If you are a baseball fan, there is no question you are feeling some sort of anticipation. Spring training will start in less than two weeks, and by the end of the month, box scores from exhibition games will start appearing in the newspaper and various web sites.
Hope springs eternal at this time of year, even if you are a fan of the Cleveland Indians.
Most experts have the Tribe finishing fourth in the AL Central Division behind any combination of the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers. What would have to happen for the Indians to make the climb and finish atop of the division?
1). The return to health for Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana. The Indians finished 12th in the AL in runs scored last season, which obviously is not good enough.
Getting Sizemore back, (that is, the Sizemore who played from 2005-08 when he arguably had MVP type seasons), would give the batting attack a needed jolt. Figure 25 HR, 80 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases from the leadoff spot.
Santana can be a middle of the order presence which would lengthen the lineup. Since he still hasn’t played a full big league season, figure the switch hitter for 20 HR and 80 RBI with an OPS of over 800.
That would add two legitimate very good offensive players to the lineup.
2). Carmona pitches like ’10, not ’09. If the right-hander can put together an ERA of under 4.00 like last season, he could win 15-18 games with an improved offense.
3). Another starter steps up. Whether it’s Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco (the likely candidate), Josh Tomlin, or even Alex White, the Indians need another guy who can consistently go out and give the team six or seven good innings on a regular basis.
4). The bullpen holds up. The collapse of the relief corps has been the reason for many a disappointing season in Cleveland. Last year, Chris Perez showed he can be a dominant closer. If guys like Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, and Vinnie Pestano can bridge the gap from the starters to C. Perez, it could be a winning season at Progressive Field.
5). Emergence of young player. To be contenders, the Indians will need production from someone unexpected, and not someone like Matt LaPorta, who has been here a couple of years. No, they need a player like Cord Phelps, Jason Kipnis, or even Lonnie Chisenhall to burst on the scene as an everyday player.
They don’t need anything spectacular, just a solid contribution from one of these guys. Notice, we picked guys who play 2B and/or 3B, two problem positions for Cleveland.
6). Cabrera fulfills promise. In 2009, at age 23, Asdrubal Cabrera had an OPS of 799 and compiled 52 extra base hits while playing shortstop. He was arguably the best SS in the American League not named Derek Jeter.
Last year, he dropped to 20 extra base hits and an OPS of 673. He had his arm broken in a collision with Jhonny Peralta, so he really wasn’t healthy for most of the season.
At age 25, Cabrera needs to get back to where he was two years ago. If he doesn’t, the Tribe will be looking for a shortstop in 2012.
Some of these scenarios are more likely than others, but most of them need to occur if the Cleveland Indians are going to stay in the race this season.
Still, it’s an awful lot of question marks. That’s what you get with an unproven roster. But at this time of year, it’s fun to dream and look at the best case scenario.
It’s happened before…look at the 1967 Red Sox, the 1991 Braves, and 2006 Tigers.