A preview of the 2013 Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians, to say the least, had an atypical offseason. During most offseasons, Indians fans gaze wistfully and briefly through the toy store windows at high priced free agents who are being wooed by richer teams, before coming back to reality and settling for secondhand free agents who are longshots at best. To the credit of the Indians scouting department, some of those longshots actually do pay off (Derek Lowe in 2011 springs to mind), but many of them don’t (Grady Sizemore, Mark DeRosa, David Dellucci. I had abusive nicknames in mind for Dellucci, but in light of the coming baseball season, I’ll hold back). But this offseason was different. Not only did the Indians land Nick Swisher after a somewhat-touching, somewhat-pathetic courting process, but they also landed Michael Bourn (how long until the Indians PR team makes their first Bourne Identity joke?), Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, and a plethora of other players on minor league contracts like Daisuke Matsusaka, Scott Kazmir and Jason Giambi.
It was really nice to see how Indians fans reacted to the Indians investment in their future. But will it be enough? Is this team good enough to contend? I’ll preview the 2013 Major League Baseball season, with particular emphasis on the Indians, after the break.
How the front office can fix the Indians this offseason
The Major League Baseball playoffs started over the weekend, which means that despite the fact that the Indians season has been officially over for a little less than a week, you could say that the Indians have been in offseason mode for months now. So rather than review this season, I’ll just jump straight into what the Indians should do in the offseason, after the break.
Day 1 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey
This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey.
Last Thursday afternoon, I went to my first Indians game at Progressive Field in more than a year and a half. I had vowed that 2003 would be the last time I missed a game. But as they often do, things happened, and last year, I never got to see the Indians at Progressive Field last year (although I did see them in Minneapolis). So I was happy to see the Indians at home, and I was even happier that they managed to come back from a 4-0 deficit and walk off with a win.
But last Thursday was also the start of a controversy. Chris Perez, the Indians closer, entered the game in the top of the 10th with one out and immediately allowed a single and a walk. The fans that remained of the 12,894 tickets sold booed him, before Perez found the strike zone and got the last two outs of the inning. On Saturday, after a much less eventful appearance which resulted in a save, Perez ripped the fans that booed him, saying:
I don’t think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can’t even give up a base runner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It p****s me off.
And you know what? I agree with him.
Since it’s been almost two months since I last blogged, I thought I’d take a few minutes on this Jackie Robinson Day to talk about the Indians after eight games.
Nobody expected the Cleveland Indians to do much in 2011. Before the beginning of the season, I think most Indians fans were cautiously optimistic about the offense, assuming the offense stayed healthy, Travis Hafner produced more, Grady Sizemore came back at 100% from his microfracture, and a hitting fairy paid a visit to Matt LaPorta (or really, any right-handed batter in the Indians organization). I think Indians fans were cautiously optimistic about the bullpen, assuming everyone stayed healthy, Chris Perez continued his strong showing as Indians closer, and a couple of veterans like Joe Smith were able to guide the young Indians ‘pen. But I think Indians fans were decidedly lukewarm about the Indians starting pitching, even if everyone stayed healthy, Fausto Carmona kept his mind, and Justin Masterson grew some hair.
In short, there were a lot of things that could have gone wrong. As Indians fans, we’re accustomed to everything that can go wrong going wrong, so no one predicted the Indians riding a 9-game winning streak and a 14-game home winning streak to a 30-15 start. No one predicted them hanging on to first place for much of the summer, and then staying competitive until early September. The Indians fell short of the postseason this year, but there’s no doubt there was tremendous improvement. My year-end grades for the Indians, plus playoff predictions, after the break.
A review of Target Field
Last weekend, I flew up to Minneapolis, Minnesota to meet up with two college roommates and friends and take in some baseball. As it happened, the Indians were in town, so it turned into an opportunity for me to see them in person for the only time this year. As it further happened, when we planned the trip and bought the tickets in July, Jim Thome was playing for the Twins, but by the time we arrived in Minneapolis on September 16, he was a Cleveland Indian again. This was also the first time I’ve visited a stadium that wasn’t Progressive Field more than once, so I was able to get a great look at Target Field, the newest stadium in baseball until next April. My review of Target Field, after the break.
Last night, Jim Thome clubbed his 600th career home run into the bullpen at Comerica Park. As he rounded first base, the man who has almost 100 more home runs with the Indians than any other Indian, the man who is tied for the all-time lead in walk off home runs, the owner of the 17th- and 34th-best career OPS and OBP, respectively, and the man with the eighth most home runs in baseball history, Jim Thome simply pumped his fist in the air and ran around the bases. As he got to home plate, it was tough to tell who was happier: his teammates or his family. Thome smiled too, but it was one of his trademark, humble smiles that really embodied his chase towards 600 home runs: just a great guy who happened to be a great hitter that stuck around for a while.
It’s kind of a dirty little secret, but I haven’t written much on this blog this summer. Normally by this point, I’m not struggling for material because the baseball season is in full swing and I can write about the Indians. But this summer, while the Indians are giving me plenty of writing material, until now, I’ve avoided writing about them… because I don’t want to jinx it. Rest assured that I had posts planned, and I was ready to roll, except the Indians had to get off to a good start, and when you’re winning in baseball, even if you’re a fan, you don’t change anything. Anything. Seriously, I wore the same hat to work for about thirty days in a row.
But lately, the Indians have been slumping a bit so I’ve convinced myself that whatever I write here won’t affect the Indians (as I type this, they’re up 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth. If I cut this post off suddenly, you know why). And with the slump, some fans who jumped on the bandwagon just weeks ago when the Indians were rolling are ready to write the team off, even though it’s June 22nd and the team is in first place. After the break, I’ll go over what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and what needs to happen for the Indians improbable run to continue.
The offseason went a lot faster this year, it seemed like. Whether it was being so busy at work lately (you can feel free to blame my bosses for my lack of blogging, although it’s probably not entirely their fault) or maybe the fact that the NFL season was so exciting and lasted until 10 days before Spring Training, or maybe just being busy with other things, I feel like this baseball season is upon us quicker than I thought. (Case in point: last year I wrote my season preview the day pitchers and catchers reported, the year before that I wrote it in January. This year I’m barely getting in under the starting gun.)
Regardless of how quickly it came, I’m glad we’re about to get underway in 2011, because I think this is going to be a great year not only for baseball as a whole, but the Indians as well. I’ll start with baseball as a whole. The fact that the NFL is in a lockout with no signs of resolution and the fact that the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement is almost up means that the MLB, for a while anyway, is the most stable sport in America. Coupled with the fact that the economy is turning around and that stadiums like Progressive Field are looking past the ticket prices at alternate ways to make money, there has probably never been a better time to be a baseball fan.
And the Indians? I’ll go into more detail shortly, but in summary, I like their chances. This is a young team, but core players like Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore have been there through the winning and the losing and can effectively lead this team. On paper, the Indians’ bats are good and the starters have the potential to be, if not dominant, at least serviceable. What it’s going to come down to is the Indians’ bullpen and if they can get off to a fast start. For where I think the Indians will finish in the division, follow the jump.
The summers always seem to fly by faster now that I’m working through them rather than relaxing, and while it seems like just yesterday that the 2010 Major League Baseball season was getting underway, Sunday marked the last day of the regular season. Crazy. It must be the odd-numbered years: in 2007 and 2009, I picked the World Series champions before the season started; in 2006, 2008, and 2010, I picked teams that didn’t even make the playoffs, with my pick this year, the Cardinals, starting strong but unable to hang on down the stretch.
I shouldn’t really be surprised though: the 2010 season was unforgettable in many ways. 2010 saw an unprecedented 5 no-hitters in the same season, including 2 perfect games within the span of a month. The only reason there wasn’t 6 no-hitters and 3 perfect games was the famous botched 27th out call on June 2nd, where Jim Joyce called Indians shortstop Jason Donald safe on what would have been the 27th and final out of the perfect game, admitting later that he blew the call. 2010 saw the rise of Jose Bautista, the return of Jim Thome, and a legitimate Triple Crown race in the National League between Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, and Joey Votto.
2010 also saw a return to the postseason of two teams who have each had long droughts: the Texas Rangers, whose last appearance was in 1999, and the Cincinatti Reds, whose last appearance was in 1995. The Rays, Braves and the Giants also return to the playoffs after shorter droughts, while the Yankees, Twins, Phillies return. My review of the 2010 season, as well as my preview of October 2010, otherwise known as the Major League Baseball playoffs, after the jump.