Hope springs eternal. This is a phrase married to the start of the MLB season and repeated frequently in towns that are yearning for a quick turnaround on the baseball diamond.
This phrase has been the mantra in Cleveland for years and this season is no different.
It was 893 days ago that the Boston Red Sox completed their comeback from a 3-1 hole in the ALCS and eliminated the Indians from the playoffs. At that time, this team was one game away from the World Series. At this time, they seem light-years away.
For the Indians to have a successful 2011 season, just about everything needs to fall into place. Guys need to remain healthy, injured players must regain their old form, and young prospects must make an impact at the major league level.
To preview the season, here is the good, the bad, and the necessary.
Shin-Soo Choo had a breakout year in 2010. Choo established himself as a legitimate five tool player by hitting .300 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI while stealing 22 bases. He also carries a cannon around in right field which helps keep runners honest on the base paths.
This season, Choo is showing no signs of slowing down.¬† He had 18 RBI in only 59 at bats in spring training and looks to be ready for an All-Star type season.
Justin Masterson had the 9th lowest ERA amongst American League starters from August 9th through the end of the last season. Masterson harnessed his control and pounded the strike zone early in the count which resulted in less base runners and more quality starts.
This spring, Masterson punched out 23 hitters in only 21 innings. With his above average pitches and better control early in the count, he could be a difference maker in the starting rotation.
Fausto Carmona will open the season as the Tribe‚Äôs ace and lived up to expectations in spring training. Carmona led the Majors with 5 wins and punched out 24 batters in 29 innings. The most impressive stats, however, were the 3.72 ERA and his 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Travis Hafner has been awful. After signing a contract extension in 2007, Hafner has fallen off the map. Whether it was injuries, pressure, or something else, Hafner has underperformed to say the least.
In the past three years, he has averaged only 90 games played, 11 home runs, and 41 RBI. He is owed $13 Million this year and also in 2012. Unfortunately for the Indians, they cannot afford to release him and eat the rest of the contract.
Hafner and the Indians claim that he is 100% healthy and they better hope so, because without him there may not be much power in this lineup.
Matt LaPorta got a big dose of the Major Leagues last season and did not thrive the way that the Indians hoped he would. LaPorta hit .221 with 82 strikeouts and 41 RBI while looking flustered and overmatched at the plate.
Unfair or not, there is huge expectations for the outfielder who was acquired in the C.C. Sabathia trade. They need LaPorta to not only become more comfortable in the MLB, but to have a legitimate impact in the middle of the Indians‚Äô lineup.
Carlos Santana must return from season ending knee surgery at the level he was playing before his early exit. During his time in the Majors last season, Santana was second in the league in on-base percentage for catchers behind only Joe Mauer. Santana, and his health, are huge pieces to a successful 2011 season.
Grady Sizemore was once heralded as the ‚Äúbest player of his generation‚ÄĚ by Sports Illustrated. Over the past few seasons Sizemore has battled numerous injuries and struggled with strikeouts.
If he returns from season ending knee surgery close to the player he once was, the Indians will have impact bats throughout almost the entire lineup. If he is a shell of his former self, Michael Brantley will start to assume the lead-off and centerfield duties at some point during the year.
The biggest crap shoot in Major League baseball is the bullpen. The same guy who was lights out last season, is often lit-up this season. The Indians need for Chris Perez to buck that trend and become the cornerstone of their bullpen for years to come.
Last year, Perez had 23 saves with a miniscule 1.71 ERA. Opponents batted .182 against him and he averaged 2.2 strikeouts for every walk. With all the question marks in the lineup, the Indians will need to slam the door on quite a few close games in order to compete in the AL Central.
Opening Day Lineup (last season‚Äôs batting average)
1.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Grady Sizemore (.211)
2.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Asdrubal Cabrera (.276)
3.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Shin-Soo Choo (.300)
4.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Carlos Santana (.260)
5.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Travis Hafner (.278)
6.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Matt LaPorta (.221)
7.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Orlando Cabrera (.263)
8.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Jason Donald (.253)
9.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Michael Brantley (.246)
Pitching Rotation (last season‚Äôs W-L & ERA)
1.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Fausto Carmona (13-14 3.77)
2.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Carlos Carrasco (2-2 3.83)
3.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Justin Masterson (6-13 4.70)
4.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Josh Tomlin (6-4 4.56)
5.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Mitch Talbot (10-13 4.41)
By: Will Burge