Leading up to the start of the 2008 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 32 teams. Teams will be rated on a 10-point scale in the following 5 areas: Lineup, Pitching, Manager, Intangibles/Chemistry, and Overall. Today’s team is the Cleveland Indians.
I think this team is at their top level with Grady Sizemore hitting in the 3 hole. For that to happen, someone has to emerge enough to get him out of the leadoff spot. Sizemore could be a 30 home run threat with better protection and less strikeouts. I think he’d actually feel a bit less pressure not leading off every game and he’d drive in more runs. For the sake of argument, we’ll say that Sizemore starts the season at lead off and does it a significant amount. In the 2 hole, you’ve got Asdrubal Cabrera. You can call him Asdrubial too if you want to. I do it sometimes. Cabrera is about even odds to struggle in his sophmore season more than he did his rookie year. He’s slick defending and can handle the bat well. He is a high end ballplayer that really panned out for Cleveland and gained valuable experience.
When you get to the middle of the Cleveland lineup, you’ve got some real thunder. Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, and Ryan Garko are guys who should be locks for 30 home runs and possible more. Look for Hafner to rebound and look like the pre-2007 Travis Hafner. Martinez must stay healthy and although I worry about him behind the dish wearing out his legs he seems not to mind the rigors of catching. Garko is up and coming and hits in the clutch.
That leaves 3 guys to talk about. Casey Blake, Franklin Gutierrez, and Jhonny Peralta. Solid players who don’t hurt you with their bat. These are players that can get you to a championship. Not superstars, but define the word solid. All three of them hit in the clutch as much as anyone in this lineup last year.
The Indians don’t have a downright scary line up that beats you every night with a barrage of home runs. They have literally a million ways to best you and a good combination of power and speed blend. Timely hitting is what will make this one of the AL’s best lineups.
Everyone knows about the 1-2 punch in Cleveland. This could be the last hurrah for C.C. Sabathia in an Indians uniform, and hopefully it is as a Cy Young candidate. Fausto Carmona was the guy who really surprised last year, reaching his ‘star’ potential with 19 wins and a 3.07 ERA, which was a bit lower than Sabathia’s 3.21 ERA. This tandem alone if healthy should get the Indians into the postseason, despite a tough division.
It is from there in which the Indians biggest questions remain. How will the 3-4-5 guys in the rotation handle themselves? Jake Westbrook returned to pitch really strong in the postseason. He made up for the lack of show by Sabathia. Cliff Lee must return to form when he won over 15 games in 2004. I have my doubts about that. The number 5 spot is somewhat a mystery right now. It will come from any combination of Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers or who knows.
Joe Borowski and Rafael Betancourt are the most solid contributors in the bullpen. Borowski had 45 saves last season and Betancourt had a sub 1.00 ERA out of the bullpen. Borowski does it ugly, but he does it more often than not.
This is one of the better pitching staffs in all of baseball. When and if they get into the postseason, they must win the games with the money pitchers. That is all it comes down to for them to be ‘elite’.
Eric Wedge doesn’t get nearly the credit he should. He had to win big last year and he did, to the tune of 96 games. This was the second time in his five years of managing that he won 90+ games. This is a big year again for Wedge, when he proves if he’s in special territory or if he’s just a good, solid manager. The Indians were a win away from a World Series, and Wedge will have little excuse to let this team fall short of at least getting somewhere close to that.
He’s got his questionable moves like every other manager, but he’s also one of the better in-game managers in baseball to those that know the game. He gets the most out of his young players and they go to battle for him for a full season; evidenced by last year’s tough stretch weathered by the team.
Again, with this team this is another area that is a strength where it is a liability to other teams in the league. The Indians have a nucleus of players that have played together for an extended number of years. Players that played together at Buffalo and Akron. They seem to get more come from behind and squeak out more close/late games than any team in the league. They win late, they win close, and they come from behind.
They’ve got a great up the middle defense (and this is giving credit to the underrated Peralta). Players like Casey Blake and Grady Sizemore; hustle players; do everything to drive up this rating.
The Cleveland Indians have a great team. This is a team that will compete and win in the toughest division in baseball, but winning the division isn’t what this team is really built for; even though that is going to be an under-stated task if they do it. This is a team that could win 95 games, and against the teams they’ll play in upwards of 20 times, that is basically like winning over 100. They were a game from the World Series last year, and that window is still open to get there and win won for this city. That said, the window will be closing fast. When the Indians failed to do it last season, my attitude wasn’t “oh well they’ll be back”. It was knowing they had missed a golden opportunity to do something and they might never get back regardless of how good they are on paper, which is scary good for at least one more year.