Cleveland Indians: 5 Players Who Need to Step Up to Keep Pace with the Tigers
The Tigers are a powerhouse with an outstanding offense, and well-above average pitching staff.
The Indians, on the other hand, have an offense made up of guys who are relatively unknown and a staff that really lacks a true ace.
That hasn't stopped Cleveland, though, as they are still towards the top of the division.
With an extra playoff team added this offseason, the Indians could theoretically make a push for one of the two spots. That spot leaves no playoff guarantee, however.
If the Indians want to be assured of a playoff spot, they need to win the division.
Cleveland certainly has the potential, but several players will have to step up and put the team on their backs.
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Casey Kotchman had the best offensive season of his career in 2011 as a member of the Rays. He hit .306/.378/.422 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI. He also recorded 24 doubles.
Currently, Kotchman has yet to live up to the one-year, $3 million contract he was awarded this offseason.
He is only hitting .157/.232/.294 with two home runs and four RBI.
The team isn't asking him to hit 20 home runs or drive in 80-plus runs, but he needs to get his average up to respectable levels if he doesn't want to be benched.
If the Indians have any shot at a playoff berth, they'll need much more production from their first baseman.
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In a lineup that lacks significant pop, the Indians will need Shin-Soo Choo to step up and provide power outside of Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner.
Last season, Choo suffered injuries that limited him to just 85 games.
In those games, he hit only .259/.344/.390 with eight home runs and 36 RBI.
He's started off slowly thus far, driving in nine runs, but not hitting a single home run.
For the Indians to compete with the powerful Tigers, they'll need Choo to provide a little extra pop to the lineup.
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Asdrubal Cabrera broke out in a big way last season, establishing himself as one of the premier offensive threats at the shortstop position.
In 151 games, Cabrera launched 25 home runs, drove in 92 runs and put together a line of .273/.332/.460.
Cabrera didn't play at all this past week—he was on the bereavement list—so his statistics up to date are not as strong as players who have been active.
That being said, his three RBI are not enough, considering the fact that he's an integral part of the offense.
He does have two home runs through eight games, but he'll need to be much more of a run-producer as the season progresses.
He was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger award winner last season, and I expect exactly the same out of him in 2012.
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Drew Pomeranz and Alex White profile as top-of-the-rotation starters, while Jimenez is still struggling to regain his 2010 form.
Last season (split between Colorado and Cleveland), Jimenez posted a 10-13 record and a 4.68 ERA. He struck out 180 in 188.1 innings.
The Indians will need him to pitch like he did in 2010 (19-8, 2.88) if they want to compete with the Tigers.
Justin Masterson may be the current ace, but Jimenez is the guy who should be the actual ace for the Indians.
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The Braves sent Derek Lowe to the Indians in what was the first deal of this past offseason. It came on the heels of Lowe's worst season as a major-leaguer.
He posted a league-leading 17 losses and also had a 5.05 ERA. He was durable, though, starting in a league-leading (tie) 34 games.
Thus far, Lowe has pitched much better. He is currently 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA.
The Indians don't need him to be a 15-plus win pitcher, but they definitely need him to keep the team in games.
If he can keep an ERA somewhere below 4.30, he'll help the team much more than he'll hurt them.
He's clearly on the down-slope of his career, but the Indians are hoping he's got at least one good season left in him.