2011 Cleveland Indians Preview: 5 Reasons for Fans To Believe
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In the rotation, they have (blank) and who else?
Where is Sizemore playing?
How long will Hafner be on the DL this season?
All of these questions have been asked in one form or another this offseason. That’s not what makes them interesting.
What makes them interesting is that they were actual questions raised on veteranpresence.com in the spring of 2007. Tribe fans everywhere remember that 2007 was the last year the Indians were relevant, and that was coming off a 78-84 campaign.
Yes, this was a different team in a different year. But there are parallels. Cliff Lee was not yet Cliff Lee. Who’s on third was a common refrain. In short, the expectations were low…and it turned out the Indians, and the rest of the division, weren’t who the experts thought they were.
Could it happen again? Here are five reasons why you can argue that stranger things have happened.
1. The Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers Are Getting Older
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The Indians' success in 2007 was fueled by a 48-24 record inside the division. On paper, there’s no reason to expect that kind of result this year.
However, the same could have been said in 2007. The Tigers were coming off a World Series visit and the White Sox were reloading after their 2005 visit to the Fall Classic. For whatever reason, neither team performed as expected. Here’s why this year may produce similar results.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox look formidable, but in 2010, they had to pull off an improbable run just to be in the conversation. Yes, they added Adam Dunn, but with the exception of third base prospect Brent Morel, this team hasn’t gotten younger. You can make a case that this lineup has peaked.
With the addition of Edwin Jackson, the rotation should be fine regardless of what they get from Jake Peavy. General manager Kenny Williams has shown he’s willing to make a trade to keep the Sox in the race. The question will be, if they need a bat, will they be willing to weaken their pitching? At what point do they stop trading, and start developing, prospects?
Acquiring former Indian Victor Martinez to go along with MVP-candidate Miguel Cabrera, gives the Tigers a lineup that’s built to win now. If things go according to plan, they very well could do just that.
However, the health of key players like Magglio Ordonez and Joel Zumaya is a question. Add to that a roster with veterans like Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta, who may very likely underperform their contracts, and you see a team that could unravel in a hurry.
The potential circus surrounding Cabrera’s recent DUI conviction cannot help.
2. A Healthy Grady Sizemore (in Left Field?)
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Cleveland sports fans can now put “microfracture surgery” next to the words “high ankle sprain” as words they don’t want to hear for a long time. It’s safe to say that Grady’s days of 162 games are over, and the expectations bar is set low for 2011.
He’s been a top-of-the-order hitter playing center field. However (projected over a 162-game season) Sizemore has a .272 career batting average while averaging 25 home runs and 84 RBIs. Those are middle-of-the-order numbers. And that was before his knee injury.
If Sizemore can come anywhere close to those numbers, Manny Acta will need his bat in the lineup. That should mean not only moving Sizemore down in the order, but moving him to left field. This would give him less ground to cover and keep him in a lineup that desperately needs his bat.
Sizemore has never been a five-tool player and will undoubtedly have his struggles as he tries to regain anything resembling his All-Star form. Having said that, he’s a baseball player, and for the Indians to be successful in 2011, they need veteran players who know how to play the game.
3. Carlos Santana Leads a Power Surge
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If last year’s offense needed a movie title, it would have been “Offense, Interrupted.” Because every time they seemed to get on a roll, they’d lose a key player. Teams like the Indians need their Plan A lineup to work, because Plan B is 90 losses.
But there’s reason to think 2011 may be a better year.
Their starting lineup features Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana and yes, Travis Hafner. All are legitimate 20-25 home-run threats.
Sprinkle in some power from Matt LaPorta and Austin Kearns and whatever you get from Sizemore, and there’s reason to believe that the Indians can score more runs than last year. This would excite the fans—and a pitching staff which far too often had to pitch with a razor-thin margin for error.
4. The Kids Can Play
Could Lonnie Chisenhall open the season at 3B?
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Jason Kipnis. Cord Phelps. Lonnie Chisenhall.
We’ve heard about them. But if the Indians are going to make noise in 2011, one of them will have to make an impact with the big club.
From the signing of Orlando Cabrera, I take away that the plan for Kipnis and Phelps is to start the season in Columbus. It would seem that the Indians would want Chisenhall to join them, but third base is open, and a torrid spring at the plate could make it hard for the Indians to pass up.
5. Our Pitching and Defense Comes Through
Who will be this year's Fausto Carmona?
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2007 was the year Cliff Lee was sent to the minors. Nobody knew who Fausto Carmona was. And Joe Borowski was making the ninth inning a roller coaster ride.
In Mitch Talbot, Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson, the Indians have a staff that won’t strike fear in the hearts of American Lineups, but like 2007 with Carmona, one of them may be ready to take their game to a new level.
Consider these statistics reported by Paul Hoynes, the Indians beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
In the second half of 2010, The Indians were tied for fourth in the AL in the second half in ERA at 3.86.
The bullpen's ERA in the second half was 2.95, the second best in the AL next to the Yankees. In September, the pen's ERA was 2.11, trailing only San Francisco in the big leagues.
Defensively, I have my suspicions about how durable Santana will be behind the plate, but the addition of Orlando Cabrera should solidify our defense up the middle and if Brantley is the choice to play center field, the Indians should be able to keep runs off the board.