Our team goes into the 2014 season coming off of a playoff (yeah I know it was one game but that’s the system) appearance, a surprising 10 game run at the end of the season and an off-season of more losses than gains. The baseball world is only focused on the losses in the off-season. Ubaldo is gone and so is Scott Kazmir. Joe Smith is an Angel. Our biggest acquisition David Murphy is a veteran but the excitement of the winter of 2012-2013 is gone. It is easy to predict that the Indians will not beat out Detroit for the tops in the division but most predictors have the Royals finishing a close second and our Tribe taking third.
This team has to love the position they are in. No one outside of the city expects anything out of them. The fans always have high expectations and as you listen to the team talk this spring training they feel like they are ready to make a run as well. If the talent on this team shows through, the Indians will make a run and potentially beat out the Tigers for the division.
Without question the starters performed above expectations last season. Ubaldo came back to his early 2010 self, Kazmir had a rebirth, however more importantly the young pitchers performed very well. A rotation of Masterson, Kluber, McAllister, Salazar and (insert 5th starter here) is not going to be tops in the league but will be more than serviceable. All the pitchers have swing and miss stuff and have had success in the big leagues. More importantly, the entire group has something to prove. Masterson wants to show he deserves Homer Bailey level money. The younger guys are trying to establish themselves as staples in the big leagues. Kluber, McAllister, Salazar and the rest should all have the fire in their belly to make everyone to forget about Ubaldo and Kazmir.
The bullpen was the weakness of the club last season. This season, if Axford can anchor the bullpen and be the reliable closer he can be the bullpen has a shot of being back near the top. Pestano will make a huge difference as well. Allen and Shaw will have to duplicate or improve on their performance from last year. Again, this group is just young enough to have that desire to prove to everyone that they belong. Will that be enough to cement games in the end? Only time will tell.
The lineup is my biggest place of hope. This offense will continue to get better. Carlos Santana not being behind the plate will not only help the team defensively but Carlos hits 40 points higher when he is not behind the plate. The wear and tear and the mental preparation that catching requires obviously effects Carlos’s offense as well. This year as the 3B/DH he should be able to stay strong and hit for a higher average. Swisher, Bourn and Cabrera all performed below their career statistics. However, they somehow were able to finish 5th in the AL in runs scored. Yes, the Tribe lacks the 40 HR guy in their lineup but all of the players in the lineup mesh together very well.
The secret ingredient in all of this is the near miss last year and the lack of respect that this team is getting nationally. I don’t think it is something that will ever come up with the media but behind closed doors this team has to be excited about everyone overlooking them. The talent is there and so is the depth. The leadership on and off the field is there. Now, the time has come for the Indians to get everyone talkin’ Tribe.