Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gonna be a long baseball season

Indians spring training thoughts and observations . . .

Being the born pessimist I am, I can’t help but be amused at how optimistically most baseball writers regard the Indians. Some have them playing at least ,500 ball.

After watching them throughout a painful spring training season, I don’t see the Indians winning any more than 70 games. And even that might be a tad sanguine.

There are too many negatives about this team that spell trouble for the next 161 games. But one of them was not the bullpen, which turned a season-opening victory into an extra-inning marathon Thursday.

When Chris Perez smeared Justin Masterson’s two-hit dazzler with a ninth-inning seismic blowup against the Toronto Blue Jays, it signaled a possible weakness in what is considered a club strength.

The bullpen was the one area most everyone thought would serve as the glue for a very ordinary (except for Masterson) starting staff. Five innings and fly would be the mantra as manager Manny Acta would be forced to overwork the pen.

Ubaldo Jimenez. Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez do not conjure up thoughts of competing, let alone contending, for anything in the American League Central Division.

Jimenez is not the same pitcher he was in Colorado before being shipped to the Indians midway through last season; Lowe is a 38-year-old, over-the-hill, shadow-of-his-former-self pitcher; Tomlin doesn’t miss many bats; and Gomez, the second-best starter in Arizona this spring, is untested.

Jimenez very well might go down as one of the best half-season pitchers in baseball history. His 15-1 start in the 2010 season has proved nothing more than an aberration. He has come nowhere close to being that pitcher since joining the Indians midway through last season.

The Indians won just seven of their 29 spring training games this season due to poor pitching, a shaky defense and virtually no hitting.

Yes, those games meant nothing. They were just exhibition games designed to get ready for the regular season. I understand that. But c’mon, one would think they would win four or five more just by accident.

It’s very difficult to be enthusiastic about a team that has no stars. The closest the Indians can come in that category are shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana.

Cabrera comes off a season in which he hit more home runs (25) than he did in his previous four seasons (18). And he reported to camp carrying a few more pounds – OK, many more pounds – than he should have.

The glove should not be a problem for Cabrera, but unless he sheds those extra pounds, his range will be severely limited. And don’t count on him coming close to duplicating his 2011 home run total.

As for Santana, Acta has a problem locking him into one position, which eventually might have a detrimental effect on his hitting.

Is Santana a catcher? Yes, but not a very good one. He has trouble throwing out potential base stealers, and he’s not the smoothest handler of pitchers.

Or is he a first baseman? Yes. But at 5-10, he doesn’t make the best target for infielders. One could categorize his defense there as OK. He’s not the best defensive first baseman on the club.

That would be Casey Kotchman, who is certain to help cut down on throwing errors, a vital statistic considering the Indians have several ground-ball pitchers on their staff. If Kotchman, who swings a nice bat (with hardly any power), doesn’t play at least 120 games, Acta will wear out a path to the mound this season.

At second base, Jason Kipnis is still struggling to find his Major League legs, while third baseman Jack Hannahan is solid with the glove, less-than-ordinary with the bat.

In the outfield reside many questions marks. Shelley Duncan has the power (when he connects); Michael Brantley is adequate on offense and defense, but doesn’t utilize his speed well on the basepaths; and Shin-Soo Choo’s numbers last season fell far short of what he put up in his first three seasons with the Tribe.

There is absolutely nothing about which to be excited regarding the Indians this season. It looks as though they will battle with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central basement.

Unless General Manager Chris Antonetti waves his magic wand and comes up with a deal or two to improve this team, this looks like a very long season for the Indians. To predict a 70-92 season would be very optimistic if one is to judge this team on paper.

Looks much more like a 65- to 68-victory season. And that, too, is being very optimistic.


  1. Rich,
    As someone who has followed you since the "Passan the Puck" days I for one appreciate your what most people consider overly negative articles about Cleveland sports teams. I salute you for telling it like it is.
    I grew up in Akron in the 50's and 60's and left Ohio in 1980. I lived in Minnesota when the the Twins won the World Series, I've lived in Dallas for 3 Super Bowl Wins, A Stanley Cup Championship and Last Year's NBA Title.
    Instead of enjoying all those titles (I did enjoy the Mavs Choking LeStiff last year though) While watching these championships, I've alway thought how great it would be to see Cleveland win one in anything. At least I got to see the 64 Browns.
    Yet I don't believe it's the curse of Cleveland. It's about the Stupid owners, bad coaches, and lousy talent evaluation, and in the Dolans case lack of money to compete.
    I used to read all the criticism you got when you wrote for the OBR and frankly you were one of the few writers that just didn't drink the kool aid. In 2014 Cleveland will be celebrating 50 years without a championship in any major sport. Maybe they should just set up a parade of futility to prove at least they still remember how to put on a parade.
    So thanks for calling it like it is and not wearing the rose colored glasses. Keep calling them out.

  2. A parade for futility down Euclid Ave. in September of 2014. I think you're on to something. Why not celebrate futility? Better than wallowing in it. Shows Cleveland has a sense of humor.

    Better watch yourself with your line of thinking, though. People might think you're beginning to think like me.

    As for the rose-colored glasses, I have no idea what you're talking about. And as long as I can draw a breath, count on me calling them out. Until, that is, they (and they know who they are) begin making a whole bunch of the right moves.

    And pls sign your name next time. Use the drop down in the select profile box, type your name/handle only in the Name/URL and go from there.

    Tnx for the kind words.

  3. I disagree with you on this one. This team is as deep as any recent team the Indians have had and should produce quite a few runs. I beleive as the year progresses evryone is goinf to like the infield and their backup. I think their defense will be much improved and the offensive support from Cabrera, Kipnis and Kotchman will be adequate. Catcher is solid and the outfield if Choo says healthy and Duncan continues to hit will be fine. I look at each one of these players to produce 20 HRs and 70 RBI. Eventually the bullpen will settled down so the big question is starting pitching and the minor league support. I think this team is going to surpise a lot of people.

  4. You disagree with me???? Shocking.

    Hello Robert. We butt heads once again. Let's take it one item at a time.

    Their infield defense will be better this season because of Kotchman at first base. Cabrera doesn't have the range he had last season unless he sheds about 10 pounds. He won't get to balls this season that he did last season.

    Kipnis is an unknown quantity with the bat and glove. I haven't seen enough to make me believe he is ready for the majors. Hannahan at third is a glove with very little bat.

    Santana is an average, at best, catcher. He is solid with the bat, but definitely not with the glove.

    As for the outfield, Duncan is a journeyman who will wind up hitting around .230-.240 with maybe 15 home runs. Besides, he's going to platoon with Johnny Damon in left field.

    The bullpen is the key to this pitching staff because the starters are not that good. Unless those starters surprise everyone, the bullpen will be ragged by the All-Star break.

    Other than that, right on. I hope you're right about Choo. I have him on two fantasy teams. He damn well better stay healthy and start hitting the ball.

    BTW, what do you think about the Browns stuff I've written?

    Regards to Diane.