Weak Pitching Staff Could Doom Indians in 2010

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March 8, 2010

Weak Pitching Staff Could Doom Indians in 2010 As we count down the days until Opening Day, it is time to look at each of the teams on the Red Sox' 2010 schedule. Our sixth installment sizes up the Cleveland Indians.

2009 record: 65-97, fourth in AL Central

Manager: Manny Acta

Key additions: 1B Russell Branyan, IF Mark Grudzielanek, OF Austin Kearns, RP Saul Rivera, RP Jason Grillia, C Mike Redmond, RP Jamey Wright

Key losses:
IF Jamey Carroll, C Kelly Shoppach

Outlook: It doesn?t seem long ago that the Indians had the Red Sox against the wall, needing just one win in the 2007 American League Championship Series to reach the World Series for just the second time since 1948. A Josh Beckett gem and a J.D. Drew grand slam later, and Cleveland had begun an almost frightening descent through mediocrity to the pits, which they officially reached last season, their worst since 1991.

The plunge was so dramatic that Eric Wedge, the 2007 AL Manager of the Year, was replaced by a man who won less than 39 percent of his games in two-plus seasons in Washington. Manny Acta takes over for Wedge, who seemed to lose the team amid a maelstrom of injuries and poor pitching performances in 2009.

Do not expect Acta to take this team to the brink of the World Series any time soon, but a complete season from Grady Sizemore will help what is now a full-fledged rebuilding process go a bit smoother.

Sizemore?s 2009 season never got going due to elbow issues that eventually ended his campaign in early September. His average fell for the fourth straight year to .248, and his home runs were nearly sliced in half, from 33 to 18.

The 27-year-old center fielder will move from leadoff to second in a lineup that will score some runs. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo broke out last year, new leadoff man Asdrubal Cabrera hit .308 and the Indians have good young options in left field with Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley.

LaPorta, acquired in the CC Sabathia deal with Milwaukee in 2008, may ultimately wind up as the starting first baseman. Russell Branyan, coming off a 31-homer season, is also in the mix there.

Any pop out of Branyan, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner could yield an above average lineup, if the lack of right-handed bats does not hamper the attack.

The starting rotation, however, is a mess.

When Jake Westbrook, who has won one game since that 2007 ALCS against Boston, is bidding for an opening day start with Fausto Carmona, there are issues. Carmona was 5-12 with a 6.32 ERA last year.

Old friend Justin Masterson appears to be a lock for the rotation, and the remaining spots will be fought for by David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers and a few others that do nothing to incite fear in opposing batters.

Kerry Wood is the closer in a bullpen that disintegrated last year.

The 2009 Indians allowed their most runs since 1987. Before that you have to go back to before Bob Feller was a member of the team to find another Cleveland staff so giving. Unless there are dramatic improvements made on the mound, this current version of the Indians will be history, too.

What it means to the Red Sox: This is another one of those teams the Red Sox have simply toyed with of late, winning 17 of the last 22 meetings in the regular season. Perhaps that was why Boston pitching coach John Farrell pulled out of the running for the Indians' managerial position this fall.

We may see Masterson facing the Red Sox in June in Cleveland, and the clubs also meet in Fenway for four games in August.

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