After a tough loss to Kansas City, coupled with a comeback win by Detroit, the Cleveland Indians have dropped to 6-1/2 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central Division. Barring a sweep by the Tribe this week, it’s likely that this race is over.
Many experts have talked about how this season was a year early, that 2012 was supposed to be the year Cleveland was supposed to be in the hunt for a post-season berth.
Really, how true is that?
The Indians are tied for ninth in the AL in runs scored, and despite claims of a great pitching staff, they are tied for 8th in the league in ERA, meaning there is work to do on both sides of the equation.
Offensively, right now the Indians have two legitimate hitters in the lineup: SS Asdrubal Cabrera and C/1B Carlos Santana. You would think that RF Shin-Soo Choo will rebound from a poor ’11 season, and Michael Brantley will improve on a season that started strong.
But where will any more improvement come from?
Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner have proven to be unreliable over the last three and four seasons, respectively. The front office simply cannot count on them to boost the run production.
Rookies Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall could wind up playing 2B and 3B in ’12, but this season has not proven either to be a sure thing because of injuries (Kipnis) and inconsistent playing time (Chisenhall). It says here that the latter should have been sent back to AAA at the beginning of August to play every day.
The organization has to decide what to do with Santana as well. If he plays first, then that leaves light-hitting Lou Marson behind the plate. That may be the correct move, but it really doesn’t help the offense. If Santana stays behind the plate, then the Indians need a first baseman because it doesn’t appear that Matt LaPorta can hold down an everyday job.
And don’t forget the need for the solid right-handed bat, which the team has needed all year. The organization craves a professional hitter that bats from the right side. It looks like a trade would have to be made to bring one in.
Declining Sizemore’s option for next year (estimated at $9 million) would give the front office some money to play with in that pursuit.
On the mound, the strength is in the bullpen and anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that area is volatile from year to year. So, you can’t really etch anyone of those names in stone.
In fact, Chris Perez could be a possible trade chip to fill some needs because Vinnie Pestano looks like he could close, and Cleveland does have some relief depth in the minors in LH Nick Hagadone, RHs Josh Judy, CC Lee, and Zach Putnam.
As for the starting rotation, right now, the Tribe has one guy they can really count on every fifth day in Justin Masterson, and perhaps another if Josh Tomlin is healthy, although he should be a back of the rotation guy.
If you can tell me whether Ubaldo Jimenez and Fausto Carmona are going to pitch great when they take the hill, you should be setting odds in Las Vegas.
As for the rest of the starters, David Huff has shown promise in 2011, but the Indians will need hurlers like Jeanmar Gomez, Zach McAllister, and Scott Barnes to be contributors next year, particularly if Carlos Carrasco misses 2012 with elbow surgery.
Cleveland has a promising future, but some of the organizational depth was dealt away to get Jimenez, and they didn’t find out if other young players could perform due to other things, mostly injuries.
Let’s not be so hasty to pencil the 2012 Tribe in as Central Division champs.