Indians equipped to survive without Cabrera
Roster depth, Francona's influence helps Cleveland weather injuries
NEW YORK -- If the Indians pull this off, playing their way into October for the first time since 2007, they certainly will have earned it. Very little about the 2013 season has been easy for Cleveland, which took another blow Monday night.
This time it was shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who suffered a right quadriceps injury during a 7-4 loss to the Yankees in the Bronx. Cabrera got off to a slow start but had been stinging the ball lately, hitting .288 with a .505 slugging percentage over his previous 28 games.
The switch-hitter is a two-time All-Star and the Indians' No. 3 hitter. Even if he's not having a great season, he's a good player having a good year. He'll be missed by a team in the midst of tough fights for the American League Central and Wild Card.
Leadoff man Michael Bourn already spent 3 1/2 weeks on the disabled list. Closer Chris Perez is currently on the shelf, as is starter Brett Myers. Nick Swisher has missed a little bit of time.
These are the sorts of problems that often sink pretenders. Many is the team that has a strong top of the roster, but insufficient depth to withstand the injuries that inevitably arise over the course of a six-month season. This year's Cleveland club appears to be a little stronger than that. The '13 Indians don't have to be sunk by dealing without Cabrera, even if it's for more than a few days.
"I think what makes this team good," said pitcher Justin Masterson, "and what will in the end win it out for us, is the fact that we do have good depth -- people who come off the bench and are good threats no matter who were facing."
It also appears that there's simply an expectation that things will continue as they have been. Too much can be made of managers and their influence, but one critical job for a manager is to influence the culture that pervades the clubhouse, the charter flight and the team bus. Expectations matter, and the Indians now have a manager whose expectation -- not hope, expectation -- is that they'll simply keep doing what they've been doing.
"[Cabrera] is one of our better players," Terry Francona said. "But again, this is where a guy like Michael Brantley can slot right in there [batting third]. You don't like to lose any players, but you can't use that as an excuse. So we'll show up tomorrow and have a little different batting order and try to win."
While Brantley will likely take Cabrera's lineup spot, his position on the diamond will go to another pretty good player, Mike Aviles. Formerly of the Royals and Red Sox, Aviles, 32, is a lifetime .277 hitter with a .408 slugging percentage. He can handle himself as an everyday big league player. There may be some dropoff from Cabrera, but it needn't be crippling.
Similarly, when they did without Bourn, they had Drew Stubbs to cover Bourn's defensive contributions, if not necessarily his offense. Vinnie Pestano is perfectly capable as a fill-in for Perez. And without Myers, the Cleveland rotation has actually been a pleasant surprise this year.
"It's a no-excuse type attitude, man," Swisher said. "We're not going to point fingers. We've got to pick each other up. ... We feel like we've got a great squad over here. We just need to keep fighting and everything is going to turn for us. The show goes on."
Injuries aren't the only threat to the Indians right now. Monday's loss was their 10th in 14 games. They're in the midst of a very tough stretch of schedule that doesn't get easier very soon, with trips to Detroit and Texas following this series in the Bronx. Their offense has slipped a bit in recent weeks, with Jason Kipnis, Mark Reynolds and Swisher slumping.
In recent years, such midseason turbulence has helped sink dreams of contention in Cleveland. This year, thanks to a deeper and more versatile roster and perhaps to a new manager as well, the same script doesn't have to hold.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.