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.