2011 Season Forecast: Cleveland Indians

Last Five Years:

2010:  69 – 93  (Fourth in AL Central)
2009:  65 – 97
2008:  81 – 81
2007:  96 – 66
2006:  78 – 84

Remember 2007, anyone?  the Indians were a game away from getting to the World Series.

Runs Scored: 646 (12th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 752 (12th in the AL)

With this combination of runs scored and allowed, the Indians would have been expected to win 69 games – which is what they did.

Season Recap:

Most experts had the Indians and Royals battling for the bottom of the AL Central, and the Indians did just that – edging the Royals by two games to claim fourth in the division.

The Indians got off to a moderately slow start, but fell way off the pace in May, going 9 – 18.  Other than that month and a rather poor August (10 – 18, but played better than that), the Indians roared down the stretch with a 15 – 12 September, catching the Royals to get out of the cellar.  Part of this was adding a few nuggets – like rookie catcher Carlos Santana and infielders Jason Donald and Jayson Nix – who were happy to get playing time and helped lead the charge.

Starters:

Fausto Carmona returned to form, tossing sinkers and sinking fastballs, and giving the Indians 210.1 innings of solid baseball.  Justin Masterson’s first season as a regular in the rotation wasn’t a complete loss.  Sure, he allowed a lot of runs, but he had decent strikeout numbers and hung in there for the whole year.  He needs to work on his control, but there’s something to build on here.  Mitch Talbot won 10 games, but I’m not sure how.  He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he tends to walk even more guys than Masterson.  Jake Westbrook returned to make 21 fair starts before being shipped off to St. Louis for the stretch run.  David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez served as fifth starters – only Huff looked way out of place and of the three, Tomlin looks to be ready to take a turn 30 times and be successful.

Looking forward, a rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, and another kid named Carlos Carrasco has some potential for growth.  I see Talbot falling off a little, but if Carmona can hold form, the other three guys could certainly shave 30 – 40 runs off the runs allowed side of the ledger.

Relievers:

Chris Perez did a great job as the closer and returns for another season.  Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann will tote some innings as well.  Justin Germano did an okay job last year and gets a non-roster invitation to training camp.  He has a shot at being the 11th man on the staff.  Of these, I am less inclined to believe that Perez and Smith will be as successful, so Lewis, Herrmann, and SOMEBODY will have to step up.  I think the bullpen may be off by 10 runs over the course of the season.

Catching:

Carlos Santana had a great first 40 games.  He’s a convert – came to the Dodgers in 2005 as a third baseman and played all over the infield and outfield – an Elmo Plaskett sort of career.  I 2007, he was switched to catcher and has shown himself to be a quick learner with a strong arm.  As a hitter, he has a .401 OBP in the minors with 25 homer potential.  His backup, Lou Marson, has solid defensive skills but struggled at the plate last year – even after being sent to AAA.  I don’t think this will happen again.

Infield:

Last year’s infield started out as Russell Branyan, Mark Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta.  By August, Grudzielanek was released and now is retired.  Branyan was returned to Seattle, and I have no reason why they would have done that – but what the hey.  Matt LaPorta came in to play first.  Jayson Nix outplayed Andy Marte to win the third base job, and Jason Donald earned a shot at second base.  Only Cabrera played most of the season – but even he, by the end of the season, was seeing less playing time because his bat had tanked from where it was in 2009.

Looking forward, Donald or Nix looks to be the third baseman, LaPorta will get one more shot at first base, and Asdrubal Cabrera will get a shot to return to form at short.  More importantly, the Indians have imported Reds infielder Orlando Cabrera to play second base.  Jayson Nix and Valbuena return as depth.  I like adding Orlando Cabrera, though he’s getting long in the tooth and hasn’t really played a whole lot of second base in his career.  Donald can hit as well as Peralta these days, and LaPorta has room for growth.  Defensively, it’s not awesome – but it’s not bad either (well, LaPorta didn’t impress me).  If nothing else, it’s an infield that gives a manager a lot of daily options if necessary.

Outfield:

In right field, Shin Soo Choo is awesome – 20/20 with a high batting average and on base percentage.  He’s one of the best in the game.  The problem is the other two positions.  In center, the Indians are hoping that Grady Sizemore can return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.  At peak, and Sizemore is just 29, Sizemore is a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.  He hasn’t had centerfield range in years, though, so I’d rather see him play left field.  That leaves Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe in left (or center) and neither impressed at the plate, being low average, low power guys with speed.  Crowe might be the better defensive option in center, but neither has 1000 innings in the field yet, so it’s still open for debate.  Austin Kearns returns to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and DH option.

DH:

Travis Hafner, no longer the threat he once was, still helps put runs on the board.  Carlos Santana, Shelly Duncan, or Austin Kearns will be the other half of a platoon arrangement.

Down on the Farm:

The guys at AAA who looked like they could play a little, Brantley, Crowe, Donald, LaPorta (who caught in AAA), all got shots with the parent club.  Of those who did not, Jose Constanza hit .319 with less power and a lower OBP than Brantley, so that won’t work.  Cord Phelps moved up from AA, is just 24, and hit .317 with a little power.  Phelps is a 3rd round pick out of Stanford in 2008 who has been moved up quickly and played better at each level.  That being said, the entire Columbus AAA team hit .285, so I wouldn’t put stock in those averages holding up at the big league level.  None of the guys who hit .300 in AAA hit anywhere near .250 in the bigs in 2010.  A couple of pitchers were rushed to the bigs, including Gomez and Huff, while Carlos Carrasco pitched better than all of them (10 – 6, 133Ks in 150.1 innings, good control, 3.65 ERA in a hitter’s park).  So of the young arms in camp, I like his the best.

AA Akron features a couple of pitchers who might make you look for them in a year or two.  Alex White is just 22, had a 2.28 ERA in 17 starts, and had good control, decent K numbers, and kept the ball in the park.  The UNC grad was the #1 pick of the Indians in 2009 and appears to have a fast track to the majors.  Chen Lee pitched relief, fanned 82 and walked just 22 in 72.2 innings of work.

The second round pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Kipnis, hit well at A+ Kinston, batting .300 with a .387 OBP and power, earning a trip to Akron, where he continued to hit well (.311/.385/.502).  I like him because he’s from Northbrook, IL – a graduate of Glenbrook North, where a bunch of my cousins went to school.  He’s still figuring out second base, but he will be in the majors before you know it.  The 2008 #1 pick, Lonnie Chisenhall, has migrated to third base and shows power – but right now projects out as an Andy Marte clone – and that’s not MLB ready yet.

2011 Forecast:

Let’s call it guarded optimism.  The young pitchers should be able to build on 2010, but I think the defense will suffer if Sizemore is allowed to play center and with Orlando Cabrera learning a new position (and LaPorta likely getting 1000 innings at first).  It’s not a total wash, but it’s at least mitigating some of the potential improvement.  If Sizemore plays left and Crowe plays center, the team will remove 30 runs from the runs allowed side.  If Sizemore is still in center, I don’t see any change.

The offense will certainly be better at catcher, and if Sizemore can hit, that’s another huge plus – possibly 80 extra runs on the board between the two positions.  Cabrera or Donald or Nix will be better than a full season of Luis Valbuena, too.  When I feel optimistic, the system says that the team should score 725 runs and allow about 740 – but managerial decisions and Sizemore’s health aren’t guarantees, so I’ll hedge my bet and guess it will be more like 700 and 750 instead.  That puts the Indians at 75 wins – a nice step in the right direction.  On the other hand, the potential is there to get to 80 games if a lot of things work in their favor.  Besides, Cleveland could use some good news from a sporting standpoint.  As such, I’ll be rooting for the pleasant surprise…

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Lidge Blows Eleventh Save (!) – and Other News…

When the rain came, the Marlins trailed the Phillies 6 – 4.   Then, the Marlins brought the rain, with Jorge Cantu and Brett Carroll knocking in runs to beat Brad Lidge and the Phillies.  For Lidge, he’s blown 11 saves (and the Cubs complain about Kevin Gregg and his seven blown saves, though most of them came in about a two week period in August).  Ryan Madson was given a shot – and failed.  Brett Myers may not be healthy enough.  So, unless there’s a new call for Tyler Walker to be a closer, the Phillies have no choice but to let their starters go nine every night.  Can Jamie Moyer close?  [ESPN]

The Phillies got a small dose of good news…  Catcher Carlos Ruiz has just a sprain, and will return to the lineup soon.  Ruiz made a tag of Matt Diaz at the plate Friday night against the Braves and tweaked his wrist on the play.  [ESPN]

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox says 2010 will be his last year on the bench – nearly 2500 wins after starting his managerial career with the Braves back when Dale Murphy was still occasionally catching (1978).  [FoxSports]

ESPN reports that Milton Bradley will not challenge his suspension and awaits news of his Cubs career.   Bradley even apologized for the situation…   [ESPN/FoxSports]

Let’s Talk Yankees…

Jorge Posada fouled a ball off his toes, but x-rays revealed no breaks.  He’s probably out until the weekend.  Meanwhile, GM Brian Cashman said that the struggling Joba Chamberlain has to step up, else not make the Yankees playoff roster.  Finally, FanNation is allowing commentary on a New York Daily News comment that manager Joe Girardi has to win the World Series to keep his job for 2010.  [ESPN/SI/FanNation]

Moving on…

The Miami Herald is reporting that the Marlins might make a four-year, $50 million offer to pitcher Josh Johnson.  If that happens, Dan Uggla will complain any time Josh has to leave a start before the sixth inning and question his toughness.  [FanNation]

Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams – Disappointed in 2009, Optimistic for 2010.  You decide if he’s a glass half full or empty type of guy.  [ESPN/MLB]

FanNation reports that Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb, who has spent most of 2009 on the DL, wants his full option and no pay cut to come back to the Diamondbacks for 2010.  I know a lot of teams that would invest in Webb if he were healthy next year…  [FanNation]

Nolan Reimold had successful surgery to repair a frayed Achilles tendon.  Here’s to a complete recovery for the Orioles rookie slugger.  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back! The Royals placed pitcher Bruce Chen on the DL with a strained oblique.  (Of course, he’ll be back in 2010, and not in 2009.)

Welcome Back! With Chen leaving, the Royals activated pitcher Juan Cruz, and the Indians brought back pitcher Joe Smith from the DL.

Afterthoughts… Tough day for umpire Marty Foster, who took three foul balls – one off the face mask – in last night’s Giants-D’Backs game…

Morneau Sidelined; Dice-K is Back! (Not sure if you should be excited, though)

After three to four weeks of lower back pain, a CT scan showed that Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has a small stress fracture in his back.  As such, the former MVP will be shut down for the next three months.  The good news?  Morneau doesn’t need surgery.  The bad news?  Whatever chances the Twins had in catching the Tigers gets a bit slimmer.  That being said, Morneau has been struggling for more than a month – hitting just .220 in August and .077 (just three hits) so far in September.  So, this might actually HELP to get a healthy bat in the lineup.  [ESPN]

Does the Big Unit have a few relief appearances left in him?  Randy Johnson thinks so – even though he is playing with a torn labrum.  [ESPN]

One pitcher who is done?  Orioles rookie Brian Matusz, who is being shut down so as not to tax his arm.  Matusz is in his first professional season, making the run from draft pick, through A and AA, before pitching reasonably well for the Orioles since his call up in early August.  In fact, Matusz was just getting rolling…  After getting knocked around in his second start, he took a couple of losses, but won his last four decisions and looked solid in his last three starts including a win over the Yankees.  [FoxSports]

Is Ryan Braun injured?  The Brewers slugger is getting treatment on his shoulder, and he’s sat out two games and missed a third day (off day) in the last eight days.  The comments in the news suggest that something is wrong – but that Braun would prefer to play.  [MLB]

Get ready for a leaner Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Three months ago, with a weak shoulder and a belly approaching Santa Claus dimensions (where is Terry Forster, anyway?), Matsuzaka left to boos and was sent to Ft. Myers to rebuild the strength in his arm as well as build up his fitness.  Now, Dice-K gets to make a start down the stretch and hopes to contribute the way he did in 2007 when he started game 7 of the ALCS and game 3 of the World Series.  If he has confidence and gets a few guys out, look out – because for two years, he was awfully tough to hit.  [MLB]

How about some Tigers news? Fernando Rodney’s suspension for tossing a ball in angst into the stands was reduced from three to two days.  He’ll be back Wednesday, but Rodney is also $3000 lighter in the wallet.  [ESPN]

Not enough?  Magglio Ordonez is eight plate appearances away from vesting an $18 million option.  Wow.  To his credit, Maggs has hit about .370 in the last six weeks or so, but has little power and just 40 RBI on the season.  Is THAT worth $18 million?  Don’t be surprised if Tigers just release Ordonez instead.  [SI]

Welcome Back! Red outfielder Jay Bruce (broken wrist); Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota (ingrown toenail)

Hurry Back! Cleveland pitcher Joe Smith (sprained knee)

Broadway comes to the Mets, Rockies clear (out) Hurdle

The first manager to fall is Clint Hurdle, replaced after an 18 – 28 start, which makes you wonder how Manny Acta keeps his job in Washington (13 – 34) or similar slow starts in Oakland (18 – 28) or Houston (19 – 27). Or, how about the teams that are disappointing – like Cleveland (21 – 29).

Interim manager, Jim Tracy, won his first game.

The Yankees won, taking over first place in the AL East, getting contributions from a variety of sources, including Jorge Posada. Andy Pettitte left in the sixth with a sore back – he’s day to day for now. Mariano Rivera got the save, making them the greatest combination win/save duo in history. Cue Tim Kurkjian.

Hanley Ramirez isn’t ready to start, but he did pinch hit for the Marlins last night.

Khalil Greene went on the DL with an anxiety disorder. I have that – seriously – and I didn’t miss 15 days (or more) of work. When you make that kind of money and hit .200 with little to show for it, I guess you can. I’d be feeling anxious in his shoes, too… Returning in his place is outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

The last player to miss time with anxiety was Dontrelle Willis, who was slapped around pretty good last night…

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto left last night’s game with dizziness again. Hopefully this goes away soon. He may land on the DL this time, though.

Nick Punto pulled a groin (hopefully his own) and lands on the DL for Minnesota. Coming back from AAA is Alexi Casilla, who has been a good major leaguer before. Here’s to putting it back together.

Houston’s Kaz Matsui is out with a strained hammy.

White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin has plantar fascitis and will go on the DL. My running partner, Mike Coe, has been fighting that for months. Yuck! Dewayne Wise returns from the DL to take his spot.

In a rare May trade, the Mets sent C Ramon Castro to the White Sox for (sort of) prospect pitcher Lance Broadway. I always liked Castro and thought he should play more, but he’s a career backup. He can hit and hit for power. Broadway is a former #1 pick (2005) who hasn’t really found his groove.

Corky Miller loses his backup status in Chicago.

Dodger Will Ohman returns from the DL, but Texas prospect (and darned good pitcher) Matt Harrison goes to the DL with inflammation in his shoulder. Hurry back!

On the mend? Indian pitcher Joe Smith and Mets infielder Alex Cora, also Texas pitcher Tommy Hunter.

Look for David Dellucci and/or Daniel Cabrera to decline AAA assignments and become free agents.