Play Ball!

Indians seem well prepared to build on last season’s success

David Hoffman, Staff Reporter

The Indians returned this week from a pleasantly surprising season that saw them win their last ten games in the regular season to nab home field advantage for the American League wild card game. Unfortunately, last season’s run ended in that wild card game as they fell to the Tampa Bay Rays. Entering this season, pundits have been mostly bearish on the Tribe, pegging them as a .500 team.

The Indians made a couple of adjustments to the roster over the offseason, particularly in the starting rotation. Gone are veterans Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, both of whom pitched surprisingly well for them down the stretch last season. Instead, the Tribe intends to roll with a much younger rotation this season, save for veteran ace Justin Masterson.
Masterson pitched well for the Indians last season, but after getting injured on Labor Day last year relegated him to the bullpen during the season’s final month. This year he will be pitching for a new contract, as his current one expires at the end of the season. He should be motivated and locked in for the Tribe, which would bode well for them.

The exciting player to watch for this season is Danny Salazar, who possesses an electrifying fastball and impressed scouts and fans alike in his brief stint in the major leagues last fall. He was so impressive, in fact, that manager Terry Francona chose him to start the wild card game. From pundits to fantasy baseball players everywhere, all eyes will be on Salazar whenever he takes the mound this season. Rounding out the starting rotation are Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin.

Offensively, the Indians bring back mostly the same lineup that finished tied for fourth in runs last season in the American League. The only notable change is the position shift for Carlos Santana, who will be playing third base to start the season. However, most observers expect Lonnie Chisenhall to eventually take back his starting role. That would force Santana back to his previous shuttle between first base and designated hitter. Starting catcher Ian Gomes signed a six year, 23 million dollar contract extension, to stay with the tribe, and Jason Kipnis has cemented his status as one of, if not the, best second baseman in the major leagues. After leading the team in RBIs last season, he will be counted on to once again be the focal point of the lineup. Even though the team has deep and balanced roster, their offense will ultimately look to Kipnis drive in runs.

Finally, the Indians acquired a new closer over the offseason in John Axford. Axford replaces Chris Perez in the ninth inning role, which should strengthen the bullpen this season. The loss of sink baller Joe Smith in free agency stings a little, but the Tribe has enough bullpen depth to withstand the loss.

With the Detroit Tigers still heavy favorites, especially with the 10 year $288 million dollar contract for Miguel Cabrera, and the rising young talent of the Kansas City Royals, the Indians will have to be even better this year just to remain competitive in the AL Central Division. The pieces are there for a return trip to the playoffs, but can Francona utilize those pieces effectively? Only time will tell. It’s time to play ball, Tribe fans.