Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here
Overall – 84 points (5th MLB, 4th AL)
Starting Rotation – 23 points (6th MLB, 4th AL)
Line-Up – 32 points (5th MLB, 3rd AL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 15 points (T-11th MLB, T-5th AL)
Offseason Additions – Jamey Carroll, Masahide Kobayashi
Offseason Subtractions – Kenny Lofton, Fernando Cabrera
Biggest Strength– Balance
The Indians are the type of team that can beat you one day with a great start from a pitcher, another with a 10-run output from their offense, and another in a 1-run game with their bullpen shutting the door. They are returning pretty much the exact same team that was a game away from the World Series last year.
Biggest Weakness– Closer
As I said, the Indians are a very balanced squad, but the one area they could use significant improvement is the closer position. Joe Borowski saved an AL-leading 45 games last year, but did so with a 5.07 ERA and .289 opponents batting average. He also had 8 blown saves and 5 losses. The Indians are again going to be in a lot of close games this year and need Borowski to be more consistant. At 36, and without dominating stuff, there will be no guarantees.
Key Player in ’08– Fausto Carmona
Carmona was a savior for the Indians in 2007. The then 23 year old wasn’t expected to do much out of spring training but ended up 2nd in AL in ERA (3.06) in 215 innings. However, Indians fans counting on the same this year should be wary. Carmona will have 2 things going against him this year. One, he no longer has the benefit of pitching to hitters who are seeing him for the first time, they will be able to adjust to him, and he will have to adjust right back. Second, Carmona is a high risk candidate for an arm injury. He only pitched 90 or so innings in 2006, but in 2007 that jumped up to 215, the most he’s ever pitched at any level. Many times with young pitchers, the increased stress on the arm either results in an arm injury or arm fatigue the following season. Whether Carmona can adjust, avoid injury and pitch to the level he did last year, will determine whether this team will get another shot at the World Series.
Player to Keep an Eye On– Masahide Kobayashi
After the incredible success of Boston’s Hideki Okajima (69 IP, 2.22 ERA in the regular season, 5 IP, 3 H, 0 ER in the ALCS vs. the Indians), the Indians went out and got themsleves a Japanese reliever of their own. Kobayashi, 33, had 20+ saves in each of his last 7 years in Japan. His numbers are similar to those Okajima put up before coming over and if Joe Borowski struggles, Kobayashi could provide the Indians an experienced back up closer.
Outlook/Prediction– 2nd Place, AL Central. The Indians have a lot going for them. They have the reigning Cy Young winner in C.C. Sabathia, who will likely put up another cy-caliber year. They have a very deep offense anchored by Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore and they have arguable the best reliever in baseball in Rafael Betancourt. However, I feel that they had their chance last year and will not get the same chance this year. Too many other teams in the AL, and their division, have improved themselves, while they are relying on getting the same production they got last year. This is a team that will be in the wild card picture (I haven’t decided on my wild card team yet), but if they make it, I don’t see them getting past the first round in the playoffs.