Gone are the glory days of the Cuyahoga Warriors. Count this reporter as one who was spoiled rotten by the countless playoff appearances of the 90's. All was not lost, however, for the 2008 Indians. Marred by injuries and lack of production their season of promise turned into a rebuilding year almost as soon as the 2008 started. Their season did have one bright shining star, excuse me, superstar. Cliff Lee won the AL comeback player of the year award today after winning 22 games for the 81-81 Cleveland Indians. And he deserved it. Only a year after being sent down to AAA and not making the playoff roster for a team that was one game away from the World Series what Lee accomplished this year is nothing short of brilliant. He led the league in wins and ERA and was one win shy of tying the franchise's record for wins in a season by a left-hander. His 22 wins were the most by an AL pitcher since Roy Halladay completed the feat in 2003.
Lee was a model of consistency for a consistently inconsistent team. Winning almost 28% of the teams games this year Lee most certainly will accept the CY Young award for the 2008 season and become the second straight Indians' starter to win the award following C.C. Sabathia in 2007. The last time a team had back to back CY winners was in 1999 and 2000 when Pedro Martinez was in his prime. C.C. was gone half way through the year, and 19 game winner Fausto Carmona was out for a prolonged period of time which left Lee as the only reliable starter the Indians had. Especially after Jake Westbrook had season ending Tommy John surgery only a quarter of the way through the season. Lee relished in his new role as "ace" and made the Indians worth watching every five days. So while the Indians will have plenty of time to watch the MLB playoffs from their couches this off-season at least they can revel in the fact that they have produced the last two AL Cy Young Award Winners...Which at least should get Carl Willis a raise, if nothing else.
Other Indians Observations from the 2008 Season:
- Grady Sizemore shouldered the load without Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner and was the only 30-30 (30 HR and 30 SB) man in the AL this year.
- Jhonny Peralta quietly had a great year at the plate. He led the team with a .276 average and had 23 HR with 89 RBI and 104 R. He should move over 3B for the 2009 season (see below)
- It is obvious that Andy Marte is not the answer at 3B. Finally getting his chance after fan favorite Casey Blake was traded away to the Dodgers, Marte squandered his opportunity. Battling mightily to get his average above .200 all year.
- Kelly Shoppach proved that the Indians have depth behind the plate. And made a viable bid to be the starting catcher next year which could lead to Victor Martinez anchoring down 1B.
- Ryan Garko's days could be numbered as the Indians 1B. Victor Martinez who is a better hitter and infielder than Garko could be headed to 1B with the emergence of Kelly Shoppach.
- Shin Soo Choo should be a starting outfielder in 2009. The AL September player of the month hit .400 for the month and proved he can play defense coming back from Tommy John Surgery.
Now That the Regular Season Is Over...Some Awards
AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee - this should be a unanimous decision. The league leader in wins and ERA had "one of those years." If only he would have pitched like this last year the Indians might have gotten a ring.
NL Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia - Brandon Webb pitched all year in the NL but struggled towards the end of the season while his D'Backs were passed and missed the playoffs. C.C., however, single handily pitched his team into the playoffs.
AL MVP: Francisco Cordero - K-Rod gets the nod here because no offensive player really jumps out at you. The Angels won the most games decided by three runs or less in the majors and K-Rods record 62 saves are the reason why.
NL MVP: Manny Ramirez - Albert Pujols gets a lot of respect but his team didn't make the playoffs which is why I will give this to Manny. Without Manny Ramirez the LA Dodgers miss the playoffs and his presence makes them serious World Series contenders. I define the MVP as the player who if you took them off their team would have the most impact on that team. So what if he only played half a year in the NL his numbers were ridiculous and he led his team to the playoffs. C.C. Sabathia gets consideration because of what he did down the stretch for the Brewers.
AL Rookie: Evan Longoria - when he arrived in the bigs it legitimized his team's presence as an AL East contender. And all the Rays did was get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Thanks in part to his presence at the All-Star game. Close second was Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox.
NL Rookie: Geovany Soto - the Cubs catcher is the rock that leads the pitching staff in Cubbieland. He offensive numbers were not outrageous but he was in the line-up every day at one of the toughest positions. Close second Johnny Cueto.
Here are my playoff predictions for the 2008 MLB playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays v. Chicago White Sox
- Tampa Bay rides home field advantage to the ALCS
Boston Red Sox v. Los Angeles Angels
- Angels finally get past nemesis Red Sox in the playoffs
Los Angeles Dodgers v. Chicago Cubs
- Dodgers ride hot streak into NLCS as curse adds another year on the North side.
Philadelphia Phillies v. Milwaukee Brewers
- Brew Crew seems like a team of destiny and C.C. carries them to NLCS
Tampa Bay Rays v. Los Angeles Angels
- Rays are tough at home but the Angels are too experienced for the young Rays.
Los Angeles Dodgers v. Milwaukee Brewers
- C.C. cannot pitch everyday and absence of Sheets means an all LA fall classic
Los Angeles Dodgers v. Los Angeles Angels
- Dodger blue adds another championship thanks in large part to addition of Manny Ramirez