Cleveland Indians: 10 Things To Take Away From the Final Home Game of 2011
Despite losing to the Minnesota Twins Sunday in their final home game, the Cleveland Indians have plenty to be proud of in 2011.
Despite being a favorite preseason pick to finish in last place, the Tribe is guaranteed at least a share of second place in the AL Central and is one win from guaranteeing a non-losing season.
If the Indians had started 15-30 and then raced to a .500 season, there would be much optimism in Cleveland. The fact that we started 30-15 then faded as the weather warmed up made a .500 this season hard to deal with.
Personally, I still take the big-picture look at things and say that we did better than we were supposed to this year and have a great base to build off of for 2012. But that's just me.
I was lucky enough to attend the game yesterday, along with the home opener (which I wrote a similar article for).
Being able to bookend the season was a privilege that gave the 2011 campaign some good perspective. But enough about me—let's move on to 10 things to take away from the home closer.
Fausto Carmona: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
Sure, it wasn't a 10-run, 11-hit, three-inning debacle like his opening day outing, but it wasn't good.
Fausto showed us once again that he is nowhere close to his 2007 form and likely never will be.
He gave up two runs in the top of the first and two more to blow the 4-2 lead he was staked.
The fact that Fausto ended the year with a 5.25 ERA should be very telling. He is at best a fifth starter in this league.
I could go either way on his team option for next year, but I for one would not miss Carmona one bit if he wasn't with the Tribe next year.
Shelley Duncan Did the Most with His Chances This Year
I don't think that Shelley Duncan will ever deserve a starting spot in the big leagues.
That said, he absolutely is a great player to have coming off of the bench.
After yesterday's home run (which shot out of there like a cannon), Duncan has 11 home runs, 46 RBI and a .269/.332/.500 slash line in 235 plate appearances.
While that would average out to 30 HR and 127 RBI over a full 650-plate-appearance season, I don't think he'd be able to keep that pace up over a full season.
Also, I don't think Duncan has the defense to justify a starting spot. He is instant offense, however, and isn't a bad player to have play every once in a while.
I hope to see him on the roster next year.
Nothing Will Get Me off of the Carlos Santana Bandwagon
It wasn't the prettiest of days for Carlos Santana, as he struck out in two of his five times at the plate yesterday.
Even with that in mind, however, I don't think you can take away from what Carlos did this year.
Apart from the Tribe's current favorite stat (that he now holds the Indians' switch-hitting home run record), Santana had a decent year, despite the .240 batting average and 131 strikeouts.
Those stats can be nullified by his 95 walks, 27 home runs, 79 RBI, .351 OBP, .459 SLG and .810 OPS (125 OPS+).
I'll admit that Carlos didn't live up to his potential this year. But if this is a bad year, can you imagine what a good (or even great) one will look like?
Injuries Really Depleted This Team, Didn't They?
Grady Sizemore. Shin-Soo Choo. Michael Brantley. Asdrubal Cabrera.
Not counting the players that missed significant amounts of time this year but started yesterday (Travis Hafner, Jason Kipnis, Jason Donald), that is some serious talent missing from the final home lineup.
Considering the number of injuries this team had, I'm actually very happy with the result of the season.
If you were told before the season that Grady would play in less than half the games, Choo would struggle and miss significant time and Pronk would be hurt as well, would you have put the Indians at .500?
I don't think so.
This team did do something special this year, even if they didn't really come close to the playoffs.
The Kids Are Alright
Well, after begging for it from the beginning of spring training, I finally got to see both Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis become regulars for the big league club.
While they both certainly need to work on things (like walking—please let them draw more walks and strike out less next year), I still see these two as keystones to the future.
Add in Ezequiel Carrera, who got extended playing time this year thanks to the many injuries the Tribe suffered, and we've got a pretty solid, youthful base for 2012 and beyond in Cleveland.
The list of players that will be 26 or younger next year is long (in no particular order—Lou Marson, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Ezequiel Carrera, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Jeanmar Gomez, Chris Perez, Nick Hagadone) and gives hope that the best is yet to come for the Indians.
Is It the End of the Matt LaPorta Era Already?
Back on opening day, I wrote that Matt LaPorta looked good but not great.
A few weeks later, I wrote that there was still time to jump on the LaPorta bandwagon before it got too crowded.
Well, that bandwagon got deserted very quickly. I stayed on longer than most, but I'm off it now, too.
I thought that it was very telling that he wasn't in the lineup for the final home game. With the Indians out of contention, this game was really just one big love-fest for the fans and the team (as we'll see later in the slideshow).
The fact that LaPorta was on the bench the whole day makes me question if he's even in the Tribe's plans for 2012.
Vinnie Pestano Remains Impressive
Little did we know when Vinnie Pestano struck out the side in his opening day appearance that it was the start of a very impressive season.
He had to fight to make the team out of spring training but made the most out of his chance. After getting two more strikeouts yesterday, Pestano's up to 82 on the year in 61 innings (good for 12.1 SO/9).
With the way Chris Perez struggled at times this year, it is feasible that Pestano could close some games next year for the Tribe.
Not a bad start to a career for my favorite Indians gangster.
Tony Sipp Needs to Figure Some Things out in the Offseason
For some reason, Tony Sipp can't seem to keep the ball in the park.
The 10th-inning home run he allowed yesterday cost the Tribe the win and the 1.44 HR/9 he gave up for the season is far too many.
Considering that he's allowed 1.47 HR/9 over his three big league seasons, this problem with the gopher ball is real and something that needs to be addressed.
Sipp is currently at a very respectable 3.03 ERA, but his FIP and xFIP (4.43 and 4.36 respectively) are cause for concern.
If he can't figure out how to stop letting people go deep off him this offseason, I'm not convinced Sipp will make it through the entire 2012 season on the big league roster.
This Was Probably the Final Game in Cleveland for Kosuke Fukudome
It was fun while it lasted, but this was probably the last home game Kosuke Fukudome will play in an Indians uniform.
He played decently since coming over from the Chicago Cubs and had a very nice throw from right field, almost nailing a runner at home yesterday.
But at 35, there doesn't seem to be room for Fukudome in Cleveland.
But Kosuke Fukudome's potential last home game in Cleveland pales in comparison to another potential last home game...
This Just Might Have Been Jim Thome's Last Home Game of His Career
With that in mind, I hope he does walk away from the game after this year.
I know he wants to have one more shot at a World Series win, but nothing will top how yesterday's game went for him.
The sight of him at third base at Jacobs/Progressive Field one last time was the perfect way to go out.
I would never begrudge him if he decided to stick around, but I would love for the final image of Jim Thome's illustrious career to be yesterday.
It would be a fitting way to end a Hall of Fame career and the Indians' 2011 season.