Cleveland Indians 2009 Season Preview
*From Protect the Plate
After an American League Central title and trip to the ALCS, the Cleveland Indians were expected to be a contender again in 2008. Instead, the club put together possibly the most disappointing season in team history. In the end, the Indians climbed back to .500, and there were a few dominant individual performances, but the season may end up being best remembered for the trade that sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee.
ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE
The Indians finished the season by going 34-21 (.618) in the final two months of the season to finish at an even 81-81. To put that streak into perspective, baseball's best team, the Los Angeles Angels, had a .617 winning percentage on the year, and the Indians were a dismal 47-60 (.439) before August.
SHINING THROUGH DARKNESS
While 2008 was a lost season for Cleveland, the same can't be said about ace Cliff Lee and star Grady Sizemore. Lee entered the year as a former 18-game winner who hit rock bottom in 2007. The lefty ended up having a banner year, winning the Cy Young and Comeback Player of the Year Awards after starting the All-Star Game. He led the AL in ERA (2.54), wins (22), win percentage (22-3 .880) and walks per nine innings (1.37). Sizemore had a career year, establishing personal highs in home runs (33), RBI (90) and stolen bases (38). He was awarded with his second Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger.
A slew of injuries prevented the Indians from getting off to a hot start. In the end, Victor Martinez played in 73 games, Travis Hafner played in just 57 games and Fausto Carmona made only 22 starts. After Kelly Shoppach had an impressive season behind the plate, it's unclear where Martinez will log most of his playing time -- rotating between catcher, first base and DH. Hafner has fallen off the face of the earth since putting up a .300-30-100 line from 2004-06. Carmona won 19 games in 2007 and had a great first month of '08, going 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA in six starts. He fell apart after missing time and finished the year 8-7 with a 5.44 ERA.
CLOSER QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Cleveland added some key pieces to its pitching staff, none more important than closer Kerry Wood. The injury-prone but flame-throwing righty picked up 34 saves in his first year as a closer for the Cubs. He posted a 3.26 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 84 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings. The Indians bullpen combined for just 31 saves on the year, the least in the AL. Other additions include Carl Pavano, who has made just nine starts the past two years, and Anthony Reyes, who pitched just 49 innings in the majors last season.
LAPORTA ON HIS WAY
While he should see some time in Triple-A to start the year, top prospect Matt LaPorta is expected to make his Major League debut sometime in 2009. The centerpiece of last year's CC Sabathia trade, LaPorta has a .285 average, 34 home runs and 105 RBI in just 131 career minor league games. The 24-year-old former seventh-overall pick helped Team USA win the Bronze Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Johnny Peralta led all AL shortstops with 107 runs scored and drove in a career-high 89 runs...New acquisition Mark DeRosa will start at third base, and is coming off a career year that included a .285-21-87 line...Shin-Soo Choo hit .343 with a 1.038 OPS after the All-Star break...Jensen Lewis was a perfect 13-for-13 in save opportunities over the last two months of the season...Scott Lewis had an impressive debut last year, going 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four September starts.
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