The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Indians Indians Archive The Weekend Wrap
Written by Brian McPeek

Brian McPeek

glass-half-fullSo much space and so little to write about. This is the dead zone of the sporting year. Fittingly, the Cavaliers, Cleveland State Vikings and Ohio State Buckeyes combined with Mother Nature to contribute mightily toward that deathly and desolate image that February is famous for in Northeast Ohio.

But there’s life elsewhere. In Goodyear, AZ the 2012 Tribe is in an embryonic stage. After a 7-week gestation period in the desert we’ll start to see what that baby looks like. So we have that look to forward to.

Ifs and Buts…

If you start with the thinking that the Indians are roughly a .500 team based on last season I’m not sure it’s unfair to say that with some growth here and some development there, along with some good fortune, that they can’t be an 86-88 win team that challenges for a wild card spot in the American League.

But damn if it’s not a lot of optimistic prognosticating that goes into those 88 wins. To wit:

UbaldoJimenezClevelandIndiansvDetroitmp9GnYe-WdSl~ The Indians need Ubaldo Jiminez to return to his pre-2011 form. If the Tribe gets 2010 Ubaldo as a leader in the rotation it will go a long way toward helping the Tribe top four starters reach the 50-55 wins I see being  required to contend for the playoffs. If Jiminez, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin can win those 50 games between them then the bullpen and the fifth starter should win enough games to get you where you need to be.

The bullpen last season won approximately 30 games and no Tribe starter won more than 12 (Tomlin and Masterson). Get to 50 with the front four and then get what you get from Jeanmar Gomez or David Huff  and whomever fills that fifth starter role this season and you could be in business.

If the Tribe gets 2011 Ubaldo instead? Well, let’s just say we’ll be hearing more about Alex White and Drew Pomeranz than we ever heard about them while they were in the Tribe organization.

~ If the Indians take advantage of the AL Central they’ll do real damage against weak teams in Kansas City, Minnesota and Chicago. The Tribe will face off against the weak sisters 54 times in 2012. Kansas City is going to be a bear in a couple years if the normal percentage of prospects pan out, simply because they are loaded with what looks like young, impactful talent. But they’re there for the taking this season as those kids develop and as they seek to find some pitching to go with it.

Chicago is in a rebuild and turned the car keys over to an untested first-time manager in Robin Ventura. Minnesota is a different case in that you know their manager knows what he’s doing but you’re not sure what (if anything) you’re going to get out of Justin Morneau, if Joe Mauer will play more games than he misses and how you replace Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan.

The Indians simply have to win 35 games against those three teams if they’d like to play meaningful games into September. They were 36-36 against the AL Central and they were an embarrassing 7-11 against the White Sox, a team that had all but mailed it in early in the season.

The Tribe also has to find a way to play the Tigers more evenly than the 6-12 they posted last season. And even that dismal season result included a three game sweep of the Kitties in April.

The division is in flux. The Tribe needs to take advantage in 2012.

~ The Indians are in desperate need of development from their young Major League players. It’s hard to ask a great deal more from Carlos Santana after his strong offensive 2011 but that’s what the Indians need from him. He needs to improve upon his .239 batting average and he needs to develop some situational awareness in terms of looking to put balls in play and cut down on a swing that cost him strikeouts in 20% of his 2011 at bats. If Santana can continue to improve as he has in his couple of seasons in Cleveland he should be able to reach the 30-35 HR mark and lift his OPS beyond the .800 range he reached last season.

They also need Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis to prove themselves to be legitimate Major League producers in 2012. There are no reinforcements waiting in a gutted farm system and, for the same reason, there’s no trade chips to go get offensive production midway through the year.

chisenhallChisenhall got appreciably better each month after his June call-up. You’d expect that as his comfort level grew and he felt his way through the league. You could also argue that his big September/October improvement (where he went .279/.295/.465 with four of his seven HRs) was the result of him facing September call-ups and guys he was already either familiar with or better than. Chisenhall needs to get off to a fast start for another reason: he needs to make sure no one in the organization is tempted to put Jack Hannahan at 3B regularly. I’m aware Chisenhall wears a garbage can lid on his left hand but he needs to play and produce offensively for the Tribe to score runs. I love Jack Hannahan. In fact, I love him enough to want to see him regularly: in the 9th inning of close games.

Kipnis is a different story. If you extrapolated his numbers out across an entire season he would have led the Indians in OPS and probably would have qualified as the most productive hitter in the lineup. He was performing that well when injuries cost him what was left of his season. What the Tribe can’t afford is a big regression from Kipnis and he too needs to improve defensively.

~ The Indians also need to get a similar level of productivity and efficiency from their bullpen. The pen was a strength in 2011, earlier in the season more so than late when some guys got dinged and tired, the Indians will benefit immensely if the same guys in the same roles throw up the same kind of numbers in 2012. Nothing can submarine a season like the bullpen going to  hell in a handbasket.

~ One of the areas where those bearish on the Indians need to focus is on Shin-Soo Choo. Choo had a miserable season last year and that was an anomaly (we hope and believe). Not only was Choo hurt for half the season but his DUI and various other issues contributed to a .259/.344/.390 line with only 8 HRs and 36 RBI. In each of the two seasons before 2011 Choo posted two nearly identical ~.900 OPS, 20HR and 90RBI seasons. Getting that Shin-Soo Choo back would go a long way to getting the Indians into the thick of things.

~ The last item is a shot in the dark but if the Indians can get a healthy season out of either Grady Sizemore or Travis Hafner there could be some good times on the lakefront. You can’t count on either of them contributing big or for a season given their myriad of injuries the past few years but if one or both stay healthy (ifs and buts, remember?) you can’t begin to express what a shot in the arm that would be.

So yes, an improvement over those 80 wins from last season is possible and I just showed you how they’ll have to go about it. Whether they do it or not and whether you believe they can or nor is all a matter of speculation and faith.

But that’s pretty much something Tribe fans have in excess.

Crash Cart to Wolstein Center- Stat!!

What a miserable weekend for the Vikings. With control of the Horizon League and the league’s tourney being hosted on their floor right in front of them for the taking, the Vikings simply gacked it away with losses to Valparaiso Thursday and Butler on Saturday. Valparaiso beat the Vikings by nearly 20 points Thursday night to wrestle away control of the league but the Vikings had a chance to get it right back Saturday had the beaten Butler. They lost a close game to the Bulldogs while Valpo got mauled by Youngstown State Saturday night.

Valpo has an easier schedule the rest of the way and CSU will be hard pressed to win the league and get the home court for the tournament but right now Gary Waters and his staff have to have bigger concerns. Offensively challenged already, the Vikings need to find someone to give them a lift on that end of the floor while also making sure they re-commit on the defensive side.

And they better figure out a way to beat Valparaiso in Northwest Indiana now that they’ve probably kicked away any chance of avoiding playing big road games for a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Speaking of Crash Carts…

sullingerI hope Thad Matta and the Buckeyes got the message delivered clearly and convincingly Saturday night by Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team. That message being: you’re not tough enough or talented enough right now to challenge for a national championship.

Ohio State rolled over like submissive dogs against a physical MSU team that seemed to enjoy beating up the Buckeyes in Columbus. Ohio State was also more content to cry and whine for calls than to actually body up and bang with the Spartans. Following a poor effort against Purdue this past week the Buckeyes need to shake themselves and get their shit straight before they piss away the Big Ten and potentially much more.

Oh yeah…Jared Sullinger was as big a whiner as anyone on Saturday night but I’m going to have an aneurysm if I watch too many more Buckeye possessions that start with Aaron Craft giving the ball to William Buford on the wing and end with Buford shooting 2 of effing 12 for the night. I’m not forgetting or minimizing the big games Buford has had (he carried the Buckeyes against Purdue when they needed to be carried this past week) but living and dying with Buford’s shooting can’t and won’t be tolerated by me or most Buckeye fans if Sullinger is not at least getting a touch during the possession.

There’s no excuse to not get your All-American involved every time down the floor, even if that effort is geared more toward floor spacing than to Sullinger actually scoring the ball. But he’s got to touch it before Buford shoots it.

Lastly, It’s STFU Time!!

Stfu2This week’s STFU award goes to all those Cavalier fans who believe they can climb back to relevance and excellence by winning games this season, maybe qualifying for that all-important 8th spot in the Eastern Conference and just letting those draft chips fall where they may.

That’s not going to happen. You need multiple elite players (or a combination of a great player and multiple very good players) to challenge for an NBA title and if you’re willing to settle for anything less than that then you’re not in this for the right reason. The whole goal here is not to be first or second round fodder for real championship-caliber teams. The goal is to win one. And you’re not going to do that consistently drafting in the teens or later.

Yes, you can find an elite player anywhere in the first round. Just like you “can” win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. It’s just a hell of a lot more likely to find those elite players the closer to #1 you pick.  I saw a tweet the other day from that advised only 5 of the 24 NBA All Stars were NOT top ten picks in the NBA draft. That’s pretty compelling math. 80% of those ‘elite’ enough to make the NBA ALL Star game aren’t simply first round picks, they’re top ten first round picks.

That’s what the focus should be on here. Not, “Yaaaay, that guy hustles and that guy scraps and they deserve to be Miami’s bitch in the first round!!!” No. The Cavaliers have one player who may end up being elite in Kyrie Irving. They need more elite players. If Alonzo Gee excites you because he’s the reincarnation of Bobby Phills and if Tristan Thompson excites you because he can pick a quarter off the top of the backboard that’s fine. Enjoy those guys and enjoy Andy Varejao for what he is too. But try and understand those guys are probably the 6-8 guys on contending teams (if that). And also understand that Thompson is a 6th-8th guy on a roster who was actually the fourth pick in a shitty draft (and probably deserved to go there or close to there in that draft).

You need guys like Gee, Varejao and Thompson. They’re fine. But what you need to do is replace Samardo Samuels, Semih Ehrden, Ryan Hollins and Omri Casspi with a couple of elite players and unload the flotsam and jetsam that litters this roster.

Elite players win titles and you need a couple of them. I’m not saying you can’t get by going the Dallas Mavericks route with one superstar and multiple very good players. But you stack the odds in your favor of getting those elite and very good players when you pick closer to the first spot than the 20th or the 30th spot. And finding ways to accumulate picks or get closer to the top of the draft should be job one for the Cavs. If that means trading up there that’s fine. And if it means losing to get there then I’m fine with that too.

Oh Yeah...

Despite the weather, the weekend was warmer when my 14 year-old, Jessica, and her teammates from Spire Academy took down the U-14 Regional Volleyball Tournament at EastSide Volleyball. Very proud of the hustle she displayed and the plays she made and very proud of all the ladies hanging together to get a really nice tournament win.


The TCF Forums