There is no question the Cleveland Indians are an improved baseball team in 2013.
There is no question the front office and ownership breathed new life into what has been a stagnant franchise over the last three or four years.
There is also no question that the American League is filled with good to very good teams, and that it looks like only the Twins and Astros have no realistic chance to contend for a playoff spot in 2013.
That’s why it is difficult to make the next statement. The Cleveland Indians will finish fourth once again this season.
It won’t be the same kind of fourth place team as last season, one in which the Tribe lost over 90 games.
The Indians will stay in contention most of the season and should finish over the .500 mark. They may finish 4th and still be within 10 games of first place at the end of the season.
But as the team stands right now, they don’t seem to be better than the Tigers, Royals, and White Sox.
The Indians simply don’t have enough to win based on the guys who are opening the season.
Justin Masterson has a good arm, but tends to lose his release point and when that happens, we struggles to get it back. He is prone to big innings because of that trait. If he can throw strikes he can be a quality pitcher.
Still, he’s had three years as a starter in the majors and in only one of them has his ERA been under 4.00.
Ubaldo Jimenez has looked much better this spring than he did last year, and he is throwing strikes. However, his ERA since coming to the Tribe is over 5.00 and he’s made over 40 starts with Cleveland.
Brett Myers is a workman like guy who provides solid innings and lots of them. He’s not an ace of the staff guy though.
Zack McAllister showed promise after being called up in the middle of last season, but he doesn’t have a full year of major league experience, so it is tough to depend on him.
Scott Kazmir was pitching in an independent league last season, and although he has a great comeback story, you wouldn’t want to bet your house on him giving Francona 25 quality starts this season.
Last year, the Indians staff ERA was 4.78 while the league average was 4.08. That means new pitching coach Mickey Calloway needs to shave more than a half run per game to be just average.
The pitchers would have to do even better to rank in the top half of the league in this category.
The two hopes are Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, who will be in Columbus’ rotation to start the year. Perhaps they can provide a boost should the rotation struggle.
Offensively, the Tribe lineup is much deeper replacing the Jack Hannahans and Casey Kotchmans of the world with players like Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Lonnie Chisenhall.
They also have alternatives if something doesn’t work out. For example, if Drew Stubbs hits like he did last year (.213 with 610 OPS), Francona can move Swisher back to RF, put Mark Reynolds at 1B, and use Mike Aviles and Jason Giambi at DH.
Last year’s squad had little power and little speed, meaning they needed three hits in an inning to score. In the off-season, GM Chris Antonetti added two players who hit more than 20 HRs last year (Swisher and Reynolds), and two more who stole 30 bases or more (Bourn and Stubbs).
Add in the continued development of Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Chisenhall, and throw in the steady Asdrubal Cabrera, and this team should be able to put runs on the board.
However, it all comes down to stopping the other team from scoring and there are too many question marks in the rotation.
If Jimenez and Masterson can get their ERAs under 4.00, this team has a chance to make the post-season and possibly win the division.
This is a talented team and it will play exciting baseball. But right now, fourth place is where they will end up.