By T.J. Zuppe
With hope of contention on the horizon, the Cleveland Indians’ front office rebuilt a roster that badly needed an infusion of talent this off-season. An offense that struggled to score runs in 2012 was retooled and reloaded, while the pitching staff is looking to rebound from a less-than-stellar year.
Still, with the money spent, the players brought in and new manager Terry Francona steering the ship, the Tribe will need to catch some breaks in 2013 if they are to catch and overtake the Detroit Tigers and make a run at October baseball.
1. Catch lightning in a bottle
The Indians have been called “dumpster divers” over the years. A club without the same financial capabilities as others has to bank on finding a few diamonds in the rough. Most of those come in the form of non-roster invitees. A pitching staff with plenty of questions to answer greatly needs a hurler on the rebound - right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka or left-hander Scott Kazmir - to find themselves this spring. Both long-shots to regain their former selves, either could provide a bonus to an unproven pitching staff. Kazmir, viewed by some as the most intriguing player in Indians camp, could change the entire complexion of the rotation by regaining any sense of the pitcher he used to be.
2. Avoid the summer of strike-outs
The Indians are going to strike out - and strike out a ton. Adding world class whiffers to the lineup like infielder Mark Reynolds, outfielders Drew Stubbs and occasionally Michael Bourn can only mean an increase of violent winds of the shores of Lake Erie. However, with the added swings-and-misses also comes potential for more power - which ultimately means more runs. The Tribe will have to find a good balance this summer and avoid the long draughts where strike outs reign king.
3. Find an ace
All the offense in the world cannot overcome perpetually bad starting pitching. And the Tribe had it’s fair share of bad starting pitching in 2012. Expected to shoulder the load, righties Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez struggled to find any consistency. For the Indians to have a shot, both will have to discover it in 2013. Francona is hoping to work wonders with both men. Neither has an issue with stuff. Harnessing it will be the true test. Masterson was impressive in 2011. Can he be the hurler he was then? The hopes of this team finding itself playing meaningful baseball in September hinges on the club finding a stud to give the ball to every fifth day.
4. Develop a strong, energetic clubhouse
The sleepwalking Indians of 2012 earned their style of play a nickname in the second half of last season - Zombie Baseball. As the club floundered through a horrendous August, the clubhouse was sapped of energy and answers. Truly, they became dead in the water. The additions of Nick Swisher and Bourn should help remedy that. Both excellent clubhouse guys, Swisher and Bourn have the ability to jump start a team in need of a pick-me-up. Swisher is full of energy, never letting a dull moment get in the way of playing the game he loves. Bourn is an igniter and makes things happen on the base paths. Their style of play, coupled with Francona’s never-ending enthusiasm needs to push the Tribe through a long season of ups and downs.
5. Become the players we think they can be
All of the offensive additions should help two players in particular - second-baseman Jason Kipnis and third-baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. While Chisenhall missed much of the season due to injury after his promotion, Kipnis was expected to be one of the main three components of the Tribe’s success in 2012. As a result, Kipnis was worn down in the second-half of the campaign. With others now in the mix, both should be able to settle into a comfort zone - and hopefully - not be asked to carry the club. In 1995, the Tribe’s lineup was fortified by Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, two young players that spent the majority of the season in the lower portions of the lineup. Both thrived and rounded out a power-packed bunch. Kipnis and Chisenhall could have a similar impact in 2013. If both are going to prove their worth as future stars, their road to success begins here.
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