The Cleveland Indians have come out swinging...and pitching. The Tribe took two out of three in Toronto from the highly touted Blue Jays. I watched a ton of baseball this week and nobody impressed me more than the Indians. I live in Cleveland and it's refreshing to see the fanbase tapping into their 90's enthusiasm for baseball. With a strong lineup, exceptional defense, and speed, the Tribe is poised to be a threat in 2013. You only get one chance at a first impression and the Indians have definitely made their mark.
2B: Santana, C (1, Santos).
HR: Cabrera, A (1, 5th inning off Dickey, 1 on, 0 out).
TB: Santana, C 2; Cabrera, A 4; Chisenhall; Brantley; Bourn 2; Stubbs.
RBI: Chisenhall (1), Stubbs (1), Cabrera, A 2 (2).
CS: Cabrera, A (1, 2nd base by Loup/Arencibia).
In the series opener, the Indians defeated the Blue Jays by a score of 4 to 1. Justin Masterson got the nod and didn't dazzle, but pitched just well enough to get by. He lacked control and walked 4 batters., but only gave up 3 hits. Masterson needs to be consistent in 2013 for the Tribe to prosper. Starting pitching is the major weakness in Cleveland's roster, which puts great pressure on their ace to pitch well. Masterson succeeds when his sinker has opposing batters banging the ball into the ground. The Indians offense had no easy task in game 1 as they had to face reigning Cy Young Award winner and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. However, Dickey lacked faith in his stone-handed catcher, J.P. Arencibia, and he was leaving his floaters up in the zone. The bottom of the order got to him early. Lonnie Chisenhall and Drew Stubbs (who also stole a base) each drove in a run. The big blast came when Asdrubal Cabrera hit a 2-run dinger in the 5th. The back end of the Indians bullpen is very underrated. Joe Smith pitched the 7th, Vinnie Pestano pitched the 8th, and Chris Perez closed it out. Terry Francona could not have drew it up any better. The Bullpen Mafia trio surrendered only one hit over 3 innings and did not walk a single batter.
2B: Bourn (1, Morrow).
HR: Reynolds, Ma (1, 11th inning off Santos, 0 on, 0 out).
TB: Reynolds, Ma 4; Santana, C 2; Brantley 4; Bourn 2; Swisher; Stubbs.
RBI: Brantley (1), Reynolds, Ma (1).
SB: Stubbs (1)
In game 2, Ubaldo Jimenez took the bump for the Tribe. While Masterson has the pressure of being labeled the ace, a lot is expected of Jimenez. He was acquired by Cleveland in 2011 in exchange for prospects Alex White and Drew Pomeranz. You know if Cleveland is moving young arms, something big is expected in return. Jimenez pitched very well, exercising control for the first time in a while. He pitched 6 innings and only walked 2. Michael Brantley stole the show on the offensive side of the ball. The calm, cool, and collected lefty recorded 4 hits and drove in a run. Chris Perez blew the save in the 9th, but in the 11th, Mark Reynolds hit a game-winning bomb. The Indians pulled this one out, 3 to 2.
2B: Kipnis 2 (2, Buehrle, Oliver), Swisher (1, Buehrle), Santana, C (2, Buehrle), Chisenhall (1, Buehrle), Cabrera, A (1, Oliver).
HR: Santana, C (1, 4th inning off Buehrle, 0 on, 2 out), Reynolds, Ma (2, 4th inning off Buehrle, 0 on, 2 out).
TB: Reynolds, Ma 5; Santana, C 7; Kipnis 4; Cabrera, A 2; Brantley; Chisenhall 2; Swisher 3; Bourn 2.
RBI: Swisher (1), Santana, C 2 (2), Reynolds, Ma 2 (3), Chisenhall 2 (3), Kipnis (1).
The Tribe dropped the final game of the series by a score of 10 to 8. If there is one thing you do not want to challenge the Blue Jays to, it's a home run derby. Brett Myers started for Cleveland and got rocked. He gave up 7 runs and 4 homers over 5 innings. Like I mentioned before, the rotation is the main source of doubt for the Indians, especially the back-end. What the Indians showed in this game was fight. They clubbed 2 homers of their own in response to the 5 hit by Toronto. Mark Reynolds, for a second straight game, and Carlos Santana left the yard for the Tribe. They found themselves in a power contest with the wrong team, but showed that their offense is nothing to sleep on.
Taking a series in Toronto is a huge deal for the Indians. First of all, the Rogers Centre was jam-packed. Also, if a team is not used to playing on turf, their quality of play may suffer. I like how Francona has the lineup constructed. Switch-hitters Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher, and Carlos Santana break up the string of left-handed hitters that includes Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley. In each game of the series, Brantley had at least one hit. I am really starting to like this guy and I even picked him up off of the waiver wire in my fantasy league. He had 37 doubles last year, but will not put up high numbers in the home run column (6 in 2012). What he will give you is a solid average (.288 last season) and the possibility of a breakout season. I believe that he has the potential to hit 15 bombs and steal 15 bags in 2013. He also plays a stellar left-field. The entire Indians defense is very good. Bourn, Brantley, and Stubbs can all motor in the outfield, which should help out the guys on the mound. Reynolds (played the final game at first) and Swisher are both formidable first baseman and Asdrubal can be flat out nasty in the hole at short. The lineup possesses some speed as well. Alongside the 3 outfielders is Jason Kipnis, who stole 31 bags in 2012. If the power goes out for a stretch of time, the Tribe can generate runs in another fashion. Overall, I really like this ball club to compete in 2013. The starting pitching worries me and we will learn more about the back-end of the rotation when Zach McAllister pitches. Scott Kazmir was just placed on the DL, so we will also see if Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco can step up. The lineup is very balanced, although it does contain several high strikeout players like Bourn, Stubbs, and Reynolds. The bullpen is reliable and should hold most leads after the starters exit. Do not overlook the Mistake on the Lake this season. The Indians will be in contention all season long and might even sneak into the postseason.