2009 CLEVELAND INDIANS PREVIEW
2008 was a mixed bag for the Indians, as they struggled out of the gate, ran into serious injury issues and fell out of playoff contention early. At midseason, they dealt longtime rotation stalwart CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers and began a new era. However, as Sabathia was leaving, starter Cliff Lee had the Major League’s biggest turnaround and won the AL Cy Young award, keeping the trophy in Cleveland (Sabathia was the 2007 winner).
There is plenty of cause for optimism in 2009 aside from Lee’s resurgence. The Indians played very well down the stretch, finishing 81-81, which surprised most casual observers who had written them off after their awful start. Indians fans are also overjoyed that former closer Joe Borowski (who was abysmal much of the year) is now departed and has been replaced by former Cub Kerry Wood. If the Indians can solidify the back end of their rotation and simply stay healthy then they should compete in 2009.
The Indians only have two guaranteed starters going into Spring Training. Cliff Lee (22-3, 2.54 ERA, 31 starts, 213 IP last year) is the defending Cy Young winner and staff ace and he will be joined by Fausto Carmona (8-7, 5.44 ERA, 22 starts), who struggled at times last year with injuries and command. Carmona is expected to bounce back in a big way this year. The back end of the rotation has three open spots up for grabs between five candidates: Aaron Laffey (5-7, 4.23 ERA, 16 starts) and Anthony Reyes (4-2, 2.76 ERA, 6 starts) seem to be leading for two of the spots but Jeremy Sowers (4-9, 5.58 ERA, 22 starts), Carl Pavano (4-2, 5.77 7 starts) and Scott Lewis (4-0, 2.63 ERA, 4 starts) will all push for a spot as well. There is a lot of talent on hand for the Indians to build on but they will need to build some consistency among their 3-4-5 starters.
Cleveland’s bullpen was very good last year, with one major exception. Closer Joe Borowski gave up a lot of runs early but managed to close enough games to hold his job for a few months before absolutely imploding. After he was designated for assignment, the bullpen solidified but a closer with a 7.56 ERA and 6 saves after 3 months is a hard thing to rebound from. Luckily, the Indians signed Kerry Wood (5-4, 3.26 ERA, 34 saves last year) this offseason and he should be a huge upgrade in the ninth inning. The Indians have two excellent setup men in Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez and should enjoy a significantly more stable bullpen this season. In fact, the Indians’ bullpen is as good as any in the division.
The Indians have a very solid infield. Catcher Victor Martinez (.278, 2 HR, 35 RBI, .337 OBP) missed half of the season last year and wasn’t 100% when he played. However, he is one of the best in baseball and the Indians should really benefit from a healthy season from him. First baseman Ryan Garko (.273, 14 HR, 90 RBI, .346 OBP) broke out last year and is a very solid hitter in the middle of the lineup. At second base, Asdrubal Cabrera (.259, 6 HR, 47 RBI, .346) is a solid contributor and shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.276, 23 HR, 89 RBI) is a dangerous hitter. The Indians also upgraded at third base during the offseason, acquiring Mark DeRosa (.285, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .376 OBP) from Chicago. Expect DeRosa to solidify a long-running issue for the Indians at the hot corner. Another major upgrade for Cleveland will be the return of Designated Hitter (and occasional first baseman) Travis Hafner (.197, 5 HR, 24 RBI, .305 OBP) to full health. Hafner had driven in over 100 runs for four consecutive seasons before having shoulder issues last year. Cleveland’s infield is the AL Central’s best.
The Indians boast perhaps the best centerfielder in all of baseball in superstar Grady Sizemore (.268, 33 HR, 90 RBI, .374 OBP). Sizemore is a dangerous hitter and is also a defensive virtuoso. However, there are questions about the corner outfield positions. Rightfielder Shin-Soo Choo (.309, 14 HR, 66 RBI, .397 OBP) was impressive in a half season’s work but will need to prove his worth over the long haul. In left field, Ben Fransisco (.266, 15 HR, 54 RBI, .332 OBP) will probably get more at bats than David Dellucci (.238, 11 HR, 47 RBI, .307 OBP) but neither strikes much fear into the hearts of pitchers. Like usual, the Indians will probably be looking for an upgrade at the corner outfield positions come July.
The Indians won 81 games last season despite major injuries to two of their best hitters and one of their best starters, an ineffective closer, and a midseason deal which shipped their best starter for the better part of the last decade out of town. That’s pretty impressive. Simply put, the Indians should be an absolute juggernaut at the plate this year if they’re healthy. Furthermore, their bullpen should be solid all year. The big question is their final three rotation spots: If they can get solid production then expect the Indians to seriously contend for the division. However, a more realistic outlook for the season would be 85-90 wins and a runner up finish in the American League Central Division.
By Matt Baxendell
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