It has been almost four years since the Indians last finished a season with record of .500 or better. The last time, in fact, was 2007, when the Indians won the AL Central with a record or 96-66. Since that time it has been all down hill for the Tribe,  81 victories in 2008, 65 in 2009, and 69 in 2010. Had it not been for a hot 7-3 finish the Tribe would have finished in the AL Central basement for the second consecutive season.

Bad news for Tribe fans: this season may not be much better than any of those.

Gone are the Cy Young Award winners and the sluggers of yesteryear. They have been replaced with the words; hope and potential.

The hope is that the potential will finally show this season.

Players like Matt LaPorta, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, and Carlos Carrasco all have unlimited potential, but have only shown it in spurts.

LaPorta has been the most disappointing thus far in his short career. The key player in the CC Sabathia deal, LaPorta in 162 games as a pro (52 in 2009 and 110 in 2010), has hit 19 home runs with 62 RBI while hitting a lowly .232.

Masterson, who was the key to the Victor Martinez deal, is entering his second season as a full time starter, and has shown that he can be a very good starter at times though his 7-20 record with the Tribe would show otherwise.

Talbot and Carrasco will enter this season with a chance to prove that they belong as they will be full time members of the rotation.

There is hope though as players like Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, and especially closer Chris Perez have shown the ability to be all-star caliber cornerstones.

With that here is a look at the way this 2011 campaign may go for our Tribe.

Projected Rotation

1. Fausto Carmona (2011 projection 14-15, 3.89 ERA)

2. Justin Masterson (12-15, 4.60 ERA)

3. Mitch Talbot ( 11-12, 4.01 ERA)

4. Carlos Carrasco (9-12, 4.55 ERA)

5. Josh Tomlin (10-12,  4.20 ERA)

Overview: The starting rotation may be the weakest part of the club. Carmona, the veteran of the group, may also be the most speratic of the bunch. After having a great 2007, where he went 19-8, he followed with 13 wins in the next two seasons combined. Last year, the 6’4” righty bounced back having a very good season, despite finishing with a 13-14 record. Masterson, as I stated earlier, is a wild card. He is very capable of establishing himself as a quality starter in this league, he just hasn’t quite figure out how to do it consistently, yet. Talbot began last season strong with a 3.99 ERA in the first half of the season, but was much less effective the second time around, with a 5.29 ERA in the second half. Carrasco, who was acquired from the Phillies in the Cliff Lee deal, will be given his first opportunity to be a part of the rotation for a full season, along with fellow righty Josh Tomlin who looked impressive at times with the big league club last season.

It seems that the key to improving the weakest part of the club is maturity, and with maturity, let’s hope consistency isn’t very far behind.

Closer: Chris Perez (2011 projection 4-1, 1.89 ERA 35 Saves)

Overview: Perez was lights out last season finishing with a 1.71 ERA. To put that into perspective, The Sandman, Yankee closer Mariano Rivera finished with 1.80 ERA. Perez has the ability to be a dominating closer in this league for years to come. He has the moxy, the make up, the insanity, and the arm to be a great closer in C-Town, and I project this will be a huge breakout year for the big righty out of The U.

As for the rest of the bullpen, Vinnie Pestano will be given his first chance to be a quality contributor to a major league squad, and will join Frank Herrman, Rafael Perez, and Tony Sipp in what could be a very good bullpen for the short and long term.

Projected Lineup

1. Grady Sizemore, CF (2011 projection .270 12 HR 50 RBI)

2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (.310 9 HR 44 RBI)

3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF (.320 26 HR 95 RBI)

4. Carlos Santana, C (.299 27 HR 93 RBI)

5. Travis Hafner, DH (.266 19 HR 63 RBI)

6. Orlando Cabrera, 2B (.289 8 HR 45 RBI)

7. Matt LaPorta, 1B (.240 20 HR 60 RBI)

8. Jason Donald, 3B (.273 12 HR 59 RBI)

9. Michael Brantley, LF (.287 9 HR 41 RBI)

Overview: The lineup has many spots that, if potential is filled, can give the Tribe a formidable lineup for years to come (or until there is a good time to trade them). Sizemore and Donald will begin the season on the DL, and when they come off will immediately make the team better. In Sizemore’s absence Brantley will play CF, and hit lead off which will mean Austin Kearns will begin the season most likely in RF. Donald was well on his way to being the Indians opening day 3rd baseman (though prospect Lonnie Chisenhall outplayed him) during spring training only to have a hand injury shut him down for the immediate future, in his spot journeyman Jack Hannahan will get the reps at the hot corner. The 2-3-4 hitters, Cabrera, Choo, and Santana are the heart of the lineup with each player showing that he is highly capable of hitting over .300, while Choo and Santana have shown the power to hit 25 homers or more. The wildcard’s in the lineup are Hafner and LaPorta. Hafner who in 2006 hit 42 homers and had 117 RBI, has not come close to those numbers in the past few seasons, due to injuries and loss of bat speed. LaPorta, as I stated earlier, could break out this season, and the Indians are hoping that is the case, but he just has not shown the consistency to make me believe that will happen. The more I see LaPorta the more I believe he is AAAA player. The type you see who kill AAA pitching but struggle in the big show.

Season Projections:

  • Carlos Santana will pick up where he left off and have a very productive season
  • Santana and closer Chris Perez will be All-Stars
  • Hafner will start slow but then show improvement down the stretch
  • Prospect Lonnie Chisenhall will start at 3rd for Tribe by August
  • Sizemore will look like the Grady of old, but not until late in the season
  • The team will finish 76-86, fourth in the AL Central

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