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COULD THE INDIANS BE FOR REAL THIS TIME?
At first everybody thought they were a fluke. After all, the Cleveland Indians had jumped into first place in the American League East in April by beating up on the hapless Baltimore Orioles and some of the also-rans of the Western Division. But at week's end, the Indians were only two and a half games out of first, and now the resounding question is. Can Cleveland actually win the East?
"I understand why people have been so reluctant to think about us winning," says Indians manager Doc Edwards. "After the buildup last year, naturally there's skepticism. But I knew we were a lot better off this time around because we had Greg Swindell healthy."
To a certain degree, Cleveland's hopes depend on the New York Yankees pitching staffs falling apart and on the Detroit Tigers' continuing to struggle to score runs. However, as the Indians began a vital 26-game run against four of their division rivals (the Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Yankees and Boston Red Sox), they boasted several strengths:
•In Swindell, who was 10-2 with a 2.51 ERA at week's end, Cleveland has a stopper in the class of Roger Clemens and Frank Viola.
•Through Sunday the Indians' ERA (3.62) was nearly two runs better than at the same point in '87.
•With the acquisition of lefthander Bud Black from the Kansas City Royals. Edwards says, "We have put more pieces together on building a complete staff." Black and Scott Bailes can start or relieve, as can righthander Rich Yett. Closer Doug Jones was 12 for 14 in save opportunities as of Sunday, and Edwards thinks lefty Kevin Wickander, who has 13 saves and a 0.00 ERA for Williamsport, could be ready by August.
•The Indians have a potential MVP in centerfielder Joe Carter, who is among the league leaders in batting (.299), homers (11), RBIs (40) and steals (14).
•Cleveland doesn't score as many runs as the Yankees, who were first in the league with 297 through Sunday. But with outfielder Cory Snyder and third baseman Brook Jacoby,' the Indians hammer lefthanded pitching, and they were fourth in the division with 236 runs.
"This is a big month for us." says Edwards. "But we're in this to win. We're not afraid to say we think we can win, because we do."