2013 Record: 92-70 (2nd Place AL Central, 1 GB)
Last season, the Cleveland Indians made the playoffs for the first time since 2007, playing only one game against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card Game. I’ll try to keep my Cleveland bias to a minimum, but the one game play-in doesn’t do the wild card teams the justice a play-in series would. Playoffs aside, the 2013 Cleveland Indians saw huge improvements on the mound and in the dugout. The pitching duo of Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez combined for 27 wins, and every member of the rotation posted a winning record last season. Terry Francona was named AL Manager of the Year, which greatly enhanced the Indians over their previous manager Manny Acta. Interestingly enough, Acta also took Francona’s previous position on ESPN, so the two basically switched jobs.
OF David Murphy (2yr/$12 mil)
CL John Axford (1yr/$4.5 mil)
SP Shaun Marcum (Minor League Contract)
David Murphy didn’t have his greatest season in Texas last year, presumably why he was traded, but looking just 2 years ago, Murphy was highly efficient on offense. In 2012, he hit .304 with 15 HRs in 147 games, with a .384 on-base percentage. Murphy is a great addition to the lineup, and should give the Indians consistent contact behind the plate.
John Axford is a huge improvement over Chris Perez in the bullpen, who had 25 saves and the entire Cleveland fanbase trembling every time he came out to close a game. Axford is a high strikeout, low ERA pitcher, and shouldn’t blow the 5 saves that Perez did last season.
Shaun Marcum is a low-risk/high-reward pick-up for the Indians. He had a shaky season last year with the Mets, winning only 1 game with them. If he can get back into his 2011 form, when he won 13 games and had a WHIP of 1.156, the Indians would benefit greatly from signing him.
SP Ubaldo Jimenez left Cleveland for Baltimore after last season, after posting his best season since leaving Colorado in 2011. He had 194 strikeouts, only 1 less than Masterson, in 182.2 innings, with the best ERA on the team of 3.30 and a 1.33 WHIP. Jimenez stepped up when Masterson went down in September, and the Indians have yet to find a replacement to fill the 2 spot in the rotation.
2013 AL Wild Card Game: The Indians out-hit the Rays with 9 hits to Tampa Bay’s 8, yet got shut out 4-0. The Indians’ best hitters, Bourn, Cabrera, Swisher and Kipnis, came out of the game with a grand total of 0 hits in 16 plate appearances. This alarming stat should make Cleveland fans fairly nervous, seeing that the best players were unable to step up in October. The Indians need a trustworthy hitter to rectify the situation.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
2B Jason Kipnis is on the rise in Cleveland. The young second basemen had 84 RBI and 17 HRs last season, batting .284 in 149 games. Kipnis has improved every year since coming into the league, and last year’s All Star status was well deserved. Kipnis could emerge as a new superstar in the league, which would greatly help the Indians in their chase for a title.
Carlos Santana will be an interesting player next year, as the Indians will move him all over the lineup. He can play first, third, or catcher, or simply be the DH if needed. He will be utilized all over the field, and should continue to be a power hitter for the Indians. The Indians could use his 27 HRs from 2011 again, and he could do this, as long as he stays healthy.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
The rest of the rotation includes Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. They have some work to do with the losses of Ubaldo and Scott Kasmir, but the young rotation should be interesting this year. 24-year-old Danny Salazar had 65 strikeouts in 52 innings last year and posted a 1.13 WHIP, so he should contribute as he matures as a player and his role grows in the rotation. The Indians are still missing one key component to a championship level team: a big bat. The team had only 2 players with 20 or more HRs last year, the highest being Nick Swisher with 22. They also only had 1 player with more than 80 RBI last year, namely Jason Kipnis. The Indians need a 30+ HR, 100+ RBI player to make it far in the playoffs. Until then, Cleveland should remain #2 in the AL Central behind Detroit.