All over the country, Opening Day is a time for hope, optimism, and making predictions.
Unfortunately, assigning auguries for an all-but-doomed team like the Cleveland Indians can be depressing.
The Indians essentially waved the white flag on 2010 with the trades of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez last July. This a rebuilding year, which is code for "we're not even really going to try."
Luckily, we have more to worry about than just our numbers of wins and losses. We Clevelanders have reason to hope as the Indians begin their quest to compete in 2011 and beyond.
Here are five bold predictions for the Cleveland Indians in 2010.
There are plenty of high-profile prospects who figure to make their big-league debuts in 2010.
Stephen Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, and Jason Heyward have all been making waves in Spring Training. Even Buster Posey and Pedro Alvarez figure to create a fair bit of excitement in the coming months.
But these marquee names have one thing in common: they're all in the National League.
The rookies in the American League are less promising, with few obvious preseason candidates for Rookie of the Year. Santana could fill that void.
By all accounts, Santana's bat is MLB-ready; Baseball America called his plate discipline the best in the Tribe's deep farm system.
He's likely to claim the Tribe's starting job around June 1. That would give him plenty of time to make a compelling case for the voters.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Indians' disheartening 2009 campaign was Sizemore's decline.
The unquestioned face of the franchise now that Victor Martinez is out of the picture, injuries limited Sizemore to 106 games last year. He smashed just 18 homers (compared to 33 in 2008) while swiping only 13 bags (down from 38).
Luckily, he's not done yet. Entering the prime of his career at 27, Sizemore will be moved down from the leadoff spot, allowing him to blossom as a power hitter—his true calling.
Expect Sizemore to reach 30 homers again in 2010, but it will come at a price: He will once again fail to steal 20 bases, as the Indians will take every precaution to ensure that their biggest slugger stays healthy.
"Swing and a miss!"—That's a sound you won't hear much when de facto ace Jake Westbrook (4.1 career K/9 rate) is on the mound. Or when Fausto Carmona (5.6) is pitching. Or David Huff (4.6), or Aaron Laffey (4.3).
For that, you'll have to wait for Justin Masterson.
With blazing heat and maturity beyond his 25 years, Masterson kept opposing hitters guessing to the tune of 8.3 K/9 in 129.1 innings last season.
He'll start the season as the Tribe's No. 3 starter, behind Westrbook and Carmona. But it wouldn't take much improvement for Masterson to emerge as our go-to big-game pitcher by the end of the season.
After years of humiliating himself at shortstop, Peralta was asked to move to the hot corner to accommodate rookie Luis Valbuena. He responded by posting his worst full-season offensive numbers of his career.
This is the last guaranteed season of the contract extension he signed in 2006. The Indians hold a $7 million club option for 2011; given the progress of Lonnie Chisenhall and the general unpopularity Peralta has among Cleveland fans, it seems more likely that the Tribe would simply let him walk next winter.
Unless, of course, they can get something for him now.
Peralta could definitely have some appeal for contending teams at midseason. He can be a serviceable hitter, having already topped 20 homers thrice at age 27, and his fielding isn't that bad if you hold your nose.
Even if he doesn't rebound this year, GM Mark Shapiro should be able to exchange him for table scraps, a la Kelly Shoppach (it's better than nothing).
Something happens in Cleveland as the calendar turns to August—something that fans of other teams might not fully understand.
Once the fans allow themselves to lose hope and the fat lady begins to sing her song, the Indians play like champions. Once the cameras are off and the pressure is lifted, something clicks in the clubhouse and they become a whole new team.
Not satisfied with my anecdotal evidence? Chew on this: the Tribe's post-All-Star Break record has been better than its first-half standing six years in a row.
Over that time, the Indians have a mediocre collective winning percentage of .482 before the Midsummer Classic. Compare that to a sizzling .538 mark in the second halves.
Coincidence? It's possible, I suppose. But if the Indians can get through their growing pains and solve their roster problems in the first three months of the season, they certainly have the talent to keep the streak alive.