The start of the baseball season is always highly anticipated.

Not only does it signal the end of winter, but fans can finally watch the game they love.

The shout of “Play Ball” is even more sought after in Cleveland this year.  Fans no longer want to hear about the doldrums of the NFL lockout, and the only thing worse than the Cavs’ record is their effort. 

Tribe baseball will also be a great vacation from the Jim Tressel woes and the disappointing early exit from the tournament for Buckeyes’ basketball.

While experts are not counting on a highly successful season for the Cleveland Indians, diehard fans are chomping at the bit to go to Opening Day. 

A new season brings optimism, hopes and dreams of Grand Slams, hot dogs and beer on a sunny day and winning baseball.

It is hard to know exactly what to expect from the Indians this season.  The Tribe only won 69 games in an injury-plagued rebuilding 2010.  Most likely, 2011 will act as a set-up year for the Indian’s real chance to compete in 2012. 

But there will be plenty of storylines to look for this season.

Wahoo fans are anxiously waiting to see how Carlos Santana and Grady Sizemore bounce back from their injuries.

Santana’s rookie season ended on August 2 with a scary left-knee injury on a play at the plate.  He is healthy and ready to go, but it will be interesting to see how long it will take him to regain his great natural hitting form.  Not to mention how will he hold up at the demanding catcher position on his knee. 

In a lineup that lacks a lot of punch, Santana’s offense will be needed as soon as possible.

Grady Sizemore is making a comeback of his own.  The popular center-fielder will start the season on the DL, but if all goes well, he should be back by the end of April.  How he performs after microfracture surgery is the million-dollar question. 

The club won’t push Grady’s return, but they will need him to play well once he is back full time.  

One thing to look forward to is the double-play combination of Asdrubal Cabrera and Orlando Cabrera.  Just what will the play-by-play on that sound like? 

It will be a lot of fun watching the smooth shortstop and reliable veteran at second base do their magic.

Get the highlight reel ready.  This will be a huge upgrade from the porous infield of last season.

The club also wants to see big strides from first baseman Matt LaPorta and outfielder Michael Brantley.  This is a huge year for both players to prove they were worthy of being the return goods of the CC Sabathia trade.  Both need to become the offensive weapon that the Tribe brass thought they were acquiring.

The pitching rotation to start the season will be Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Mitch Talbot. 

Sorry fans, no Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn on the mound. 

Besides the gritty Carmona, the starting pitching staff is highly unproven.  But on paper, the young staff does have a lot of long-term potential.  And more arms in the minor leagues are a quick call-up away if needed. 

It is going to be very interesting to watch the progress of the starters, and to see how many of them stay in the rotation all season.

And don’t get your feathers in a bunch, Tribe fans—it is only a matter of short time before Lonnie Chisenhall is called up to show off his pure hitting talent in June or July.

Overall, the Cleveland Indians will have the youngest team in the Majors in 2011.  That is a benefit for the future, but it will also bring some more growing pains this season.

As a fan, I cannot wait for the start of the season, and I will be at Opening Day for the sixth year in a row. 

I think it will be an up and down year for the Tribe.  It is a very important season, as they must show improvement and show they do have the core players to compete in the very near future. 

I am guessing 77 wins in 2011, but hoping for more. 

Baseball is back, FINALLY.

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