CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians are officially past the halfway point of the 2017 regular season, and currently, they enjoy a half-game lead over the surging Kansas City Royals in the American League Central Division.
At 44-39, the Indians are tied with the New York Yankees for the third-best record in the American League, behind only the Houston Astros (58-27) and Boston Red Sox (49-36).
As the Major League Baseball All-Star Game approaches, here is a look at five things we learned about the Indians over the first half of the season.
MILLER AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED
The Indians got a glimpse of what left-handed reliever Andrew Miller could do over the final two months of the 2016 season and the playoffs, where he earned the Most Valuable Player Award with a dominating performance against the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series.
And Miller has been as advertised over the first three months of the 2017 season.
Over 36 appearances out of the bullpen in his first full year with the Indians after being acquired in a trade with the Yankees last July, Miller has a 3-2 record with two saves and 20 holds, a 1.49 earned run average and a 0.71 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched).
In 42.1 innings of work, the 6-foot-7, 205-pound Miller has registered 65 strikeouts and allowed just 10 walks, 20 hits and seven earned runs.
KLUBER REMAINS ACE OF STAFF
Since returning from the disabled list after a month of dealing with back issues, Kluber has regained the type of form that made him an American League Cy Young Award finalist last year and an All-Star this season.
In a tough-luck 1-0 loss to the San Diego Padres at Progressive Field Tuesday night, Kluber struck out 10 hitters, and in doing so, set a new Indians record for the most consecutive 10-plus strikeout performances (five).
He is just the seventh right-handed pitcher since 1913 to have 10 or more strikeouts in five straight outings.
On the season, Kluber has struck out 115 hitters against just 21 walks with 65 hits and 28 earned runs allowed over 88.1 innings of work. Despite missing several starts because of the back issues, Kluber has a 7-3 record and 2.85 ERA, the best of any Indians starting pitcher.
RAMIREZ IS OFFENSIVE LEADER
Over 82 games this season, Ramirez has collected 102 hits in 313 at-bats (.326 batting average), including 47 for extra bases (27 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs). Ramirez has driven in 42 runs, scored 59 and drawn 27 walks against 39 strikeouts.
A native of Bani, Dominican Republic, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Ramirez leads the Indians in runs, hits, doubles, triples and stolen bases, is second in home runs and fourth in RBI.
By getting 21 hits in 37 at-bats over a seven-day period in late June, Ramirez raised his batting average by 36 points. Ramirez smacked 10 doubles, one triple and three home runs with seven RBI and 12 runs scored, all while leading the Indians to a six-game winning streak during that stretch.
Ramirez had at least one double in seven straight games, including multiple two-base hits in three of those outings.
BRANTLEY HAS RETURNED TO FORM
There were plenty of roadblocks, setbacks and challenges along the comeback trail for Indians left fielder Michael Brantley, but through all of the obstacles, he persevered and has thus far made a triumphant return.
That return got a little sweeter Sunday when Brantley was selected as an American League reserve for the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which will be played at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, on July 11.
Healthy for the first time in nearly three years after back-to-back injury-shortened seasons, Brantley returned to his All-Star form and smacked 69 hits in 232 at-bats (.297 batting average) with 15 doubles, five home runs, 31 runs batted in, 27 runs scored, 22 walks against 38 strikeouts and eight stolen bases over the first half the year.
There has not been much of a home-field advantage in 2017, not with the way the Indians have performed at Progressive Field this year.
The Indians are five games above the .500 mark because of their play on the road, were they are 26-16 on the year with sweeps of the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park, the Minnesota Twins at Target Field (twice) and the Astros, baseball’s best team, to their credit.
However, at home, the Indians have struggled with consistency, and are just 18-23 at Progressive Field, including five straight losses, two to the Padres, as well as a weekend three-game sweep by the Twins in late June.