WHAT ABOUT THE TRIBE?
The 2014 version of the Cleveland Indians is here, and the Tribe enters tonight’s series opener with the San Diego Padres 3-3 on the young season. Last year’s 92-70 season, complete with a wild card playoff appearance, has put expectations on the current squad that haven’t been seen on the shores of lake erie since the bitter end to the 2007 season. How far will they go in 2014? There’s certainly reason for optimism, but only time will tell if the playoffs lie in the Indians immediate future. That being said, below is a look at the squad and thoughts on where they’ll finish in 2014.
One thing is clear. Terry Francona is one of the best managers is one of the best managers in the business, and bringing him to Cleveland was an undeniably smart (albeit surprising) move by general manager Chris Antonetti. Francona brought instant credibility to an organization that was floundering, and there’s no doubt that he gets more out of a team than most managers. Players restpect Francona and want to play for him, and those two factors can’t be ignored. He gets more out of less talent, but the burning question is whether the Tribe has enough talent to get to the promised land.
THE STARTING PITCHING
Justin Masterson pitches like an ace, and his demeanor is needed in the clubhouse. He’s a straight forward guy with a level head who does his job and leads by example. He’s very consistent, and that means he’ll be counted on to do big things in 2o14.
That leaves Cory Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco as the other for starters in the five man roation, with Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin waiting in the wings. Salazar has electric stuff, and he’s clearly got the most potential in this bunch. Kluber, McAllister and Carrasco have all looked dominant at times, although their levels of consistency are huge question marks and will go a long way toward the Indians 2014 success.
Francona loves a deep bullpen, and he may need one in 2014. There are some solid commodities in this year’s relief corps, but that won’t matter if they have to be called on in the fifth inning every night. The biggest question mark appears to be closer John Axford, who joins Francona’s bunch looking to return to the form he showed in Milwaukee. Axford converted 44 of 46 save opportunities for the Brewers in 2011 and was 35 for 44 in 2012. Axford was not sharp in 2013 however, going 0 for 13 (including 0 for 7 at the minor league level) in save opportunities. Axford’s performance at the back end of the bullpen could make or break the season, so a solid season is essential if the Indians are to remain contenders.
Locking up catcher Yan Gomes and second baseman Jason Kipnis for the next six seasons was a solid move by the Tribe front office. Gomes was a virtual steal from Toronto when he came with Mike Aviles in exchange for Esmil Rogers last year, so Cleveland won’t need a starting catcher for a while. Carlos Santana has given Francona flexibility by moving to third base and serving as the backup catcher, which doesn’t say much for Lonnie Chisenhall’s chances of sticking around.
Asdrubal Cabrera is healthy and looks to have a solid year at shortstop. This is the final year of his contract, however, so don’t be surprised if he is traded before the deadline this summer. Shortstop of the future Fransisco Lindor is waiting, and a big league appearance in 2014 is not out of the question.
Kipnis was an all star at second base last year and is heading into his prime at age 27. He’s a tough minded player who can hit, and there’s nothing but positives when it comes to his work ethic.
That leaves Nick Swisher as the Tribe’s everyday first baseman. Fans like Swisher because he’s from Ohio, he’s outgoing and he has good things to say about everybody and everything. Unfortunately, nagging injuries kept Swisher from performing at an optimum level in 2013, and that can’t happen again, especially on a team in dire need of power and run production. Swisher needs to talk a little less and hit a little more if the Indians want to see baseball in October.
Michael Brantley was also signed to a long term deal this spring, and he’s the most consistent player the Indians have. He stays within himself, and the count really doesn’t even START until he has two strikes. He performs in the clutch, and Brantley is arguably one of the more difficult outs in baseball.
Michael Bourn returns in center, although age could be catching up with him. Bourne continues to deal with hamstring issues at age 34, which is bad news for a guy who’s main asset is speed. Veteran Nyjer Morgan does provide insurance in the middle of the outfield, sothere isn’t that much cause for alarm.
David Murphy joins the club in right field, where he’ll likely split time with Ryan Raburn. Francona platooned Raburn quite effectively last year, and the hope is that Murphy will put more punch into the Tribe’s offense.
The Indians certainly aren’t the best team in any category, although they’re certainly far from the worst. What does that mean for the outcome in 2014? Stay tuned for more, but consider this. Cleveland had a tremendous record in one run contests last year, and beating up bad teams helped inflate their win total to playoff proprtions.
Those who buy tickets this year will get their money’s worth, because the Indians will once again be worth watching. They will play hard and compete every night, which is more than fans of several other teams can look forward to.. Detroit probably has too much talent for Cleveland to capture the central division title, but expect the Indians to remain in the wild card chase all summer long with somewhere between 85 and 90 wins.