In just 17 days the Indians will take on the Blue Jays at Progressive Field to start the 2012 baseball season. The way the weather has been lately it feels like it should have started already. Soon enough the boys of summer will leave Arizona and come back to Cleveland.
When Prince Fielder signed a monster deal with the Tigers over the winter I was not feeling good about the Tribe’s chances this year, but as the days have passed my confidence in this bunch has grown. I still think Detroit will probably win the AL Central, but here is why I think the Indians have a chance to stay in the race: pitching. Chicks may dig the long ball, but pitching wins pennants!
When I look at the Indians on paper I see lots of good arms in both the rotation and the bullpen. The key to the club’s success this year is Ubaldo Jimenez. The acquisition from the Rockies had a rough 2011 campaign, but there is reason to believe he will bounce back. Although the stats don’t show it, there is a major positive for Ubaldo this spring… Velocity! His fastball seems to be back to where it was two seasons ago when he had a great year. He has the stuff, as was evidenced by the strikeout totals even in a down season, and he appears to be happy pitching for the Tribe. Justin Masterson is coming off his best year in the majors, and he may still have room to improve. I will admit I am a little worried about Josh Tomlin going backwards, but with the additions of crafty veterans Derek Lowe and Kevin Slowey (I know they both had bad 2011’s) the rotation should be deep and successful.
The bullpen was the strength of the 2011 Indians and was the only unit not crushed with injuries. In spring training injuries have taken their toll so far as both Chris and Rafael Perez have missed time, but both should be ready for opening day. Chris Perez struggled in the second half of last year’s closing game for the Tribe but the whole team was struggling at that point, and I expect him to be more consistent this year. The rock of the pen is Vinny Pestano who is now one of the best set-up men in baseball and will someday be a good closer. With Joe Smith and the addition of veteran Dan Wheeler the bullpen should again be a strength, although you never know with a pen from year to year.
I know this team can pitch. The question is: can they hit enough to turn the good pitching into victories? Once again Grady Sizemore is injured and expected to miss much of the season. When they announced they re-signed him, I hated the move, but no use crying over spilled milk now. This team has a HUGE hole in LF due to the injury, and I don’t see a legit answer on the roster. What they should do is sign Johnny Damon to a 1-year deal (despite his poor defense these days), but it does not look like this is going to happen. Instead they will hope for lightning in a bottle: Shelley Duncan, Felix Pie, Ryan Spilborghs, Aaron Cunningham or Russ Canzler. While many are high on Canzler because of his success last year in AAA, I am not buying it. It was his 9th year in the minors and the Rays are very smart. They don’t usually give away cheap pieces they think can help. The rest of the outfield should be in good shape assuming Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo stay healthy. SS Asdrubal Cabrera had a break out campaign last season, and the Tribe will need him not to back slide if they are going to make a run. The Indians are also expecting a lot out of 2B Jason Kipnis. He was having a great rookie season before an injury set him back. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the best all-around player on the team at some point this season. The best power hitter is Carlos Santana. The Tribe’s catcher is a star in the making. I think he will have a monster 2012. The team will need to get a lot more than they did last year from their corner infielders. They hope Casey Kotchman’s successful 2011 was not a fluke and youngster Lonnie Chisenhall can progress. If that happens, and Travis Hafner can stay healthy (please stop laughing), the Indians might have just enough offense to make a run.
There are a lot of “ifs” with this team especially when it comes to health, and usually that does not lead to a good season, but this team was right there last year before being crushed by injuries. If they can avoid the injury bug this year and Ubaldo can get back to form, the Indians will have a show in 2012.
Last week was an amazing one for the Bull and Fox show. Our remote broadcasts Thursday at Market and Friday at the Wing Warehouse were both huge successes! The reason they went so well was because of the INCREDIBLE fan support we have! Thanks to everyone who showed up and made the events what they were! Special thanks to those who made it to both! We love our fans and cannot wait to get back on the road again soon!
I really appreciate all the great support from the listeners, callers and tweeters. I’ll talk to you all again… weekdays at 2… RIGHT HERE… on the FAN!