State of the Franchise: Cleveland Indians
April 14, 2011 Leave a comment
Coming into this season, many people believed the team would be a year older and thus, a year improved from 2010. But, I don’t think anybody had the Cleveland Indians as their favorite to win the division. So, don’t bet the house on the Indians maintaining their current .727 win-percentage. They’ll come back to Earth sooner rather than later.
The Indians hot start is thanks to the strong performances they’ve gotten from their young pitching staff. Josh Tomlin, Justin Masterson and Mitch Talbot have combined to go 5-0 in their six combined starts. Tomlin has the highest ERA of the three, and that is still a low 2.63 mark. Masterson and Talbot both sport ERAs below 1.50, a rate that will be near impossible to maintain all year long in 33+ starts each. Has to feel nice for Masterson to start 2-0, though, considering his 6-13 record in 2010. Talbot, a 10 game winner last year, has been striking batters out at an abnormally high rate this season. He has 11 in 12.1 innings in comparison to just 88 in 159.1 one year ago.
Offensively, the Indians have gotten production in the unlikeliest of places. Second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera has already eclipsed his home run total from 2010 in just 11 games this year with four this season. Free agent signee Orlando Cabrera is tearing the ball to all fields, hitting .372 in the early going. Outfielder Michael Brantley, acquired as part of the package in the C.C. Sabathia trade with Milwaukee, is showing promising signs as a regular, hitting .275 in the team’s first 11 games. While Brantley is producing, the headliner prospect the Indians acquired for Sabathia continues to struggle as an everyday player. After hitting .221 with 12 home runs last season, first baseman Matt LaPorta has gotten off to an equally slow start, hitting .219 out of the gate with two home runs.
The team’s three best home-grown players have gotten off to disappointing starts, but clearly haven’t held back the Indians production. Star center fielder Grady Sizemore is still recovering from surgery on his knees and has yet to play in a game this season. A three-time All-Star, Sizemore hasn’t played a full season since 2008 when he connected on 33 home runs and 90 runs batted in while hitting .268. The Indians desperately need Sizemore’s bat to come back into form when he does play and play the Gold Glove caliber defense they became accustomed to.
Proven veteran Shin-Soo Choo has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start for the Tribe, hitting only .190 with one home run. However, it’s only a matter of time until Choo gets going, as he hit .300 with 22 home runs and 90 runs batted in and stole 22 bases just one year ago. Prized catching prospect Carlos Santana, held in such high regard that the team was willing to move former All-Star Victor Martinez to make room on the 25-man roster for him, is off to a slow start of his own. He’s hitting .225 with one home run through the first 11 games, one year after hitting .260 in 46 games at the Major League level in 2010. How Santana develops as a Major League catcher will determine how deep the Indians line-up truly is.
Realistically speaking, the Cleveland Indians are a middle of the division type squad. They aren’t better than the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox or even the Detroit Tigers as they’re currently put together. The Indians are relying heavily on their developed players, and will look to improve on their 69-win season in 2010.
While I do expect them to do just that, I don’t know if the Indians have as much upside as other teams in their own division. The Kansas City Royals are fast improving, and maintain arguably the best farm system in the entire league. The Indians, while they don’t need to win the division, do need to prove to people around the league and their own fan base that they can be competitive.
Right now, that’s exactly what they’re doing.