It wasn't so long ago that things were looking a bit problematic for the Cleveland Indians. Just three weeks back in this space we discussed the troubles they were facing, with key players like Andrew Miller, Jason Kipnis and Danny Salazar all going down and making the team's division lead look somewhat vulnerable.
Naturally, up until Friday night, they hadn't lost a game since. Kansas City finally snapped an historic 22-game winning streak for the Indians, who have been playing absurdly good ball. And now they're getting their injured players back.
Miller was activated from the disabled list on Thursday, and tossed a scoreless inning in his return to setup duties. Kipnis could return before the end of the weekend, but maybe not at his usual position; Terry Francona posed a plan to try Kipnis in center field in the final weeks. It could be adventurous since the 30-year-old has never fielded any position other than second base in the big leagues, but it makes some sense with infielder Yandy Diaz hitting well and Cleveland lacking outfield depth after Bradley Zimmer's season-ending hand injury.
Although the Indians finally lost, there are still a lot more victories ahead for them this year, perhaps stretching deep into October.
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* Many areas of the southeastern United States were without power this week in the wake of devastating hurricanes. Perhaps Rhys Hoskins could share some of his?
The Phillies rookie continued his historic and almost incomprehensible introductory home run binge by launching four in a span of three games from Tuesday through Thursday. By going deep 18 times in his first 34 MLB contests, he became the fastest ever to reach that number by a full 10 games. We keep waiting for him to slow down but it's not happening, and pitchers are becoming increasingly wary of throwing to him as evidenced by the nine walks in his last seven games.
This will certainly go down as one of the most incredible rookie showings in memory. We're not expecting him to keep up the same pace next year and hit 80 homers, but Hoskins is quickly establishing himself as a top-tier masher and a much-needed building block for the Phillies going forward.
* It's looking like David Price will make it back before the end of the season... just not as a starter.
Sidelined since late July with elbow issues, the lefty was activated by the Red Sox this week but manager John Farrell indicated he'd be playing it safe and using Price as a reliever the rest of the way. It makes sense for Boston to protect its prized investment, but eliminates Price's fantasy value in most leagues for the remainder of 2017.
He'll be a bit of a risky pick next spring, though he could go a long way to instill confidence by looking sharp out of the bullpen in these final weeks.
* They're getting Price back, but the Red Sox will still have to go without spark plug Eduardo Nunez for the time being. Hampered by a sore knee, the speedy utilityman hasn't played since September 9th and Farrell stated on Tuesday that his return was still at least a week away. Unless the Yankees start applying pressure in the AL East race, Boston has no reason to rush Nunez back. They'll want him healthy in October.
* Is Mike Zunino finally, at long last, turning into the hitter that was promised? It's been a lengthy road for the former No. 3 overall pick, filled with trips back-and-forth between the majors and minors, but at age 26 he's showing signs of figuring it out with the Mariners.
The catcher blasted two home runs on Wednesday, pushing his season total to a career-high 23. He has an .842 OPS on the campaign, dwarfing his .632 mark coming in, and is slashing .275/.359/.592 since the beginning of June. Finally, his esteemed power is coming to fruition in Seattle, and he's making a case as a key piece going forward.
We're still a little skeptical of the batting average, since it's buoyed by a .359 BABIP and he's still striking out at an egregious 37% rate, but nonetheless Zunino shows the signs of a productive offensive catcher going forward. He's currently available in more than half of all Yahoo leagues.
* We weren't quite sure how Lucas Giolito would handle his transition to the majors in Chicago, given the uneven results he delivered in Triple-A, but so far things have gone swimmingly for the heralded 22-year-old hurler. On Wednesday he tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball, lowering his ERA to 2.56 in five starts. He has mostly been able to keep the control issues in check, and is getting it done with a quality four-pitch mix.
A word of caution: Giolito has faced a relatively soft slate thus far with the White Sox (MIN, DET, TB, SF, KC – with the first four all coming at home) so we're not betting on him continuing at this level in the short-term, especially with that 5.30 FIP. But the young righty has proven up to the task and is positioning himself for a rotation spot out of the gates next year.
* As expected, Mark Melancon's season is over after the Giants closer underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair the pronator muscle in his forearm. As arm operations go, this one is fairly minor, with a recovery timeline of 6-to-8 weeks, so Melancon should have no issues next spring as long as rehab goes smoothly. Hopefully getting the issue taken care of will help the three-time All Star return to the elite form he showed from 2013 through 2016.
* With Justin Verlander gone, the Tigers now view Michael Fulmer as the centerpiece of their starting rotation. So it's no surprise that they elected to have the right-hander get a head start on recovering from elbow surgery, which he required to address an issue with his ulnar nerve. He went under the knife on Tuesday and is expected to need three or four months for a full recovery. That should put him in line to be ready for the start of spring training, barring any hiccups.
* After taking the major leagues by storm and capturing Rookie of the Year honors in his first season with the White Sox, Cuban import Jose Abreu took a step backward in Year 2 and another in Year 3. He was still a productive player in 2016 but the numbers – .820 OPS, 25 home runs, 100 RBI – were more solid than spectacular.
A month ago, he appeared to be on track for a similar finish this year. On August 11th, he sat with a .286/.340/.498 slash line with 19 jacks and 68 RBI. The next day, against the Royals, he launched two home runs, commencing a late-season surge that continues to lift his overall numbers back toward that stellar 2014 level.
Abreu enjoyed another two-HR game last Sunday, right after hitting for the cycle a day earlier. On Monday, he followed with yet another four-hit game that included a double and triple. Thursday brought another four-hit game, his seventh of the season. In total, the first baseman is slashing a .383/.424/.766 with 12 homers and 27 RBI in his last 32 games.
Making his first start since July on Thursday, Hernandez was limited to 3 2/3 innings by a pitch count, but looked sharp in holding the Rangers to a run on three hits with three strikeouts and zero walks. He's in line to face the same Texas team on Wednesday and should have a longer leash.
Paxton also faced a stringent workload limit on Friday, and looked quite a bit rougher in coughing up three runs over just 1 1/3 innings. He threw only 27 of 50 pitches for strikes during a tough matchup in Houston. He's been so good this year but owners need to take a wait-and-see approach at this point.