This was orginally posted in April
For every baseball fan, today is a day filled with anticipation. Opening Day will be here tomorrow, and despite the weather from yesterday, baseball will be played at Progressive Field by the end of this week.
Can the Indians repeat their unexpected run to the playoffs (and yes, Kenny Lofton, they did make the playoffs) in 2014? That is the question on all Tribe fans minds this spring.
We believe the AL Central Division race will be highly contested this summer with the defending champion Tigers, Indians, and the Royals all in contention, and we also feel that less than 90 wins will take the title.
All three teams will win between 83-89 games, so Terry Francona’s squad will be in the mix all season long. And because the division will be so close, things like injuries and deadline trades will have a huge factor on how things will turn out.
That said, we believe the Tribe will finish second in the division once again, but this time will fall just short of a post-season spot.
Why? Because the front office just didn’t do enough to offset the losses from this winter, mainly the departure of two starting pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.
We agreed with letting both pitchers depart because the contracts they signed were more than we would have paid either hurler based on their past performance, but we believed GM Chris Antonetti would have acquired at least one innings eater to replace the 340 innings that left via free agency.
As we wrote last week, if Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber reach the performance expected of them this season, the loss of two starting pitchers will become a moot point, but that’s a tough leap of faith considering they have combined for less than 300 innings in their career.
The Indians’ offense also sputtered at times last year even though Cleveland finished fourth in the AL in runs scored. Francona could have used another established bat in the lineup and instead Antonetti signed David Murphy, who has a good track record (.275 lifetime batting average, 778 OPS), but hit just .220 last season for the Rangers.
The Tribe needs comeback seasons from Nick Swisher, bothered by a shoulder problem in 2013, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be a free agent following the season, in order to have a more consistent attack.
They will also need continued improvement from two hitters entering their age 27 (entering prime) seasons in 2B Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. Everyone praised Brantley’s ’13 season, but actually his OPS and batting average were down from 2012 (728 OPS/.284 in ’13 compared to 750/.288 in ’12).
He has the talent to be a premier offensive player (.350 OBP, .450 slugging percentage) and needs to reach those levels in 2014.
Kipnis needs to be more consistent. He hit .301 (897 OPS) before the All-Star break, and just .261 (714 OPS) after the Midsummer Classic. As the #3 hitter in the lineup, he needs to stay away from weeks where he is producing like a bottom of the order hitter.
We also have doubts about the experiment of playing Carlos Santana will work out. Santana hit .268 with 20 HR last season, and you would think his production will increase without the burden of catching more than 100 games a season, but will the switch in positions affect him at the plate?
And, of course, will his defense be solid enough to play at the hot corner on a daily basis.
The division will be close and the Tribe will be playing meaningful games in September. However, there are enough questions to think they will fall just short.
However, if some of the scenarios outlined above reach reality, the Indians could win the division and make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since the late 90’s.