Opening Day is drawing near. I can feel it. The familiar sights and sounds of the baseball season. The Cleveland Indians begin the 2010 season against the Division rival Chicago White Sox in Chicago on Monday, April 5th. It seems like the Tribe starts off every season against the rival White Sox, a rivalry that has been heated in the past but at the moment is not much more than a struggling Indians franchise trying to play catch up.
The Indians starting rotation looks to finally be set as we head into the last few days of Spring Training; Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Mitch Tablot and David Huff. It is a bit of surprise that Aaron Laffey is once again headed to the bullpen, which still looks messy and shaky at best. We will save our comments on that situation for another day however. The powerful offesne will start off without the homerun/strikeout master Russell Branyan while he rehabs his injured back. On the upside however, that injury means that Michael Brantley gets to start off the season as the starting Left Fielder, which is something everyone in town is happy about. Manny Acta has only just announced David Huff as the 5th starter, and there is only an idea of what the lineup would look like based off of how things were set up in Spring Training, plus with Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup every day for the time being there is two capable leadoff guys. Here is what we think the opening day batting lineup will look, for the Tribe’s first series.
1. Asdrubal Cabrera – SS
2. Grady Sizemore – CF
3. Shin-Soo Choo – RF
4. Travis Hafner – DH
5. Jhonny Peralta – 3B
6. Matt LaPorta – 1B
7. Luis Valbuena – 2B
8. Lou Marson – C
9. Michael Brantley – LF
Logically, I think Acta should start Brantley off in the 9 hole to keep the pressure off of him and to give the Indians a guy at the bottom of the order who can get on base and turn things over to the top, like how Omar Vizquel used to do back in the day, basically acting like a 2nd leadoff hitter. The Tribe will be facing a very capable pitching staff in the opening 3 game set of the year. The White Sox pitching staff boasts the likes of Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle and John Danks. The White Sox traditionally hand the ball to the lefty Buehrle on opneing day, and the last I heard that would not be changing this season, even with Jake Peavy on the staff. This would mean that Westbrook would start the season off against Mark Buehrle, then Peavy will square off against Carmona and John Danks most likely, will face Justin Masterson. The past few seasons the Indians have had a pretty good go of it against the White Sox on opening day, getting to Mark Buehrle early and often. However, the team has struggled mightily against John Danks the past few seasons. Jake Peavy though, is a different story. He is pretty much one of the best pitchers in the game, and has no real history against the Indians, which typically favors the pitcher. The Tribe does however have a lefty heavy lineup which will help them against the likes of Peavy.
The White Sox lineup is also filled with several heavy hitters, lead by 2nd year man Gordan Beckham. He is accompanied by newly added Juan Pierre, Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios, Carlos Quentin, AJ Pierzynski and the noted Indians killer Paul Konerko. If the Tribe hurlers can neutralize those big bats, then they have a very good chance to win games against the ChiSox.
The most notable advantage for the Indians in this series is the defense. Yup. I said it, the defense. The White Sox ranked near the bottom of the entire MLB last year in defense, while the Indians were around middle of the road. The Tribe boasts a dynamic trio of athletic defenders in the outfield, with only one weakness that is visible, Sizemore’s lack of throwing power, which is not really a problem at all because he makes up for it with incredible range and ball tracking abilities. There is also the magical duo up the middle, Cabrera and Valbuena can make amazing plays look routine and turn a very smooth double play, which helps out the Indians many ground ball pitchers.
My prediction for this opening series is that the Indians hot Spring Training carries over into the early part of the season and the offense leads the way in taking 2 of 3 from the rival ChiSox. I do however think that the Indians will lose on Opening Day and Westbrook will struggle, but I think Carmona will stay hot and outduel the ace Peavy, and then in game 3 the Indians offense really kicks it up a notch against Danks. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.