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Season-ending Reflections on the Cleveland Indians

A healthy Travis Haffner is a goal for 2012.

A healthy Travis Haffner is a goal for 2012.


If Indians fans were asked prior to the start of the season how they would feel if their team finished just two games below .500, they would have probably said “ecstatic.”However, the trip the Tribe took to get to their final record of 80-82 was anything but expected. In a season in which they lead the division at one point by seven games and then were behind by 13 games just over two months later, there were a lot of ups and downs in all areas of the club.

The 2010 season didn’t give fans much to hope for, so expectations were not high for 2011. But expectations quickly grew (probably faster than they should have) as the regular season started.

 

Offense

Let’s run down a few offensive statistics to see how the Indians faired in relation to the rest of the majors:

  • Runs 704: 16th in the Majors
  • Batting Average .250: 18th in the Majors
  • On Base Percentage .317: 17th in the Majors
  • Slugging Percentage .396: 16th in the Majors

As evidenced by the numbers, the Indians were not a particularly strong offensive team in 2011. Even though Asdrubal Carbrera had a break-out year and made his first All-Star team, it is rarely a good thing when the shortstop leads the team in almost every offensive category.

Much of the lack of production from the offense did have to do with the many injuries the Tribe went through. Most notably, injury-prone designated hitter Travis Hafner, spent more than his share on the disabled list again in 2011. Hopes were high when he was batting more than .325 during his first full month of the season that he was back to the form the fans had seen in 2007. However, this did not last and the city found out once again that when Hafner’s health goes, his bat leaves with it.

Hafner wasn’t the only Indian whose talents could have helped the lagging offense who was bit by the injury bug. Centerfielder Grady Sizemore spent three stints on the DL this season as well and even when he was in the line-up, he was unable to return to the form the team was needing. Even just when the Indians seemed to be making moves to get back into the race about a month after the All-Star break, their new starting second baseman, Jason Kipnis, had to be shelved as well, putting another hole in the beleaguered line-up.

Pitching

Just as the offense had its up and downs throughout the season, the pitching staff seemed to go through the same stretches of greatness and mediocrity.

Here’s how the Tribe pitching staff finished in relation to the rest of the Majors:

  • Earned Run Average 4.23: 23rd in the Majors
  • Quality Starts 85: 17th in the Majors
  • Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched 1.34: 21st in the Majors
  • Batting Average Against .263: 23rd in the Majors

Overall, the Indians pitching staff is very young and much of the hurlers’ problems during the last half of the year may be able to be explained due to fatigue in the long season. However, seasoned veterans, such as Fausto Carmona, provided problems for the Indians throughout the season as they seemed to be a completely different people every time they took the mound. In fact, the suggestion was raised by many in the area that the Indians perhaps experiment with a 10-man rotation since the pitchers seemed to have a quality start every other time they toed the rubber.

During the team’s early success this year, the team’s relievers became known as the “Bullpen Mafia” for their ability to come in a game and shut the other team down.

Unfortunately anointing them with that name didn’t necessarily mean they were as consistent as the real Mafia. However, the likes of Tony Sipp and Vinny Pestano were very promising and even though all of the relievers saw some hot and cold streaks throughout the year, the team should feel very good about their bullpen moving toward 2012. In addition to the middle-inning relievers, the Indians also went the entire season with an established closer in Chris Perez, who made his first All-Star team in 2011. Having someone to count on in the back end of the ‘pen is not something the Tribe has had for some time, and it should give them some sense of security going into the off-season.

Mid-Season Moves

Indians fans are used to being the sellers at the trade deadline, so when the front office decided to buy before July 31 to make a push for the playoffs, Northeast Ohio wasn’t sure how to feel about it.

The major move took place when the Indians traded for Colorado Rockies’ ace Ubaldo Jimenez to bolster the pitching staff. If this was all fans were told, it would be a great story, but unfortunately, the Tribe had to trade away their top two pitching prospects in Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, as well as additional prospects to get the deal done. While Jimenez wasn’t awful for the Tribe, he didn’t exactly light the city on fire with his performance.

The Indians also sent their starting second baseman Orlando Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for a minor-league outfield prospect. This seemed a good move at first as it opened the door for Jason Kipnis at second base where he immediately started producing. Although when he sustained an injury, it left the Tribe with an unfortunate and unexpected hole in the line-up.

Attendance

The fans did respond to the team’s winning ways during the mid-season run by showing up more consistently than they had in past years.  After the first couple weeks of the season, the Tribe were dead last in attendance, but at season’s end had risen to 24th by averaging 22,726 per home contest. While not fantastic, the Indians actually had an increase of more than 400,000 fans attending games at Progressive Field in 2011 over 2010.

Off-Season

One major improvement the Indians can hope for in 2012 is something they cannot trade for: health. The team has to decide if it is going to pick up the option on Grady Sizemore before the season starts or if management is comfortable looking elsewhere for a corner outfielder and  perhaps Michael Brantley as the full-time centerfielder in 2012.

The team also must make a decision of whether they are going to bring back hometown hero Jim Thome for another year. A move near the waiver deadline brought Thome back to Cleveland where his career started. Although he recently said he would like to be back, the Indians may want to stay youthful and that could leave Thome without a roster spot.

One thing that will stay the same in 2012 will be the manager as the team has already announced it has  picked up the 2013 option for Manny Acta, avoiding a lame-duck situation. Acta will have his hands full with high expectations going into 2012 as many feel the experience the team gained this year from being in the race for part of the year should help the young players prepare for success in the very near future.

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