovanny Urshela.
3. Gomes misses time
In only the fifth game of the season, Tribe catcher Yan Gomes sustained a right knee injury that cost him six weeks on the shelf. Backup Roberto Perez filled in admirably, but Cleveland absorbed a disheartening blow when it temporarily lost its talented catcher.
4. Bourn's role reduction
Following some early-season struggles, center fielder Michael Bourn was pulled out of the leadoff spot and then saw his playing time against lefties decrease. The move paved the way for Kipnis to take over and thrive as Cleveland's new leadoff man.
5. A potent platoon
The Indians entered the season unsure of how its crowded outfield would be handled. Veterans David Murphy and Ryan Raburn helped solve part of the problem by forming a solid platoon. Together, they generated strong overall numbers in the first half.
FIVE STORYLINES TO WATCH
1. Contributions from Bourn and Swisher
Bourn hasn't experienced health issues like in previous years with the Tribe, but he still has not been the offensive force he was earlier in his career. Nick Swisher was limited by knee issues in the first half, while trying to make a comeback from the double knee surgery he underwent last August. Cleveland's two highest-paid players are both hoping to bounce back and help the Indians more in the second half.
2. Santana's second half
For the second season in a row, first baseman Carlos Santana got off to a rough start for the Indians. This time, though, his slump lasted longer than in 2014. In order for the Indians to field a consistent offense, the club needs more production from the switch-hitting Santana. If last year is any indication, a second-half surge is not out of the question for the first baseman.
3. Counting on the rookies
As would be expected, Lindor and Urshela displayed flashes of potential and moments of youthfulness in their first taste of the Major Leagues in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break. The hope is that the duo will continue to feel more comfortable on baseball's biggest stage, helping shore up the defense and improve the offense over the course of the second half.
4. Finding a fifth starter
During the first half, Cleveland cycled through a handful of fifth-starter options before finally promoting right-hander Cody Anderson from Triple-A Columbus. With only three Triple-A outings under his belt, Anderson headed to the big leagues and gave the Indians a pleasant surprise with a solid string of starts. The Indians can only hope that they have found their solution for the rotation's last spot.
5. Adding to the roster
Given the inconsistency of the first half, the Indians are on the bubble as far as being a legitimate contender in the American League. The Tribe could use one more experienced starter or an impact bat added to the heart of the lineup. With their place in the standings, though, it is hard to know if the Indians will be buyers or sellers. The team's play down the stretch in July could go a long way in determining the club's direction.
MVP: Kipnis. After an injury-marred 2014, he has rebounded with an incredible first-half showing. Cy Young: Kluber. Run support hurt his record, but he was one of the AL's top starters in the first half. Rookie: Urshela. Since being called up from Triple-A, he has held his own as a lineup regular. Top reliever: Cody Allen. The closer has been one of baseball's elite late-inning strikeout artists this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN SECOND HALF
Lindor: Cleveland's top prospect could help ignite the offense down the stretch. Swisher: Injuries have hindered him, and he will look to make a second-half comeback. Anderson: The rookie starter has been a pleasant surprise at the back of the rotation.