Last season, the Cleveland Indians led the AL Central Division for a little over three months before being surpassed and then blown away by the Detroit Tigers in August.
They wound up the season 15 games behind the Tigers.
Then, in the off-season, the front office basically did nothing to shore up the weakness on the team. Last year’s Indians finished 9th in the AL in runs scored and 10th in ERA.
They added Derek Lowe to the starting rotation, but lost Roberto Hernandez, and offensively, they did nothing to improve a hitting attack that badly needed some right-handed hitting.
It is entirely possible for the Indians to catch lightning in a bottle if an awful lot of things go their way, but there are too many question marks to think the Tribe will make the playoffs this season.
We’re predicting a fourth place finish behind the Tigers, Royals, and White Sox, and around 73-75 victories.
In the American League, you need seven good hitters in your lineup to score enough runs to win. Right now, Cleveland has five: SS Asdrubal Cabrera, RF Shin-Soo Choo, C Carlos Santana, DH Travis Hafner, and 2B Jason Kipnis.
The other four regulars (1B Casey Kotchman, 3B Jack Hannahan, CF Michael Brantley, and LF Shelley Duncan) simply do not do enough with the bat on a consistent basis.
Out of those four, Brantley has the best chance to make a quantum leap to become a quality offensive player, but he needs to improve his on base percentage in order to do so.
If two of those four produce (or are replaced by quality hitters) then the Indians may be able to score enough runs to win in the American League.
The pitching staff is said to be the strength of the team, but the statistics say otherwise. Outside of Ubaldo Jimenez, there isn’t any swing and miss stuff in the starting rotation, and certainly Jimenez is the key to the success of the rotation.
Since being acquired for the cream of the organization’s pitching prospects in late July, the big right-hander has been painfully inconsistent.
If he starts to resemble the guy who won 19 games for Colorado in 2010, the Indians will be contenders. If he languishes around the .500 mark and takes 100 pitches to get through six innings, then it will be a tough season for Cleveland.
Justin Masterson should be able to build on a solid 2011 campaign, but the biggest problem most of the starters will face could be lack of run support.
Lowe should be able to soak up innings and keep his team in games on most nights, and Josh Tomlin’s success is based on his pinpoint control.
We’ve always liked Tomlin, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he finished with an ERA near or over 5.00 because he doesn’t have the greatest stuff in the world.
The bullpen was the strength of last year’s team and allowing for the instability of relief pitchers, should be again. Hopefully, Chris Perez’s elbow soreness from last year lowered his strikeout rate, and not a sign of decline.
Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, and Rafael Perez have a track record of success, although expect Joe Smith to not be as good as he was in 2011.
The starters need to go deep into games to prevent the bullpen from being overused.
If the Indians don’t play well and fall out of the race early, it will probably mean Choo will be traded as he will be a free agent after the 2013 season, and Scott Boras is his agent.
That’s just something else to look forward to.
There are just too many question marks surrounding this team to think they can come close to a 90 win season.
Hopefully, we’re wrong, but it’s tough to feel optimistic about the 2012 Cleveland Indians.