The Cleveland Indians decided several years back to rebuild their team with a young nucleus of players and it paid off sooner than they might have expected with their late run at the Chicago Whitesox in 2005 as proof. They improved 12 wins in 2004 from the previous year and they improved another 13 wins in 2005 to give them an impressive 93 victories. The Cleveland Indians were even more responsible for the Chicago Whitesox World Series rings than most people know. Chicago was sliding down the stretch as they had been out in front for so long and they began to grow complacent. But a late surge from Cleveland made the Sox refocus and got them back to playing inspired baseball. But Cleveland backslid in 2006 with just 78 wins.
Before last season, I wrote that I was concerned that the Indians could reach a plateau in 2006 after being the most improved team in baseball over the last 2 seasons. They lost pitchers Kevin Milwood and Scott Elarton who were large parts of a starting pitching staff which had the lowest E. R. A in the American League in 2005. I was slightly wrong as they fell off the plateau in 2006 with the reemergence of the Twins and the emergence of the Tigers.
C. C. Sabathia was announced to be Cleveland’s ace heading into 2006, but he was outshined by both Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook which wasn’t really saying much last season. Lee is dealing with an abdominal strain early this season which makes this thin staff even thinner. With the Tribe sending old faithful, Bob Wickman, off to Atlanta, the Indians bullpen appears to be in a world of hurt.
The bright side is that this team is still young and the offense appears to be in place with guys like Hafner, Sizemore, Blake, and Martinez. With young teams you expect them to play solid at home and struggle on the road. In 2005, the Indians were just the opposite. They went 50-31 away from Cleveland and were just 43-38 at home losing backers 13 units. In 2006, the Indians discovered how to win at home, but forgot how to win on the road. This inconsistency is the sign of a young team without a consistent pitching staff. With another year on experience under some of theses young guys’ belts, I look for the Indians to improve at home, but they will likely still struggle on the road, especially against the elite teams in their division.
Cleveland’s down year in 2006 will have the Indians playing the underdog roll often enough within the AL Central and against the Yankees and Red Sox out of the AL East. Even in a down year, the Indians were 19-14 against the AL East. If we find these boys as home dogs or small favs in Cleveland, we will be ready to jump all over them in 2007.
Jimmy Boyd is a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Read all of his articles at http://www.procappers.com/Jimmy_Boyd.htm