Outlook Bleak

New coach, new attitude. Manny Acta for one, is very optimistic about 2010

It appears that my optimism about the 2010 Baseball season may put me into very limited company. As usual before the season, I start reading all of the magazines, like the Sporting News and their predictions for the season. I also check out all of the websites and blogs and gather up everyone’s ideas to see how I predict things to turn out in comparison. I know that no one is high on the Tribe right now, most of the team’s fans are not, but the team is getting a lot of negative pre-season buzz. I’m not saying that this team can win a World Series this year, but I really don’t think last place is the most likely destination for the young squad.

The Sporting News in particular bothered me this year, which is kind of shocking because in the past they have been very high on the Indians, but understandably they are a little less in love this time around. They are predicting the Indians to finish dead last in the American League Central and have them rated as one of the worst teams in the Major Leagues. Last place… I know we were there last year, tied for it anyway, and the team was not in the best shape because of injuries and not wanting to play for Eric Wedge any more. But as I documented in my projection of the season that I did, in depth, a few weeks ago, I don’t think last place is where the team will find itself. Firstly, I don’t think the Sporting News writers researched the team in any great depth since they were predicting Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana to be on the opening day lineup, which we all hope to be true, but it will be very unlikely. If perhaps they did start the year there, it might be better for the team, but they do both need some more seasoning down in AAA.

Choo is not only a offensive dynamo, but a plus defender in RF

But I guess I need to get to the point. All the Indians fans in the world know that this will be a long season, but I honestly do not think it will be that bad. I would love to get some conversation and feedback on the topic of how you think the team will do this year. So lets get to it a bit. Firstly, you have to love the team’s lineup. If the potentially fully healthy Grady Sizemore performs like he should, that gives us one of the best players in the game at the top of the lineup. Shin-Soo Choo is getting better and better. He had a huge season in 2009 and should build off of that this year. Even if Travis Hafner is not fully healthy and his contract makes us all cry at night, he will still hit pretty well, not how he SHOULD hit, but he can still produce to some extent. Looking at the bad year Jhonny Peralta had last year, you see he still drove in 86 runs. If he can do that mired in a horrible season where his power was non existent, imagine if he was motivated by the new manager and found his stroke. Matt LaPorta will hopefully add to the depth of the lineup, Russell Branyan adds a huge bat to the order in a back up role, or even everyday at first base if the team decides to keep LaPorta in left field rather then going with Austin Kearns or someone else for a few months while Michael Brantley gets his AAA seasoning. Asdrubal Cabrera had a very good year last year batting around .310 while being injured, and playing great defense up the middle. Luis Valbuena showed good pop and great extra base hitting talents while putting together a solid rookie season. He also flashed the leather up the middle, and with Cabrera, the two looks to be a very exciting double play combo going into this year. With that improved defense up the middle, our groundball pitchers (of which there are many) will enjoy less lucky base hits getting through the infield. Jake Westbrook, if his health holds up, will be a solid starter and benefit from the defense, Fausto Carmona puts the ball on the ground a lot, as does Aaron Laffey and David Huff. The starting rotation is not full of power arms that go for strike outs, they pitch to contact and the awesome defense up the middle with the trio of Sizemore, Cabrera and Valbuena is good for all of them. Peralta is also an above average defender at third base, and he doesn’t have to worry as much about his range deficiencies at the hot corner. Choo is one of the best defensive Right Fielders in the game, and has a cannon left arm.

So offensively the team looks pretty set, if guys stay healthy we could produce a lot of runs. The defense, especially up the middle and in center and right field, is very, very good. Which should help out our groundball pitchers very much. Since 4 of the 5 are for sure, ground ball pitchers. Justin Masterson is the only person I have penciled in to the starting rotation that does not specialize in ground balls and contact, he can strike guys out at a higher clip then the others. But the potential for solid defense, very productive offense and hopefully improved starting pitching, we segway into the biggest and darkest question. The bullpen.

We should call it something else so we don’t have nightmares when the word ‘Bullpen’ is spoken aloud. Lets call it, “Happy Late Inning Pitchers Club” or HLIPC for short. So lets look at the HLIPC and try not to pass out. It was depressing last year. Depressing the year before. Ultimately depressing after a decent 2008, and has only been a shell of itself since the Tribe’s tremendous 2007 season. Basically, the HLIPC sucks. It is the opposite of happy in the late innings in Cleveland. Which is emotionally upsetting, I’m sure for the bullpen guys as well as us, since they all have been solid at some point in their careers. HLIPC pitchers are like that though, one year they can be lights out but the next year they could be out of a job. It is the nature of the beast, and the problem with last season was that once things started to go badly, it just snowballed and the team brought in failure after failure. If you think about it, rationally if possible, the HLIPC or that dirty word “Bullpen” doesn’t really look that devastatingly bad on paper. Kerry Wood. Bad year last year, but he’s a solid power arm at the back end. Rafael Perez seems like he is the Fausto Carmona of relief pitching. You just don’t know what you are gonna get with him at this point, but it could be good. Jensen Lewis is not overwhelmingly good, but he is solid and won’t lose you many games. Tony Sipp is a young up and coming power arm as a lefty in the pen. He projects to be, every year, what Rafael Perez was in 2007. Chris Perez had a strong 2nd half as the team played a little bit better, and he is potentially the team’s closer of the future. He should be good this year. So it really doesn’t look THAT bad.

Matt LaPorta could help push the Tribe's offense

Getting back to my point about the offense. Using some advanced calculations, MLB Trade Rumors on twitter put the Indians lineup into an analysis equation that can give you the team’s best lineups and worst lineups, linked here, which predicts the team to easily score 5 runs a game this year. Potentially the team’s lineup could score 800 runs this season and be among the league’s best. Definitely something to keep an eye on, and hopefully this potential can be met with some optimism and the team can put some butts in the seats at Progressive Field. Lets go Tribe.

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