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

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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.

New York Yankees roster and schedule for 2020

Yankees roster and schedule
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The 2020 season is now a 60-game dash, starting on July 23 and ending, hopefully, with a full-size postseason in October. Between now and the start of the season, we’ll be giving quick capsule previews of each team, reminding you of where things stood back in Spring Training and where they stand now as we embark on what is sure to be the strangest season in baseball history. First up: The New York Yankees roster and schedule:

YANKEES ROSTER (projected) 

When the season opens on July 23-24, teams can sport rosters of up to 30 players, with a minimum of 25. Two weeks later, rosters must be reduced to 28 and then, two weeks after that, they must be reduced to 26. Teams will be permitted to add a 27th player for doubleheaders.

In light of that, there is a great degree of latitude for which specific players will break summer camp. For now, though, here are who we expect to be on the Yankees roster to begin the season:

Catchers

Gary Sánchez
Kyle Higashioka

Infielders:

Luke Voit
Mike Ford
DJ LeMahieu
Gio Urshela
Miguel Andújar
Gleyber Torres
Tyler Wade

Outfielders

Aaron Judge
Aaron Hicks
Giancarlo Stanton
Brett Gardner
Mike Tauchman

Starters

Gerrit Cole
Masahiro Tanaka
James Paxton
J.A. Happ
Jordan Montgomery
Jonathan Loaisiga

Relievers

Aroldis Chapman
Zack Britton
Adam Ottavino
Chad Green
Tommy Kahnle
Luis Cessa
Jonathan Holder
Tyler Lyons
David Hale


BREAKDOWN:

It’s weird to say this but the delay to the season due to the pandemic actually helped the Yankees a fair amount. Because of new injuries and extended rehab from older injuries, the very injured 2019 New York Yankees were poised to begin the regular season with many key players on the injured list, including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and James Paxton, among others. It’s not 100% clear if all of those guys will be back and at full strength when the club starts play next week, but Stanton and Paxton seem like a go right now and Judge and Hicks are ramping up.

Obviously the biggest change for 2020, though, is Gerrit Cole, the Yankees big free agent acquisition last winter. Adding arguably the game’s best starter will take a lot of pressure off of the other guys in the rotation and ease the workload of a bullpen that, however deep and talented it is, could still use a break here and there.

With health, hopefully, not the concern it was back in March or last year, we’re left with a Yankees team that (a) has one of the most loaded lineups in the game; (b) features a much-improved rotation with a clear and solid top-four; and (c) has fantastic bullpen talent and depth. Last year’s team, despite all of the injuries, won 103 games. This year’s team is considered the favorite in the American League and, by extension, in all of baseball.

YANKEES SCHEDULE:

Every team will play 60 games. Teams will be playing 40 games against their own division rivals and 20 interleague games against the corresponding geographic division from the other league. Six of the 20 interleague games will be “rivalry” games.

Yankees home stands will be July 29-Aug. 2 (Phillies, Red Sox), Aug. 11-20 (Braves, Red Sox, Rays), Aug. 28-Sept. 2 (Mets, Rays), Sept. 10-17 (Orioles, Blue Jays) and Sept. 25-27 (Marlins). Their rivalry games against the Red Sox will be July 31-Aug. 2 (Yankee Stadium), Aug. 14-17 (Yankee Stadium) and Sept. 18-20 (Fenway Park). Rivalry games against the Mets will be played Aug. 21-23 (Citi Field) and Aug. 28-30 (Yankee Stadium).

The entire Yankees roster and schedule can be seen here.