2014 Cleveland Indians Season Preview

After a long, depressing winter in Cleveland sports, the Cleveland Indians are back and are exactly what the doctor ordered for the Cleveland faithful. The Indians are coming off of a very successful season in which they won 92 games, qualified for the playoffs via the first Wild Card spot and and brought the city together for a playoff game for the first time since LeBron James was in town. Fans all over the city are hoping Terry Francona and company can replicate the success of the 2013 season and get an even better taste of the playoffs this time around. An efficient offseason and a smoothly-sailing Spring Training says “why not?”

2013 Recap

Image credit to: nytimes.com
Image credit to: nytimes.com

Record: 92-70 (2nd place in AL Central)
Scoring Margin: Outscored opponents 745-662
Team Batting Average: .255 (13th in MLB)
Runs Scored: 745 (5th in MLB)
Total Home Runs: 171 (10th in MLB)
Team ERA: 3.82 (15th in MLB)
Postseason: Lost in AL Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0

Projected Lineup

Image credit to: bostonglobe.com
Image credit to: bostonglobe.com

Batting Lineup:
1. CF Michael Bourn
2. 1B Nick Swisher
3. 2B Jason Kipnis
4. DH Carlos Santana
5. LF Michael Brantley
6. SS Asdrubal Cabrera
7. RF David Murphy
8. C Yan Gomes
9. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall

Bench:
-UTIL Mike Aviles
-UTIL Elliot Johnson
-OF Ryan Raburn
-DH Jason Giambi

This is likely what the ideal lineup will look like for the Tribe this season. The only roster spots that are still undecided are the final two bench spots. Right now, it still looks like Jason Giambi and utility-man Elliot Johnson are the favorites to occupy them, but with Giambi’s recent injury and some strong spring seasons from other candidates, the race is heating up quickly. As it looks now, Johnson and his .364 spring training batting average secures one of the open spots, while OF Jeff Francoeur gets the call-up in place of Giambi, who will likely start the season on the DL with a rib injury. Two other key names to keep in mind for the next two weeks are Justin Sellers and Nyjer Morgan. Sellers has been on fire this spring, batting .471 to go along with a .571 OBP. While he has shown a lot more production than Francoeur in spring training, he is a utility infielder and it will be tough for him to make the team with fellow utility-men Mike Aviles and Elliot Johnson likely occupying two of the bench spots on the roster.

As for starting position battles, third base has been the main storyline this spring, while right field could receive some increased attention in the coming weeks. Carlos Santana has made things interesting with an impressive spring at the hot corner. Manager Terry Francona noted that Santana has “looked like a third baseman” in the recent weeks. Lonnie Chisenhall will still likely be the starter at the position come Opening Day, but Santana, along with Mike Aviles, should see a considerable chunk of time at third. As for right field, Francona could be playing with an effective platoon between Ryan Raburn and David Murphy. Murphy will probably be the Opening Day starter, but both should see about the same amount of playing time throughout the season.

Projected Pitching Staff

Image credit to: zimbio.com
Image credit to: zimbio.com

Starting Rotation:
1. RHP Justin Masterson
2. RHP Corey Kluber
3. RHP Zach Mcallister
4. RHP Danny Salazar
5. RHP Carlos Carrasco

Bullpen:
-RHP Josh Tomlin
-LHP Josh Outman
-LHP Mark Rzepczynski
-RHP Vinnie Pestano
-RHP Bryan Shaw
-RHP Cody Allen (Setup-man)
-RHP John Axford (Closer)

On the pitching side of things, it seems like everything is revolving around whoever wins that last starting rotation spot. At this point in the spring, it seems like it is Carlos Carrasco’s position to lose. That may be a bit distressing to hear for many Cleveland fans, but Carrasco has actually pitched very well this spring. He has pitched a total 7 innings so far, but has allowed only 1 earned run, to give him a 1.29 ERA. Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and Aaron Harang are also all candidates for the job, but they all seem to be a step behind Carrasco in the race. Tomlin, who has pitched to a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings this spring, will likely be moved to the bullpen to act as a long reliever if he does not make the rotation.

Otherwise, the rest of the pitching seems pretty set-in-stone at this point. Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach Mcallister will start out the season as the first three starters in the rotation. Terry Francona announced that Danny Salzar will actually pitch fifth in the rotation to start out the year, not to say that he is the worst starter in the rotation but simply to give him some extra rest to start the year. In the bullpen, the Tribe seem to be bringing back a solid core of relievers. Cody Allen, Mark Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw will be looking to extend the success they experienced from last season, while Vinnie Pestano seems poised to bounce back fro a disappointing 2013. Closer John Axford will also look to impress in his first season in an Indians uniform.

Individual Predictions

Image credit to: examiner.com
Image credit to: examiner.com

After a season where the offense was successful on account of its depth and consistency, the 2014 version of the Tribe’s attack should look quite similar. Nobody is expecting one of these guys to hit 35+ home runs or drive in 115 RBI or even hit .310 for the season. While there is some room for improvement individually, namely for Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and even Carlos Santana, the 2014 Cleveland Indians will likely feature the same consistently productive lineup that relies on the whole team to contribute, instead of being driven by a single player or two. With that being said, let’s look at who might be topping off the stat categories on the offensive side.

Batting Average:
1. Michael Brantley – .290
2. Jason Kipnis – .282
3. Michael Bourn – .277
4. David Murphy – .275
5. Carlos Santana – .273

Home Runs:
1. Carlos Santana – 25
2. Nick Swisher – 23
3. Jason Kipnis – 20
4. Asdrubal Cabrera – 16
5. Yan Gomes – 15

Runs Batted In:
1. Carlos Santana – 88
2. Jason Kipnis – 82
3. Michael Brantley – 75
4. Nick Swisher – 70
5. Asdrubal Cabrera – 67

Stolen Bases:
1. Jason Kipnis – 31
2. Michael Bourn – 30
3. Michael Brantley – 18
4. Elliot Johnson – 12
5. Asdrubal Cabrera – 10

As for the pitching side of things, the Tribe will be bringing back a familiar core of staff members, while featuring some new faces in other places. It is still undecided on what the final pitching staff will look like, but as of now, I am predicting that Carlos Carrasco will earn the 5th rotation spot and Josh Tomlin will be thrust into the bullpen. With that in mind, let’s see how the pitching staff might stack up in all of the major stat categories.

Wins:
1. Justin Masterson – 16
2. Corey Kluber – 14
3. Danny Salazar – 13
4. Zach McCallister – 12
5. Carlos Carrasco – 9

ERA – Starters:
1. Justin Masterson – 3.28
2. Danny Salazar – 3.58
3. Corey Kluber – 3.62

ERA – Relievers:
1. Cody Allen – 2.38
2. Vinnie Pestano – 2.47
3. Mark Rzepczynski – 2.74

Saves:
1. John Axford – 32
2. Cody Allen – 3
3. Vinnie Pestano – 1

Team Predictions

Image credit to: chronicle.northcoastnow.com
Image credit to: chronicle.northcoastnow.com

This is definitely a tough team to predict. Many “experts” from around the league are doubting that the Tribe can repeat what they did last year, especially with the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir and Joe Smith. But, what those experts fail to realize is the way in which this Indians team finds success. The Indians play a find-a-way-to-win style of ball that is often not reflected on the stat sheet. This is a direct result of Terry Francona’s method of managing. The way I see it, as long as Francona is in town, this Tribe team will have the capability to somehow find success.

Record: 91-71

AL Central Standings:
1. Detroit Tigers (92-70)
2. Cleveland Indians (91-71)
3. Kansas City Royals (89-73)
4. Minnesota Twins (74-88)
5. Chicago White Sox (68-94)

Wild Card Standings:
1. Tampa Bay Rays (93-69)
2. Cleveland Indians (91-71)
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3.(tie) Texas Rangers (89-73)
3.(tie) Kansas City Royals (89-73)
5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (87-75)
6. New York Yankees (86-76)

Key Questions

– How will the third base situation work out? Carlos Santana has worked extremely hard in his possible move to third base this offseason, but how will the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall, Mike Aviles and Santana unfold? Speaking of Chisenhall…

– Will Lonnie Chisenhall finally blossom? He has done it at the Minor League level, but can he convert his talent to the Majors?

– How will the fifth starting pitcher position turn out? Carlos Carrasco looks to be the front-runner right now; can pitching coach Mickey Callaway work some of his magic again?

– Who is due for a down year? Many people suggest that Ryan Raburn won’t be able to replicate his 2013 numbers, but will there be any starters that struggle this year?

– Will Asdrubal Cabrera bounce back for 2014? He is in an important contract-ending season that could really have an impact on his future. Will he respond?

– Can the Indians stay healthy? Possibly the biggest question of all. The injury-bug is part of the reason why 2008 was so disappointing after the ALCS run in 2007.

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While I do predict there will be a slight regression in the Indians’ win total from 2013 to 2014, I still take into account some positives. The Tribe will continue to beat up whatever bad teams happen to cross their path, specifically the bottom part of the Central division, and will even take a few more games than last season against the Tigers. However, I don’t see a magical 10-game winning streak at the end of the season getting them into the postseason for a second straight year, rather, it will be continuous success throughout the season that will get them there. The wild card race for this season seems like it will be even more tight than last year’s, as the Yankees will be trying to defy age and make a run to the postseason, the Angels will try to pull together all of the talent that they have on that roster, and the Royals, with their up-and-coming lineup, will try to get a taste of the playoffs for the first time in quite a while. It should be a fun season and the Indians could very well be in the thick of it as long as they avoid the injury bug.

Here is to a healthy and successful season on the horizon.

By Jay Cannon

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