Wake up Cleveland! There is a contender in town and I'm not talking about the Lake Erie Monsters, either!
After dropping their first two games to the Chicago White Sox, the Indians have been on fire, rattling off seven wins in a row—taking a broom to both the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners. Sure, this could be just a fluke, right? Both the Red Sox and Mariners have struggled early. Plus the Tribe are supposed to finish in the American League cellar, according to almost every sports writer in America.
I'm here to tell you to jump on the bandwagon before it leaves without you! Why, you ask? Because before the season even started, the Indians organization has said again and again from Chris Antonetti to Manny Acta to Shin-Soo Choo, that the Indians plan on contending in 2011. And they apparently believe it, too.
Ok. So you're still skeptical right? You may be thinking about the 2002 Cleveland Indians. How they won 11 of their first 12 games and then finished 74-88 in September. How are these guys any different?
The difference is that Tribe team in 2002 marked the end of an era, this one is marking the beginning of a new one. In 2002 the future looked dim, most of the day-to-day lineup consisted of veterans either on their way out of Cleveland or out of the MLB all together. In 2011 you are witnessing the birth of a new era of stars in Cleveland. They are hungry and ready to prove they belong at the top of the AL Central.
Can the Tribe really finish at .500 or better in 2011?
In my opinion, there are at least five All-Star caliber players on the roster right now. All young guys who the Indians control for at least the next two years, if not longer. Shin-Soo Choo, Fausto Carmona, Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez, and Carlos Santana. Not to mention guys like Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin who have already looked like seasoned veterans on the young 2011 campaign.
Then you have a guy like Travis Hafner who can really carry a team when healthy. I don't know about you but that swing to drive home four in Seattle on Friday night looked pretty healthy to me! He may not get back to what he was doing four years ago, but 25 home runs and 100 RBI's would go a long way if Pronk can stay healthy. Sure, you may say that is a big "if" but anyone who has watched the Indians over the past few years knows that something is clicking for Travis Hafner unlike anything we have seen from him for a long time.
Just think what can happen with a healthy Grady Sizemore as well. Manny Acta is going to have to make some tough decisions in the next week or two but trust me, he welcomes these "tough" decisions. Sizemore should be ready to join the club within the next 10 days and reliever Joe Smith isn't that far behind.
The key to the Tribe's success in 2011 will center around their starting pitching. The Indians won't continue with seven game winning streaks all year. But with some consistent starting pitching, they can play around .500 and contend in the AL Central. Don't believe me? Just ask Theo Epstein, he is still trying to figure out how a team with 1/3 of his payroll just swept his Boston Red Sox.
The answer is great young talent and the Indians have a lot of it!