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AL Central Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Let’s knock off one more preview post before the weekend, shall we? Maybe by next week, I’ll have generated the energy and interest level to look in to the remaining Division rivals. Yesterday, we looked at the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL Central champions, the Detroit Tigers. For today, we’ll take a little peak at the Cleveland Indians.

If you had said before the 2011 season that the Indians would finish 15 games out of first place in the AL Central Division, not many people would have argued the point. But if you’d have predicted that would be good enough for second place in the Division, you’d have drawn more than a few chuckles.

Yes, the AL Central, outside of the Tigers, really was that bad.

Last Year:
Record: 80-82
Standings: 2nd place AL Central by 15 games behind Tigers
Playoffs: Not even close. Their last playoff appearance was in 2007

Players of Note Lost:
OF Austin Kearns, DH Jim Thome, OF Kosuke Fukudome

Players of Note Added:
P Derek Lowe, P Kevin Slowey, 1B Casey Kotchman, P Dan Wheeler

M*A*S*H unit:
OF Grady Sizemore, OF Shin-Soo Chu and DH Travis Haefner all missed over two months’ worth of games in 2011. And those are just the “headliners” that pretty much lived on the Disabled List in 2011. If the Indians are going to even sniff .500 again in 2012, much less improve on their record, they’re going to need to do a better job of keeping their best players healthy. (Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it Twins fans?)

Outlook: The Indians are likely to field a team with a payroll just a bit over half of what the Twins will be shelling out in 2012. Not coincidentally, they drew just over half the number of fans that the Twins did last season. Odd how that works out, isn’t it?

Justin Masterson was perhaps the sole bright spot for the Tribe in 2011. His W-L record was a pedestrian 12-10, but his 3.21 ERA opened some eyes. They’re really counting on Ubaldo Jimenez to live up to the expectations they had for him when they sent several prospects to the Rockies to get him at mid-season last year. It just seems that nobody really knows whether Jimenez is the top of the rotation guy he has looked like when he’s been on top of his game or the struggling pitcher he’s looked like most recently. (Again, this may sound pretty familiar to Twins fans.)

Of course, Twins fans will be paying some attention to another recent addition to the Tribe’s pitching staff. Former Twin Kevin Slowey has found his way to Cleveland, by way of Colorado.

Cleveland fans are hoping that Haefner, Choo, Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana can generate some offense, but obviously the front office felt the need to shore up the line up a little bit when they signed Casey Kotchman.

It’s hard for me to envision the Indians seriously contending for anything in 2012. In fact, their second place finish last year said more about just how bad the Twins and White Sox were, rather than anything terribly positive about the Tribe. I do give them credit for doing a much better job of fighting through their injury issues than the Twins did, however.

If they can stay healthy, Cleveland could contend with the other also-rans of the Division for runner-up status, but I don’t really expect that to happen. I think the Tribe will fight with the White Sox to stay out of the AL Central cellar this season.

I will say this much… as I look over the prospects for the rest of the AL Central teams that don’t play in Michigan, I’m starting to feel much better about the Twins’ chances.

Next up: Chicago White Sox

- JC

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