CLEVELAND - The crack of the bat. The roar of the crowd. Take me out to the ballgame. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack, I don't care if I ever get back. Yes folks, it's that time of year again, baseball season is upon us and it's time for the 2013 Cleveland Indians to play ball.
The 2013 season gets underway this evening at the Rogers Centre in Toronto against the Blue Jays. So what should we expect from this years team? Expectations have been raised thanks to the additions of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs and with the hiring of Terry Francona as manager. Will this mean that the Indians will win its first World Series championship since 1948? Lets not get ahead of ourselves, there are still 162 regular season games to be played but with the moves made this offseason, this team should be much better than the one that collapsed after the all-star break last season.
The biggest concern I have entering this year should be a surprise to no one, it's the starting rotation. Justin Masterson will get the ball to open up the season for the second year in a row. Last year, Masterson pitched a masterpiece against Toronto on opening day at Progressive Field and looks to do the same tonight. We all hoped that performance would be the start of a potential 20 plus win season, that didn't happen. Masterson went 11-15 with an earned run average just below five. Masterson has the ability to be an ace of a pitching staff in my mind, but he needs to be consistent all year long and be able to mix up his pitch selection to be effective.
The biggest concern I have in the rotation is the number two starter Ubaldo Jimenez. Since the Tribe acquired Ubaldo from the Colorado Rockies back in 2011, he's only been consistent with one thing, his lack of consistency. Jimenez's record since putting on his Indians number 30 uniform is 13-21 (9-17 last season) with an earned run average well about five. This is a make or break year for Jimenez with the Tribe. Ubaldo has to regain the form that lead to a 19 win season in his final full season in Colorado back in 2010. If Jimenez continues to struggle, I can't see him being a member of the Indians at this time next year.
As for the rest of the starting rotation, the guy I am most concerned with is Zack McAllister. He's achieved his goal of making the opening day roster this year as the number four starter, now how will he handle being in the big leagues from day one of the season? McAllister has plenty of potential, but he just hasn't shown me enough in his previous opportunities at the major league level. As for Brett Myers, the number three starter, can he become a starter again after being a reliever last year with the Astros and White Sox. Finally even with a great spring, can fifth starter Scott Kazmir become the pitcher he was when he was a key to the Tampa Bay Rays run at the World Series back in 2008.
As for the bullpen, it should be solid again this season. Chris Perez will be the key. Perez missed the majority of spring training with a sore pitching shoulder, but is ready to go. Perez has to remain healthy and get off to a good start if this bullpen wants to be one of the best in baseball. Vinnie Pestano has the ability to close games if Perez struggles, but I believe having him and Joe Smith as setup men will make this bullpen better. As for the middle inning guys, Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone have plenty of potential, lets just hope they don't get overused because of struggles with the starting rotation.
This years Indians look good both offensively and especially defensively. It's amazing that the starting outfield consists of three center fielders from last season. Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center and Drew Stubbs in right. Plus Nick Swisher can still see some time in right field to give any of the starters a day off. The infield is solid defensively as well. We know how good of a shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall continue their growth at second base and third base respectively. Swisher and Mark Reynolds will provide solid glove work at first base and lets not forget Mike Aviles who can give Kipnis, Cabrera and Chisenhall a day off from time to time. The only question mark I have is Carlos Santana behind the plate. Santana needs to get better at blocking balls and throwing out base runners since he'll be behind the plate much more this season and not rotating between catcher and first base.
Offensively, this team is going to hit a lot more home runs, steal a lot more bases, be more balanced with right handed and left batters but it's also going to strike out a lot. Michael Bourn has to set the tone at the top of the lineup. Bourn is this Indians teams version of Kenny Lofton. If Bourn gets on base consistently and uses his speed to steal 40 bases or more, this offense will put plenty of runs on the scoreboard. Cabrera and Kipnis need to hit at or around three hundred in my mind.
While they both have the potential to hit 20 home runs or more, I would be pleased if they both sacrifice a little power for a better batting average and on-base percentage and let the middle of the order drive in the runs.
Swisher and Brantley should put up solid numbers in the 4th and 5th spots in the order. I'll be very happy if Swisher finishes with around 22 to 25 home runs with a solid batting average and around 100 runs batted in. Brantley needs to be the same hitter he was last year, consistent throughout and continue to hit to all fields.
Carlos Santana needs to be better offensively this year. I like the fact he's hitting in the sixth spot this season. That should take a little pressure off him. Hopefully Santana can hit 30 home runs this season. Mark Reynolds needs to show the power he did with the Orioles in 2011 and the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2009. Reynolds combined to hit 81 home runs in those two seasons and also has a 32 home run season in 2010 with Baltimore.
Lonnie Chisenhall should have a solid year simply because he's the man at the hot corner this year. Chisenhall won't have to battle with Jack Hannahan for playing time at third base. More playing time should result in more home runs and runs batted in. And as for Drew Stubbs, if he can limit the strike outs in the ninth spot and get on base consistently, he should score his share of runs and get his share of stolen bases and runs batted in.
So what does this all mean for the Indians in 2013, record wise? This team will be much better that last year. If you watched the Easter Sunday edition of the Ford Sports Sunday, I predicted the Indians will finish in 2nd place in the American League Central Division behind the Detroit Tigers and above the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. However, I don't think the Indians will make the playoffs. The Tigers have terrific pitching lead by the $180 million man Justin Verlander and a potent offense lead by the triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera. As for a wild card spot, there are so many contenders from the American League West and American League East, I see a team from each of those divisions getting the two wild card spots.
While I am really excited for the new look Cleveland Indians and they will be a much improved club, there won't be baseball being played in October at Progressive Field in 2013.
The Cleveland Indians will finish the 2013 season with an 84-78 record, 2nd place in the American League Central Division.