Something to build on

A preview of the 2014 Cleveland Indians

The Indians at Progressive Field

This past Christmas, my parents gave me a board game called Ticket to Ride. The game begins with you choosing up to three route cards, which become your mission for the rest of the game: it becomes your job to build a network of railroads across the United States that fulfill each of your route cards. You can only build track between certain cities, and your opponents may be competing for similar sections of the same route. But at the beginning of the game, everything is wide open and you’re starting from scratch. It’s a little intimidating at first because it’s not clear which segments will be in most demand and what your opponents are trying to do. But as the game progresses, you start to build your own little rail network. Most of the time, you’re able to finish your initial route cards and so you take more. But with your new routes, you usually have something to build on. For example, you might have had New York to Los Angeles as an initial route and a new route is Chicago to Boston. If you built your New York-LA route through Chicago, then you only need to connect New York and Boston and you’ve fulfilled another route, and you get the same amount of points even though you had to do very little additional work.

At the end of the game, everyone shows the routes they’ve fulfilled and the ones they failed to fulfill, and they add up their points. And then you declare a winner, and the game just sort of…ends. For me at least, it’s sort of a letdown. Playing again seems exhausting, because you’d have to start all over again, and you feel like you’d rather have kept going with the network of tracks you already have built.

That’s the same feeling I had at the end of the 2013 Cleveland Indians season. The Indians had made an improbable run, capped off by a ridiculous September where they went 21-6 and ended the season on a 10-game win streak. It was enough to capture the top Wild Card seed, and earn home-field advantage for a one-game playoff against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 2nd. But baseball is a tricky game, and even though the Indians were as hot as any team in the league going into that game, they came out flat against the Rays and failed to advance to the division series. Just like that, the season was over. Back to an empty board.

A lot went right for the Indians last year. The 2013 Indians had a Pythagorean win expectation of 0.553, which was only slightly below their actual win percentage (0.568) and means the Indians should only have won 2 less games (although it should be noted that those 2 wins were the difference between a Wild Card spot and not). But they were 10-2 in extra innings, which is somewhat indicative of a strong bullpen but mostly just means they got lucky. And outside of those basic statistics, the Indians got better-than-expected production: from Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who were were both as good we could have hoped; from the bullpen, who proved to be remarkably durable despite some bad performances by Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez; and from the offense, with contributions from journeymen like Mark Reynolds and Ryan Raburn as well as the ageless Jason Giambi.

In 2014, the Indians won’t have Jimenez or Kazmir, they won’t have Chris Perez, and they’ll be relying on bounceback years from Vinnie Pestano and Asdrubal Cabrera as well as repeated success from Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi. After that ridiculously long introduction, I’ll break down the Indians’ chances after the break.

And summer comes to Springville Hill

Hanging out on inclined catwalks to watch baseball games is back.

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.

Sizing up an unforgettable 2010 season

Jim Thome was a big part of why the Twins repeated in the AL Central.

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.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Like every winter, I’m anxious for this one to end. Not particularly because it’s been cold here in Columbia, SC, but because the end of winter means the beginning of baseball season. Pitchers and catchers for many teams reported to Spring Training today, and while the Indians aren’t required to report until next week, many of them are in Arizona already preparing for the upcoming season.

Which is why, when I read the title of this article, I smiled a bit and started to read.

Season of dreams: my 2009 NFL predictions

Santonio Holmes

On February 1st, 2009, Santonio Holmes’ Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII in thrilling fashion, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. Starting Thursday night, that championship won’t matter anymore – the Steelers and Titans will usher in the new season in Pittsburgh and start from scratch. While I’ve done baseball predictions the last couple seasons, I’ve never felt like I watched enough football to make intelligent predictions about the NFL. This year, however, I decided that making uninformed predictions that may be wildly false is what blogs are for, so, therefore, ahem, therefore, I give you…my 2009 NFL season predictions! (…after the jump.)

Wake me up when September ends

Albert Pujols

Today is August 27th, which means football season is nearly upon us. More importantly, though, we’re just over a month away from the baseball postseason. It’s been a pretty odd season (actually, it’s been a pretty odd month of that season), so I figured I could look back at my predictions from before spring training and see how they’re stacking up. In fact, I’ll be classy about this and get started…wait for it…after the jump! (I’ve always wanted to say that.)

It’s a beautiful day for baseball…

…or not.

It is, however, a good morning for the 2009 Cleveland Indians Preview! We’re a little less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting, but the offseason has felt a little bit shorter than normal thanks to a flurry of offseason activity by Indians GM Mark Shapiro.

Arrivals

  • Kerry Wood. This is the big one. I have to admit, this one pleasantly surprised me. There are several types of closers in baseball right now: Mariano “no-one-hits-me-and-I-know-it” Rivera, Francisco “God-helps-me-save-games-and-all-I-do-is-point-at-him” Rodriguez, and Jonathan “every-time-I-record-an-out-feels-as-good-as-the-first-time” Papelbon are the elite closers; J.J. Putz (who oddly enough isn’t closing this year. The Mets are so desperate to make the playoffs they need two top-notch closers.) and Brad Lidge are in the next tier. I’d put Kerry Wood below these guys, but on that third tier of quality closers. He might not dominate (and seriously, would life be any fun as an Indians fan if he did? I mean, it’d be like going to a game that was eight innings. You wouldn’t get your money’s worth, right?), but I’m penciling him to be in the top five in the AL in saves. The one risk with Wood is his health, but the Indians medical staff is pretty good and he should only be pitching one inning or so every couple games.
  • Mark DeRosa. After the Wood signing, I figured the Indians were done with the Opening Day roster, for the most part, but DeRosa figures to be the everyday third baseman for the Indians next year (at least that’s what the Indians are saying. But Jhonny Peralta DID play third in Winter ball, right?). DeRosa hits for good average (a lifetime .279 hitter) and I’d say he’s an upgrade in run production from Casey Blake (and definitely Andy Marte). Assuming he adjusts well to the American League, pencil him in for about 20 HR and 80ish RBI.
  • Joe Smith. The lesser known bullpen acquisition, this guy’s a submariner who had a decent ERA last year. I think the most important thing about building a bullpen is to have options so that when some guys don’t work out (think Guillermo Mota or Roberto Hernandez or Jorge Julio). Shapiro’s got his bases covered, so to speak.
  • Carl Pavano. I’m not sure quite what to say about this one, but if it works I’ll sing Shapiro’s praises some more. For only $1 million, if Pavano gets 10 wins the Indians can call it a steal. It’ll be interesting to see if he pitches in the new Yankee Stadium in the first series the Indians play there (and the first one the Yankees play there), and maybe he’ll pitch against Sabathia.

Overall the offseason earns a solid A. In a time when many teams are scaling back the Indians managed to (smartly, in my opinion) spend some extra money and not only fill holes in the roster, but upgrade them as well.

Departures

  • Franklin Gutierrez. Of all the outfield prospects to go, I guess this was the one guy I’m okay with getting rid of, even though I would have preferred to not give him up either. The Indians still have good outfield depth, but if Grady Sizemore needs a break, there will no longer be a defensive specialist waiting on the bench to expertly fill the position. Trevor Crowe could fill this role in the long term, but expect Shin-Soo Choo to fill it in the short term.

Questions

  • Can the real Travis Hafner please stand up? I expect that Travis Hafner is somewhere between his monster 2006 year and his, shall we say, subpar 2007 year (and 2008 we’ll discount due to injury). I think a key for Hafner is to get off to a good start, and starting the year in Texas can only help that. He also needs to work on his selectivity at the plate: in both 2007 and 2008, he was chasing pitches that were way out of his comfort zone in 2006.
  • Can Fausto Carmona bounce back? Honestly, his 2008 year wasn’t that bad, if you discount the injury and early control problems. However, we saw hints of his brilliance from 2007, but it never really came back. Let’s face it though, one of the highlights of last season was Fausto punching Sheffield’s lights out. If he has that kind of fight in him this year, I think he’ll be back to his normal self.
  • Can Cliff Lee replicate his success? I’m not expecting 22-3 again, but I’d take it.
  • Can Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo be reliable, everyday outfielders in the Major Leauges? Again, a lot of it is getting off to a good start. I’d hate to see David Dellucci in games at all this year, but he’s there as a safety net in case some “veteran leadership” is needed.
  • Can you get anything more out of Carl Pavano? This guy’s been beaten down by injuries and New York hardships most of the last few years – is there anything left?
  • How will the Indians manage Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, and Ryan Garko? I’d like to see a lot of Shoppach at catcher and Martinez at first, but Eric Wedge really likes Martinez behind the plate (and so does Martinez). As for Garko, I think he’s got a lot to prove this year, but if he’s hitting I think there will be a space for him in the lineup.
  • Can Josh Barfield do something offensively? It’s been two years, he needs to start adjusting to the AL soon, or he might have a ticket out of Cleveland soon.
  • Is this the year the Indians avoid a prolonged offensive slump? Let me just say this: I hope so.

Projected Opening Day starting lineup

  1. CF Grady Sizemore
  2. 3B Mark DeRosa
  3. RF Shin-Soo Choo
  4. SS Jhonny Peralta
  5. 1B Victor Martinez
  6. DH Travis Hafner
  7. LF Ben Francisco
  8. C Kelly Shoppach
  9. 2B Asdrubal Cabrera

Bench

  1. 2B Josh Barfield
  2. LF David Dellucci
  3. INF Jamey Carroll
  4. 1B Ryan Garko

Rotation

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Fausto Carmona
  3. Aaron Laffey
  4. Anthony Reyes
  5. Carl Pavano

Bullpen

  1. Kerry Wood
  2. Joe Smith
  3. Rafael Perez
  4. Rafael Betancourt
  5. Jensen Lewis
  6. Masahide Kobayashi
  7. Scott Lewis

Predictions

  • AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles
  • AL Central: Indians, Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Royals
  • AL West: Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers
  • AL Wild card: Red Sox
  • NL East: Phillies, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Nationals
  • NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Astros, Pirates, Reds
  • NL West: Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres
  • NL Wild card: Mets
  • ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox
  • NLCS: Phillies over Cubs
  • World Series: Yankees over Phillies

So there you have it. Feel free to mock me when the season’s over, I’m sure these predictions will be completely wrong (and actually, I hope they’re wrong because then the Indians might get past the ALDS). Anyway, on January 21, here’s hoping for a great season! I’m looking forward to it – hope to see you at the stadium this summer!