Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 03 May 2007
After last season it was tough to imagine the Indians not coming out into this season with guns blazing and making a credible shot at the number one or two spot in the AL Central. So, a lot of people were very disappointed that by July that the Indians looked like a team going nowhere.
I was receiving e-mails on an almost daily basis detailing the collapse of the team, asking why Victor Martinez or Travis Hafner weren’t carrying the team, not to mention cries of distress over Aaron Boone or Kevin Millwood’s lack of success. Those cries have all melted away with the summer heat as Hafner (.317-22-81-73) and Martinez (.401-9-29 since the all-star break) kicked it up and Millwood continues to pitch exceedingly well (3.18 ERA, 1.17 WHIP).
Even those that thought that the Kevin Millwood signing was a terrible deal have changed their minds and are now wishing that the Tribe had managed to swing a multi-season rather than single season deal. Not that there appears to be any chance that the Indians will be able to retain Millwood since he will most certainly command at least a $10-12 million, probably more, as a free agent in the off-season.
And for all the Cleveland success it’s the pitching that is still the weakest link. From the starting rotation to the closing role it’s hard to be impressed beyond Millwood, though Jake Westbrook seems to be developing, Carlos Lee has become a big winner (14 Wins) and C.C Sabathia is always there teasing with his potential (5-0, with a 3.27 ERA in August). At the tail, or is that the fail end, Bob Wickman gets a uniform vote of no confidence in big situations despite his high save total (34).
So, while the Indians are contending for the Wild Card against teams like the Yankees and A’s their fans have to feel that the Tribesmen don’t compare all that well - despite the Yankees pitching woes. That’s not a cause for despair - no matter what happens during the final month of the year the team has taken another step towards becoming a real contender.
If the team does manage the Wild Card it would make for very interesting playoffs with huge offensive lineups as they would go head to head with either the Angels, Red Sox or Yankees. No rotation has a decisive advantage. But for now that’s just idle daydreaming - the Tribe needs to get there first and the odds are against it.
The future however looks great. There are few teams that have the overall potential of the Tribe for the rest of the decade. They possess a young core of great offensive players, some developing starters and an adequate middle relief core. What they’ll need is 2 solid starters, (one if they can somehow manage to lock up Millwood) and an upgrade at closer to narrow the gap between them and the top teams in the league.
The Indians will try to employ a pipeline strategy of developing and funneling talent that is largely home grown onto the field. This “game plan” is not unique to Cleveland but has been the guiding principles of teams like Minnesota and Florida for several years.
In the end it doesn’t really matter how teams like this develop the magic on the field but it’s really nice to see and root for a team that is largely homegrown. Maybe it strikes that nostalgic core in the heart of every baseball fan and makes us think of the days when we were kids and could name the players on our hometown team from memory. Whatever it is, it’s hard not to root for the men like Hafner, Martinez, Sizemore, Broussard, Westbrook, Lee and even Wickman who make up this incarnation of the tribe. They sure look like they are having fun and fun as we all know is infectious. If you doubt it just look for the fans - you’ll find quite a few in the stadium and in Ohio, but you’ll find that there are a lot who have never even been to Cleveland.