In his first season as manager of the Cleveland Indians, Terry Francona led the organization to its first playoff berth in six years. Virtually the same team that finished 68-94 in 2012, the dramatic turnaround was a pleasant surprise for the Cleveland faithful. With Royals making several improvements and Tigers expected to run away with division, do not expect another Cinderella year from the Indians.
Ubaldo Jimenez was the team’s ace but his and Scott Kazmir’s departures leave the team without their top two starters. Justin Masterson steps into the ace role and has displayed strong potential. He posted a 3.45 ERA with 195 strikeouts in 193 innings. His 1.202 WHIP would have been less had he not been among the league leaders with 76 walks. There are high hopes for UCLA product Trevor Bauer though he has struggled since reaching the Majors. Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber will also join the rotation. Kluber was solid winning 11 games but he allowed more hits than innings pitched. Salazar will likely start the season as the second starter behind Masterson. He had 65 strikeouts in 52 innings and Francona will lean on him to carry this success into the upcoming year. John Axford was signed to be the team’s closer. He had previous success with the Brewers and should help but has also blown 17 saves in the past two years.
The entire Indians lineup is filled with free-swinging spirits. Jason Kipnis and Claros Santana lead the young core as the team’s stars. Kipnis was an All-Star in his second full season. He led the team with 84 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. At 27, he enters the prime of his career and is poised for a breakout season. A possible 30-40 year is within reach along with 100+ runs scored. Santana had 20 homers as the team’s primary catcher. He split time behind the plate with Yan Gomes. Combined, they hit 31 homers which ranked in the top-10 for AL catchers. Nick Swisher is the most recognizable name in the organization. After winning a World Series with the Yankees, he chose to sign with the rebuilding Indians and instead found himself in the Wild Card race. Swisher has always had one of the best eyes in the game and though he only hit .246, he had 77 walks for a .341 OBP. His 22 homers led the team. His best years are likely a thing of the past, but he is a proven hitter and should produce another efficient year. Jason Giambi returns for his 20th season in the Majors. The savvy veteran had career-lows in all offensive categories but was a strong presence in the clubhouse and delivered in the clutch. Hopefully he can stay healthy so players can continue to learn from his experience.
Francona will realize early into the year the losses of Jimenez and Kazmir are insurmountable. While the two were not overly effective, they did throw many irreplaceable innings and as of spring training, no one has stepped up to fill their void. It would be disappointing if Bauer does not reach his potential. The offense is stacked but pitching is lacking in depth and experience. The team will be competitive but Indians fans should look forward to 2015 and beyond for October baseball at Progressive Field.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.