Opening Day is Here Again

It’s Opening Day and that means one thing and one thing only… The Indians are in first place!

That’s right, the Indians currently sit atop the AL Central.  And everyone thought the Tigers were going to run away with this division.  It just goes to show that the experts don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Ok, so technically they’re in first place with a record of 0-0 but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.  Regardless, it’s Opening Day and that means hope springs eternal and I can’t help but feel excited about the potential for the Indians in 2012.

First of all, the starting rotation as the potential to be one of the best staffs in all of baseball.  Led by Justin Masterson, there’s no reason why they can’t become a force to be reckoned with.  Of course, there’s also the chance the rotation could blow up and be one of the worst as well.  Ubaldo Jimenez is coming off of a horrendous 2011 and didn’t look much better this spring.  Can he revert back to 2010 Ubaldo Jimenez?  That’s the hope.

Derek Lowe is coming off of a career worst year in which he posted a record of 9-17 and posted an ERA over 5.  Was that an outlier to a 14 year career that has been as consistent as anyone’s career could possibly get?  One has to think so.  Then again, Lowe is 38 years old and nearing the end of the line.  If in fact he can’t turn things around it could turn into another long season for him.

Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez will fill out the rest of the rotation.  Unfortunately, Tomlin is coming off of an elbow injury that ended his 2011 season prematurely and didn’t look quite himself for most of the spring.  Thankfully, he turned it around in his last appearance  and looks good to go.  Jeanmar Gomez on the other hand came out of nowhere to steal the 5th spot in the rotation.  Many had pegged that spot for the recently acquired Kevin Slowey, but Gomez had a different idea in mind.  He pitched great this spring, even dominating at times, and made the big league club.

Second, the Bullpen Mafia is back in full force.  As one of the better bullpens in baseball in 2011, the Indians were able to protect leads, when they actually got them given their run scoring issues, and thanks to Chris Perez, could slam the door.

The cast of characters will be the same for the most part.  Everyone knows the aforementioned Perez, as well as Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, and Joe Smith.  However, joining them will be two new additions.  The first is veteran Dan Wheeler who spent last season in Boston.  The second is a lesser known reliever acquired from the Braves late this spring, Jairo Asencio.  It should be a solid unit, but should any of them struggle or get injured the Indians have Frank Hermann and Nick Hagadone waiting in the wings down in Columbus.

Last, but not least, is the lineup.  I could lie to everyone and say this lineup is going to be great, or better than advertised… but I can’t.  While there are some bright spots that should perform well in 2012, the Indians have their fair share of question marks heading into the season.

First, the good…

Shin-Soo Choo is healthy and poised for a bounce back year.  Carlos Santana could very well emerge as a star given his power potential in the middle of the order.  Jason Kipnis may very well become one of the top young stars in the game if her performs how he did in his limited time last years.  Michael Brantley will get the chance to bat leadoff and further cement his status as a total steal in the C.C. Sabathia trade.  Asdrubal Cabrera finally got his extension so hopefully now he can be focused on baseball.

Now for the bad…

Can Shelly Duncan be an every day starting left fielder and continue to put up the kind of number he did this spring?  Can Casey Kotchman be a legitimate answer to the Indians lack of production at first base?  By no means is he a power hitter and has had rather pedestrian numbers over the course of his career.  What will happen at third base?  Can Jack Hannahan duplicate his hot start from 2011 and be an adequate fill in while Lonnie Chisenhall figures out his swing in Columbus?  What about Travis Hafner?  Can he stay healthy?  Can Grady Sizemore come back from yet another injury and surgery and contribute anything of value to this team moving forward?  Will the Indians ever acquire a legitimate right-handed hitting power hitter to fill out the middle of the order?  And what’s the deal with Matt LaPorta?  Is he officially a bust?  Will he finally figure things out in Columbus and come back to Cleveland as the hitter he was billed to be?

Man that’s a lot of questions.  In fact there’s a lot more questions with this team than answers.  But… that’s why they play 162 regular season games.  It gives teams ample time to solve these problems, or in some cases make them worse.  Which category the Indians will fall into this year is anyone’s best guess, but it should be an entertaining ride.

After all, that’s why they play the games… all 162 of them.

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