(GLENDALE, Ariz.) – While the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox met in a Cactus League exhibition game at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday afternoon I began thinking about the 2013 MLB season. Most of my thoughts surrounded the Tribe, but there were a few other random baseball thoughts included too.
Opening Day is less than a week away for the Indians and while their roster appears to be set, there are some things worth noting when it comes to their upcoming season.
Check out some of the random thoughts I was pondering during the Indians 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox in a spring training exhibition game.
1. Tough start, no problem: Right out of the gate the folks in charge of MLB scheduling did not do the Indians any favors when it comes to the 2013 regular season. Once the Tribe opens their 2013 campaign in Toronto on Tuesday, April 2 their next off day does not come until Monday, April 15. On top of that, the Indians have three games against the Blue Jays, followed by three in St. Petersburg against the Rays; then it’s a 10-game homestand which will feature a trio of series with the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. We might know just how good this Indians baseball team is by that first off day in the middle of April. That may be premature, but the Tribe is certainly getting quite the measuring stick to open their season. However, in talks with manager Terry Francona and even closer Chris Perez, the Indians do not mind it at all. Both Francona and Perez pointed to the fact that you won’t really know how good teams are until the middle of the season.
2. AL-Central Division projection: This is pretty simple. Based off of last season, offseason moves and seven weeks of spring training I’ve been able to handicap what the American League’s Central Division could look like come the end of September. You would have to be clinically insane not to pick the Detroit Tigers as the favorite. The “Motor City Kitties” welcome back the majority of impact players featured on a club that went to the World Series a year ago as well as Victor Martinez and newly acquired veteran outfielder Torii Hunter. On the other end of the spectrum I see the Minnesota Twins finishing last. After that, the combination of the other three teams could go any which way, but I’ll take a stab predicting this wacky division. 1. Tigers 2. Indians 3. Royals 4. White Sox 5. Twins – I should just pick names out of a hat instead.
Getting back 1B/DH Victor Martinez should only help the Tigers and their chances of winning a third-straight Central Division title. AP photo
3. McGuiness sent back to Rangers: During this spring training exhibition contest between the Tribe and Pale Hose the club announced that 1B Chris McGuiness was returned to the Texas Rangers. McGuiness was a Rule 5 Draft selection for the Tribe however since he was not set to break camp with the big league club he was sent back to Texas. The Indians 40-man roster now sits at 39, but it is believed that utility man Ryan Raburn will take that spot when he is officially added to the roster before Opening Day.
4. Bring on the Yankees: Ever since the 2013 schedule was announced people in Cleveland complained about the fact that the New York Yankees open up the Tribe’s home slate and never return throughout the season. I’m still trying to understand the problem with this. Yes, the opener is a sellout and you would have sold it out anyway, but when is the last time the Yankees played a meaningful game in Cleveland? It seems like the past few seasons by the time they arrive to C-town, the Indians were already out of contention. We may as well see the ‘Yanks when it means something. On top of that, New York is banged up right now with no Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson or Mark Teixeira expected by April 8. Play them now, before they figure things out as they typically do come season’s end. Plus, it’ll be fun seeing Travis Hafner in pinstripes for the Cleveland opener…pretty fitting.
5. Dice-K Matsuzaka looking solid: Yes, the Japanese right-hander has agreed to go to Triple-A Columbus with the Indians…but at some point I’m convinced we could see him in Cleveland. Not only are there a ton of question marks surrounding the Tribe’s starting rotation, but it appears Dice-K is ramping up his innings and during Wednesday’s exhibition contest against the White Sox he looked sharp against Chicago’s “A” lineup. Matsuzaka went 5 1/3 innings, allowed five hits and two runs while striking out three. Matsuzaka is staying with the Indians because of his familiarity with Francona and a few relationships he has already built with teammates. Am I saying he’ll get back to the guy who won 18 games in 2008? No, absolutely not. But do I believe he can help this current club at some point during the 2013 campaign? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Tribe closer Chris Perez will be ready for Opening Day and understands how vital it is for the Indians to play well within the Central Division. Photo courtesy MLB.com
6. Divisional play is crucial: As always the Indians will see all five teams in the American League’s Central Division 18 different times throughout the 2013 season. Tribe closer Chris Perez said it best Wednesday morning: “It’s always competitive, it seems like if we beat up on the White Sox or the Tigers, they beat up on the Twins and it just always seems like we all beat up on each other. So I think that’s the key if we want to be in this thing, we’re going to have to start playing well against the White Sox and the Twins really.” It does feel like bad Minnesota teams have had the Tribe’s number in recent years. The Indians must play well in the division, that’s common sense, but at least they're aware of it.
7. Cord Phelps: Similar to Dice-K, you will not see utility man Cord Phelps on the Indians Opening Day 25-man roster, but I am of the belief that we will see Phelps contributing to this current Indians club at some point during the 2013 season. Phelps enjoyed an awesome spring camp in which he proved to manager Terry Francona and the front office that he could be the club’s utility man for the future. Now, Ryan Raburn is certainly deserving of a chance to help the Tribe in a utility role, however Phelps can fill that role in years to come. His great spring camp proved that to the Tribe.
Cord Phelps will not open the 2013 season with the Indians, but his great spring training performance showed the organization that he can be a future utility man. AP photo
8. Concern with Myers: I learned early on in my career on the beat, you never look too deep into spring training pitching outings, but right-hander Brett Myers is going to have to pitch very well to erase what we’ve seen from him in a few exhibition outings. The Indians spent $7 million on Myers so he is a crucial piece to their starting five, but I don’t blame Tribe fans for their concern over Cleveland’s No. 3 starter. In 16 innings during Cactus League play Myers has surrendered 33 hits and 20 runs while walking 8 batters. Yikes! It could just be stamina and the transition back to being a starter after spending an entire season in the bullpen…let’s hope. The starting rotation already has enough question marks with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, now you add Myers to the mix and you begin to realize why starting pitching may in fact dictate how good or bad this club is come the end of September. Let’s put it this way, I’m not worried about Myers, but it might not hurt to keep a close eye on him as this season begins.
9. Francona: It is like night and day what Indians players think of current manager Terry Francona as opposed to former skipper Manny Acta. Instant credibility and respect go along with “Tito” and that is something that was lost over the past three seasons with Acta. So far he’s been a pleasure to deal with from a media perspective, players love him and he knows when to have a little fun (i.e. see Tribe Shake video & TERRi video). A manager cannot get you to the MLB Playoffs and back atop the AL-Central all by himself, but he can put the proper pieces into position in order to do so…I think eventually Francona will do that here with Cleveland.
10. Time to go: Yep, it is time to start the regular season. Fans are ready, players are ready, Francona and his staff are ready and I know us guys that cover this club everyday are ready. Spring training was seven weeks this year due to the World Baseball Classic and when you couple that with the fact that spring camp is probably too long as it is, you begin to understand why the suitcases are already packed and people are ready to ditch Goodyear for a trip back North. Everybody has the “itch”.
- Nick Camino