All right, I'm over it. Last season is history, and so is the colossal ALCS meltdown, when the Indians, leading the series 3 games to 1, bowed down and handed the pennant to the Boston Red Sox.
God DAMMIT!!!!!!!!!! How could they have lost that god damned series?? Why do my teams NEVER win? Cripes, it burns me up. 1964 and counting. 44 years sans title.
Anyway, what's done is done. At least the Tribe was competitive last year, as in 96 regular season wins. And they will competitive again this year. How do I know? Let's start with the obvious:
Starting pitching. The Indians have it in spades. The rotation is set, and as I look around the league, I see no other team with as many arms as the Tribe has heading into the spring of '08. Want me to break it down? All righty then.
C.C. Sabathia. Quite simply, he was the best pitcher in the AL last year (We'll ignore his catastrophic postseason performance for now). Look for the left hander to pick right back up where he left off, dealing fastballs, sliders and that devastating changeup en route to 15-20 victories. Note to Tribe fans: enjoy C.C. while you can, because he is gone after this season. Frankly, the team would be nuts to pay him Johan Santana money to stay.
Fausto Carmona. In Carmona the Tribe has the rare luxury of a second ace. While C.C.'s 2007 was years in the making, I can't imagine anyone predicted that Carmona would match Sabathia's 19 wins, especially after his inauspicious 1-10 rookie campaign. A hard thrower who throws nothing straight, Fausto's best weapon is his sinker. He will utilize that tantalizing pitch to the tune of 15-20 wins.
Jake Westbrook. I love Jake, and he really showed me something with his 2 masterful ALCS starts. He will allow a million base runners again this year, but armed with one of the best sinkers in the game, he will also win 12-15 games.
Paul Byrd. This to me is a big question mark. I love that Paul Byrd wins games with no stuff and tons of guts. His control is never an issue, but just a minor slip in velocity could spell the end of the 38-year-old's career. But what the hell? Fellow fluffballer Jamie Moyer is still in the game at age 45. Why not Byrd? We'll take 10-13 wins, Paul. Thank you very much.
Cliff Lee. Which Cliff Lee will the Tribe get this season? The guy who won 18 games in 2005, or the uncoachable, unwatchable Lee of the 6.29 ERA last year? I was dead wrong in my prediction that Lee had pitched his last game as an Indian. Still, Lee must know that Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers are waiting at Buffalo should he fail. If he succeeds? Look out, AL.
So, the rotation is deep, and barring injury, should anchor another run toward an AL Central crown. what about the guys who swing the bats?
They will hit. That was the mantra surrounding the Tribe last season. And hit they did not. Nay, pitching, great pitching, is what brought the Indians to within one game of the World Series (god dammit). This year, Mark Shapiro and company are looking for a bit more competence at the plate.
So, let's take a closer look at the position players:
1B Ryan Garko. I love Ryan Garko. He's like some throwback to the days when the strongest drug a player would take was black coffee (am I imagining those days?). Still, Garko's 61 RBI were a bit of a disappointment. This year? Garko is no longer learning a position. I'm predicting a breakout season, and the Indians will be very happy with 90+ RBI from their first baseman. In the field? Ryan will never be better than average.
2B Asdrubal Cabrera. Last year I thought Mark Shapiro scored a major coup by bringing in second baseman Josh Barfield. Barfield's ineptitude at the plate opened the door for Cabrera, who will never play in the minors again. A wizard in the field, Cabrera has shown enough with the stick to have earned a spot batting second in the lineup. This is a future all-star and gold glove winner, mark my words.
SS Jhonny Peralta. By now I think we know what Jhonny has to offer: a potent bat and a below average glove. I believe a position change is in Peralta's future, but if he can post numbers like he did last year (.270, 21, 71), the team will live with his shortcomings as a middle infielder.
3B Casey Blake. Blake is a great teammate. He's versatile. He's unselfish. He's the kind of guy every great team needs. Say what you want, Casey Blake is a weak link as a starting third baseman. He has power, sure, but he struggles to chase runners home. He is also very mediocre at the corner. His emergence at third is less a nod to his talent than the result of Andy Marte's utter failure to impress anyone. What this team needs is a more consistent corner infielder with Blake filling in wherever he is needed.
C Victor Martinez. As a total ballplayer, Victor has it all. He hits, fields his position and plays a great leadership roll in the clubhouse. I wouldn't trade this guy for all the tea in China. Victor has never finished higher than 7th in the MVP voting, which is a joke.
RF Franklin Gutierrez. I have no doubts about Gutierrez' abilities in the field, where he is dynamite. I have never been a fan of his long, sweeping swing. With little power in the other corner outfield spot, Gutierrez is going to have to produce. Then again, he's slotted in the nine hole as of now, so he shouldn't be feeling that much pressure, right? We'll see.
CF Grady Sizemore. While the rest of the world is falling over backward over Grady, I have to admit to being a little disappointed in his 2007 season. .277 and 155 strikeouts? Not ideal for a leadoff hitter. Then again he did get on base all the time and scored a lot of runs. And he does field his position quite well. I guess it's just that he was so much better the year before. That said, I wouldn't trade Grady for anyone in the league.
LF Jason Michaels and David Dellucci. Ugh. Tribe management ignored my demand that they sign Kenny Lofton for one more year, so we're stuck with another platoon in the outfield this year. But why, when Ben Francisco is hungry and waiting in the minors? Why, when Shin-Soo Choo will be coming back from last year's surgery? Instead we get complete mediocrity in the outfield and at the plate. Bah!
DH Travis Hafner. Hafner was crap last year. That tells you what kind of player he is, that 28 hr and 100 RBI are totally unacceptable. I fully believe that Pronk will be back in the form that made him one of the 5 best hitters in the league from 2003-05.
Bullpen. Last year, the bullpen was money, but bullpens have the annoying habit of being extremely unstable from one year to the next. Here's hoping the Tribe's pen can duplicate what it achieved in '07.
Closer Joe Borowski. All right, if there is one player on this team that makes me nervous...I honestly don't know how Borowski did it last year, by which I mean, leading the lead in saves. His 5.07 ERA wasn't pretty, and neither were all the baserunners and runs he allowed all year long. Nothing wrong with 45 saves though. Can the Tribe count on Borowski again? Hell if I know. I do know he's tough as nails and will put all he's got into every pitch.
Rafael Betancourt. The righty setup man is the rock of the bullpen. He had a career year in '08, throwing fastball after fastball and an occasional curve. He has a tremendous arm, great control and pitches well under pressure. I don't expect him to repeat what he did last year (1.47 ERA), but he will be solid at worst.
Rafael Perez. Perez' left arm was the perfect counterpoint to Betancourt's right last year, and I can never quite figure out where in blazes he came from. A second year player who had mixed results in limited service as a rookie, Perez was utterly dominant in the regular season of '07. No way he does it again. His good arm should serve him well for many years, but the lights out, strikout machine of last year? That would be a hell of a thing.
Masa Kobayashi. And if Raffy Left should fail? Or Borowski for that matter? That's where Japanese import Kobayashi comes in. The longtime closer may well prove a bust, but more likely will prove a valuable insurance policy.
Jensen Lewis. Lewis has a big league arm and, judging by his performance in the playoffs, the guts to match. He is only 23 however, and with a mere 26 big league games under his belt, who knows what he can provide long term?
Jorge Julio. He has a great arm and was once a closer, but, aside from one sparkling season in 2002, Julio has had a rocky big league career.
Craig Breslow. Tom Mastny's atrocious spring opened the door to Breslow, and I say welcome to the club. If any Indians have a question about molecular biology, Breslow (BS from Yale) is the guy to ask. Can he pitch? His 2.86 lifetime ERA says yes. His grand total of 28.3 innings pitched in two seasons say who the hell knows?
Manned by the ever capable Eric Wedge, the Tribe will win 95 games and capture the AL Central division. Do they have the stuff to win the pennant? Will the bullpen hold up? Can Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore rebound to form? You better believe it. Bring on all comers. In fact, I'm picking the Indians to win the 2008 World Series.
You listening, BoSox?
I'll be at tomorrow's home opener, thanks to loyal McBoner, Jeff Fallis, who somehow provided tickets all the way from San Diego.
Destroy the White Sox!
PS: I was wrong in predicting the Tribe would go 81-81 last year. That scares me. Also, Chief Wahoo is alive and kicking, and I did once say that this team had no chance of ever winning with his racist face besmirching the franchise.