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Monday March 17, 2008 9:53 pm

Team Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Following last year’s playoff run, the Cleveland Indians are back and looking to overcome the Detroit Tigers and win the AL Central division. That may be a tall order considering the Tigers’ starting lineup this year, but the Indians may have the tools to make it competitive this season.

Starting Rotation: The 08 Indians rotation will be anchored by reigning Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia. Sabathia threw 241 innings last season, striking out 209 batters. If he can even approach his 2008 numbers, the Indians should have a win to look forward to every 5th day. Following Sabathia in the rotation will be Fausto Carmona, Paul Byrd, Jake Westbrook and either Aaron Laffey Cliff Lee or Jeremy Sowers. You’d figure that if Laffey were to win the spot, Cleveland would make Lee and Sowers available for trades.

Bullpen: Joe Borowski somehow managed to save 45 games with a 5.07 ERA last season. Dominant set-up man Rafael Betancourt had a 1.47 ERA last season, striking out 80 batters in 79 innings. Lefties Rafael Perez and Aaron Fultz provide very good lefty-lefty matchups out of the bullpen. Japanese imports Masahide Kobayashi has been very good as of yet in Spring Training, but nobody really knows what he’ll provide in 2008, his first big league season.

Starting Lineup: Center fielder Grady Sizemore will be the most productive player in the 2008 Indians lineup. Last season he hit 24 bombs, swiped 33 bags and hit 78 RBI’s out of the leadoff slot. Left fielder David Delucci may not hold down an everyday job for long; if he doesn’t hit lefties he could find himself in a platoon with Jason Michaels. Right fielder Franklin Gutierrez had 72 hits in 271 at-bats last season. The infield is solid; Casey Blake should be good for 20 home runs, Jhonny Peralta hit 21 home runs with 72 RBI’s last season, and at 25 years old still has an upside. Asdrubal Cabrera had a strong second half of the season last year, he’ll start everyday at second. And first baseman Ryan Garko will have his first full season holding down an everyday job. He hit 21 home runs with a .289 average last season. The DH Travis Hafner could hit over 40 home runs, and catcher Victor Martinez hit 25 home runs with 114 RBI’s last season and keeps getting better.

Bench: Jamey Carroll should be the utility man this season, he can fill in at pretty much anywhere on the field. Prospect Andy Marte will likely spend the majority of the season in AAA, but should get some on the job training at third base this season with the big club. Backup catcher Kelly Shoppach hit 7 home runs last year, and is solid defensively. Young Josh Barfield will have to produce at the Major League level this season or could find himself in the Minor Leagues after logging 959 total big league at-bats in the last 2 seasons.

Overall: The Indians will likely finish in 2nd place in the AL Central Division to the Detroit Tigers, but could very well get in the playoffs if they win the wildcard. The starting rotation will have to hold up, and the offense will have to provide run support. I don’t think any offense in baseball can compare to the offense of the Detroit Tigers, but the Indians will be a solid all around club in 2008. Expect to see them in the post-season.

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