The Cleveland Indians will open their season less than a week from today and they are pretty much the same team that lost the wild card game against Tampa, 4-0.
The question is will that be enough again this season?
A lot probably depends on the other teams in the Central Division.
The Tigers seems to not be as strong as they were last season, losing Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, and Doug Fister, plus they have suffered a rash of injuries in spring training.
However, they still have Justin Verlander, Max Sherzer, and Anibal Sanchez at the top of their rotation, perhaps the best 1-2-3 combination in the major leagues.
The Royals stayed in the race until the middle of September and their young core of talent is starting to mature. They’ve also added 2B Omar Infante, leadoff hitter Nori Aoki from Milwaukee, and starting pitcher Jason Vargas.
If ever Kansas City is going to make the leap into the playoffs, this looks to be the season.
While the Royals were adding to the roster, the Indians lost two starting pitchers from last year’s squad, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who the Tribe is trying to replace from within.
We don’t think the Indians will win 92 games again this season, but we also see them in contention because we don’t believe any team in the Central will win more than 90 games.
It will be a three team race with the White Sox hanging around the fringe, with the Tigers, Indians, and Royals all winning between 84 and 88 games.
For the Tribe, their success depends on better seasons from their two big free agent signings a year ago, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, and a free agent to be at the end of this season in Asdrubal Cabrera.
All three had down years in ’13, and an adjustment to their career averages would certainly help the offense that finished 4th in the league in runs scored. They will need the extra production because it is doubtful that Ryan Raburn will duplicate what he did last year.
Last year, the Indians jumped into contention because of their pitching which finished the year 7th in team ERA as new pitching coach Mickey Calloway performed magic with his young starters and also salvaged Jimenez’ career.
The front office is asking Calloway to do it again, putting more pressure on him to duplicate the success Corey Kluber had last season, and to bring along fireballing phenom Danny Salazar, and making him a successful starter for an entire season.
Because if the Tribe wants to get back to the post-season this fall, the starting pitching needs to be better than it was last summer. And that means Kluber and Salazar have to perform at a high level.
Justin Masterson will give Terry Francona 200 innings as usual. Carlos Carrasco, if he indeed starts the year in the rotation, is the wild card, capable of winning 10 or more games, but he could also be in the bullpen by May.
The Indians need Kluber and Salazar to be consistent; giving the ballclub quality starts throughout the season. If they can, Cleveland will contend.
If they can’t the organization will be scrambling for replacements. Josh Tomlin looks like the 2011 version of himself, but is Trevor Bauer ready to take a regular turn in the rotation?
They would be the next pitchers up.
The key to whether or not this will be a fun summer at Progressive Field depends the how the Tribe’s young starters will perform. In what should be a competitive division, that could make all the difference.