Thursday, March 22, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

2011 Record: 80-82, Second in AL Central

Key Additions: Derek Lowe (P), Andy LaRoche (3B), Robinson Tejada (P), Chris Ray (P), Fred Lewis (OF), Jeremy Accardo (P), Kevin Slowey (P), Dan Wheeler (P), Russ Canzler (IF), Casey Kotchman (1B),

Subtractions: Jim Thome (DH), Travis Buck (OF), Adam Everett (2B), Justin Germano (P), Zach Putnam (P), Austin Kearns (OF), Chad Durbin (P), Kosuke Fukudome (OF),

2012 Outlook: 2011 was a surprising year for the Cleveland Indians and a very surprising year for the entire AL Central division. The division was flipped on its head in a way, as the reigning AL Central champions Minnesota Twins completed the rare first to worst transition, and the Cleveland Indians came out of nowhere to really push the Detroit Tigers for the majority of the season, but ended up with an 80-82 record, good for second in the AL Central. As late as July 20th, the Indians were in first place in the AL Central and appeared to be surprise contenders for the central crown, as in 2010 they finished with a 69-93 record, an amazing turn around to be sure. So are they contenders or pretenders? Was 2011 a year where they played above their talents, or was 2010 a truer indication of the Cleveland Indians talents?

The answer is somewhere in between. There is no question the Cleveland Indians have the pedigree to be successful in the AL Central, winning the AL Central crown in 2007, but the AL Central division has created a monster in the Detroit Tigers, who appear to have a very solid grasp on the AL Central crown, and won’t let go easily. If the Indians are going to challenge for the division championship once more, they will need strong performances from their entire roster, and a great deal of trouble to run through the Tigers roster. But what has GM Chris Antonetti done to strengthen the Indians roster in his second offseason?

It’s apparent that the Indians front office has embraced a strategy of keeping the ball on the ground, as 4 of their 5 potential starters are groundball pitchers. They traded for Derek Lowe over the offseason, and traded for Ubaldo Jimenez during the 2011 season, and already had both Justin Masterson and Roberto Hernandez Heredia (the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona). The strategy hinges on the ability to prevent the long ball, and on the strength of a very active defensive infield. While the tools are certainly there to embrace a groundball-centric strategy, the rigors of the season have certainly taken their toll on the team in the past, and with an aging rotation, that will certainly continue to be something to be weary of.

However, defensively, this is one of the youngest teams in baseball and will continue to grow, and could very likely be the team to eventually upset the Detroit Tigers. However, it won’t likely happen this year. The Tigers are lead by Justin Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP, who is supported by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. To compare, the Indians are have Derek Lowe/Ubaldo Jimenez, and are supported by Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo. Shin-Soo Choo is coming off a down year, and Grady Sizemore will start the season on the DL after having back surgery. To say that things haven’t gone the best for the Indians, would be an understatement, but that doesn’t mean that their season is over.

The Final Count: 76-86, Fifth in AL Central

Much like the Blue Jays, the Cleveland Indians are a young team that can benefit from a patient approach. They don’t have the strongest farm system right now, but many predict them to be within the top 10 by 2014, as they have a lot of talent, that is just farther away from the majors. A great example of the kind of young talent they have coming is Vinnie Pestano who was the only rookie to break camp with the Indians last season, and was arguably their best reliever in 2011. Unfortunately, 2012 will likely not be the Indians year, and the staff here at Blue Jays Plus expect them to start a step backwards, and finish the year with a 76-86 record, while finishing last in the AL Central. Injuries and inexperience put them at the bottom of their division for 2012, but youth and determination will hopefully bring them back to the top in the near future.

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Note: There was an error when calculating how many wins the staff thought the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Indians would have. Turns out, the entire AL Central's wins total except for the Tigers was messed up. Full corrections will be posted on March 31st in our full MLB Standings preview.

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