Cleveland Indians' catcher Carlos Santana waits for his turn at bat during their MLB spring training baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale

Springtime Storylines: Will the Cleveland Indians build on last season or take a step backward?


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: Cleveland Indians.

The Big Question: Will the Cleveland Indians build on last season or take a step backward?

Cleveland got off to an unexpectedly tremendous start last season only to fade badly down the stretch, finishing below .500 and 15 games behind a Detroit team they actually led as late as mid-July. Despite going 33-40 after the All-Star break the Indians still improved by 11 games compared to 2010 and 15 games compared to 2009, which seemingly makes them a strong candidate for another step forward this season.

However, there’s reason to be skeptical. For one thing Asdrubal Cabrera is an even stronger candidate to come back down to earth, at least a little bit, following an out of nowhere power breakout, and midseason blockbuster pickup Ubaldo Jimenez hasn’t looked like himself since early 2010. Beyond that the Indians’ runs scored and runs allowed totals suggest they were more like a 75-win team last season instead of their actual 80-82 record.

Toss in the now-annual hope that Grady Sizemore can return to his previous stardom having already been dashed by knee surgery and Fausto Carmona’s status being totally up in the air thanks to the revelation that he’s not actually Fausto Carmona and … well, the Indians have some big question marks. Fortunately they also have several players capable of much bigger things than last season, chief among them star-in-the-making Carlos Santana, star-who-was-injured Shin-Soo Choo, and promising second baseman Jason Kipnis.

What else is going on?

  • Kipnis has secured the starting second base gig, but the Indians opted not to hand third base to Lonnie Chisenhall and instead gave the job to veteran Jack Hannahan. He’s an excellent defender at third base, but Hannahan is a 32-year-old career .231 hitter with just 24 homers and a measly .358 slugging percentage in 400 games. Presumably he’s just keeping the position warm for Chisenhall, but if Hannahan playing everyday is combined with Cabrera and Casey Kotchman regressing the Indians may struggle to score runs.
  • Chris Perez was brilliant while emerging as the Indians’ closer in 2010 and at first glance he was excellent last season as well, converting 36-of-40 save opportunities with a 3.32 ERA. However, his strikeouts per nine innings plummeted from 8.7 to 5.9 and his average fastball velocity dipped 1.2 miles per hour, which is a worrisome combination. If he gets back to missing more bats the Indians’ bullpen has the potential to be very strong with Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, Dan Wheeler, Joe Smith, and Tony Sipp in setup roles, but Perez is trending in the wrong direction.
  • Sizemore and Travis Hafner returning to their former glory is wishful thinking at this point, but Choo should be able to bounce back after missing 77 games and performing poorly in a season filled with multiple injuries and a DUI arrest. Prior to last season Choo was one of the best, most underrated all-around outfielders in baseball, hitting .302 with a .397 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage from 2008-2010.
  • Cleveland gave up top prospect Drew Pomeranz and solid prospect Alex White to get Jimenez from the Rockies at midseason, only to see him struggle down the stretch while showing significantly diminished velocity. Between his contract and the cost to acquire him the Indians paid for Jimenez to be an ace, but since going 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in the first half of 2010 he’s 14-20 with a 4.39 ERA in 283 innings spread over 47 starts and his fastball was missing 2-3 miles per hour last year.

How are they gonna do?

Based on the progression from 65-97 to 69-93 to 80-82 the Indians look ready to make another big jump this season, but instead their question mark-filled roster makes me think another season around .500 seems more likely. That should be enough to make another run at second place and perhaps even remain in contention for the division title into the second half, but it’s tough to see the Indians hanging with the Tigers all year long unless just about everything breaks right.

Video: Josh Donaldson and Keone Kela exchange words, benches clear

Josh Donaldson
The Associated Press
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The Blue Jays’ and Rangers’ benches emptied in the bottom of the 13th inning after Josh Donaldson barked at reliever Keone Kela. Donaldson had smoked a Kela offering home run distance but foul, then sent a salvo of not-fit-for-TV words in the right-hander’s direction. Kela barked back and both benches emptied. There was no violence and no ejections.

Donaldson apparently believed Kela was trying to quick-pitch him, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. That the pitch was quickly thrown didn’t seem to bother him any, considering the type of swing he put on the ball.

Here’s video of the incident at

Quick pitching has been one of a handful of unwritten rules getting more attention, it seems, this year. In August, Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa took issue with Mets reliever Hansel Robles quick pitching.

Royals hold on to beat Astros, even up ALDS at 1-1

Alcides Escobar
AP Photo

The Royals kept their foot on the pedal, rallying late to take down the Astros in Game 2 of the ALDS by a 5-4 score. The series is now evened up at one game apiece in the best-of-five series.

Ben Zobrist broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the seventh, ripping a single to left field to plate Alcides Escobar, who had led off the inning with a triple to right-center.

The Royals were down 3-0 after the first two innings and 4-2 after three. Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus accounted for two of the runs with an RBI double in the first inning and a solo homer in the third. Catcher Salvador Perez opened up the scoring for the Royals with a solo homer in the second.

Royals starter Johnny Cueto started off poorly but was able to rebound in the latter half of his six innings. Overall, he gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Relievers Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, and Wade Davis each pitched a scoreless inning behind Cueto to seal the deal. Davis benefited from replay review to secure the second out of the ninth inning, picking off pinch-runner Carlos Gomez at first base. He replaced Preston Tucker, who had walked with one out.

For the Astros, starter Scott Kazmir wasn’t able to escape the sixth inning, leaving with one out in the frame. He ultimately allowed three runs on five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. Lefty reliever Oliver Perez came in after Kazmir, but gave up two singles and a walk as his inherited runner scored. Josh Fields relieved Perez and allowed one of Perez’s runners to score on a bases-loaded walk.

The Royals are the first home team to win so far this post-season. The visiting Rangers beat the Blue Jays in both ALDS games played thus far, while the visiting Astros and Cubs both won in the Wild Card games.

The two squads will travel to Houston. Game 3 resumes on Sunday at 4:00 PM EDT with Dallas Keuchel taking the hill for the Astros and Edison Volquez toeing the slab for the Royals.

Cardinals take early 1-0 lead over the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS

Matt Holliday
AP Photo

Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday staked his team to an early 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the first inning of Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cubs. Rookie Stephen Piscotty had doubled with one out against Cubs starter Jon Lester, putting himself in scoring position ahead of Holliday’s single.

Starter John Lackey tossed a scoreless top of the first inning and reprised the performance in the top of the second, so the Cardinals have a small lead to open up their post-season.

Holliday, 35, posted an .804 OPS during the season but missed a significant amount of time in the second half due to a Grade 2 strain of his right quadriceps.