Coming into the 2011 season, even the most optimistic of fans could not have predicted the great start that the Tribe have enjoyed so far this year.
A team that came out of the gates firing on all cylinders has given the Indians a 12-5 record and first place in the American League Central. In fact, they are off to their best since 1999 and are tied for the best record in all of the major leagues.
While it is still early in the season, there are reasons why fans should have hope that great things are in store for this team. While it is impossible to win the division in April, it is possible to lose it in April. Tribe fans who have watched the past couple of seasons can attest to the truth of that statement.
With that being said, here are four reasons that the Indians have a legitimate shot at contending in the A.L. Central this season.
Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta
An important factor to any baseball teams with hopes of winning their division is a solid coaching staff. The Tribe's current staff is entering their second full season and seem to be hitting their stride.
The staff and the players have had time to learn what to expect from each other and the positive results of the coaches are really starting to shine through.
Manny Acta, as the manager, is the most important member of the Indian's coaching staff. He had a little trouble last season while he was making the adjustment of moving from the National League to the American League with its designated hitter. Those troubles are definitely behind him.
So far this season, nearly every call Acta makes during a game has paid off. Whether it is giving the sign for a suicide squeeze or making a pitching change at the perfect time, Acta has been a big part of the Tribe's fast start. If he is able to continue his stellar managing, it will go a long way towards helping the Indians contend.
Veteran presence Orlando Cabrera
Another reason that the Tribe could contend in the A.L. Central this year is because of the great mix of veteran players and young players that fill the roster.
The Indians have an almost ideal mix of guys that have been on playoff teams and young talent ready to prove themselves at this level. Perhaps the most important veteran is second baseman Orlando Cabrera. He has been to the playoffs in six of his last sevens seasons with several different teams and won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004. His leadership to this team has been obvious since spring training.
The young talent that was brought in through several trades of cornerstone players over the last couple of seasons are finally starting to pay dividends. Guys like Justin Masterson, Chris Perez, Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco are proving to fans that the front office of the Indians might have known what they were doing when it acquired them.
The balance that the Indian's have shown from both their offense and their pitching is yet another reason that hopes of contention are alive and well in Cleveland.
Every member of the Tribe is contributing to the team in some way. There is not just one player carrying the whole team. It seems like every game has a different player making a big play or driving in the winning runs. One player can't be expected to carry a team through the whole season and a balanced attack is very important.
So far, the Tribe has shown that they can win games in a multitude of ways, and if they can keep that trend up, then the A.L. Central crown will be that much closer.
Getting off to such a hot start has given the Indian's something that is one of the most dangerous things for a young team to get. That something is confidence. It is easy to see that the players are feeding off of each others success and that is going to go a long way towards helping the Tribe sustain their winning ways.
The Tribe are also playing as a team instead of as individuals. That team cohesion and camaraderie really shines through in the outcomes of many games. Each player is there to pick up their teammates if they should commit an error or not come through in the clutch.
Playing with teammates that are all friendly with one another makes the grind of a long season not seem so bad. Players are less likely to fall into prolonged slumps if they have a solid group of guys around them offering advice and lightening the mood. If a team cannot get along, then the season turns into a chore instead of an enjoyable experience.
Although it is still extremely early in the season, the Indian's are playing like a team that knows they can compete with the other teams in their division despite preseason predictions and payrolls. As long as the Tribe continue playing to the level that they are obviously capable of, fans are in store for an exciting season.