Indians should benefit from last season's struggles
This is the first piece from Andy Nichols, one of three new IPI writers that will be debuting over the next several days. He is a college student and will be writing about the Indians.
The Cleveland Indians went to the bottom of the eighth inning down 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox, the popular World Series pick among fans and baseball experts.
With the game broadcast on national TV, a young Cleveland team saw this as an opportunity to show the baseball world that it was a serious contender in the American League. In that eighth inning, Michael Brantley singled home Adam Everett to tie the game at 2, and the next batter Asdrubal Cabrera doubled home Brantley to give the Indians a 3-2 lead. In the top of the ninth closer Chris Perez shut the door on a comeback win over the vaunted Red Sox.
The date was May 23rd, and after the win the Indians held the best record in all of baseball at 30-15.
Cleveland fans know where the story goes from there. That young Indians team that captured the hearts of Cleveland fans came back down to Earth, and injuries and a lack of depth eventually took Cleveland out of the playoff hunt.
However, the final standings do not fully represent how memorable this past season was for the Indians and their fans. There were comeback victories, walk-off wins, dominant pitching performances, and jaw-dropping plays that continued to bring fans to a ballpark that had the worst attendance in all of baseball just one year prior.
Fans could feel the tide turning in Cleveland. People could see the excitement on the faces of the fans as they walked down Ontario Street and in through the gates of the ballpark. The magic had finally come back to Progressive Field, and people saw a young, hungry team that was determined to give the distraught fans of Cleveland a reason to believe.
After going a combined 32-20 in April and May, the Indians finished the rest of the season by going 48-62 to finish with an overall record of 80-82. That record was good enough for a second place finish in the American League Central.
The 2011 season had its down moments, with the injuries to core players Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, and Michael Brantley, but there were also plenty of highs. The bullpen was a key to the Indians success with the continued improvement of Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, and Tony Sipp, among others. The standout piece to the success of the Tribe bullpen was the emergence of rookie set-up man Vinnie Pestano. The 26-year-old right-hander wowed fans with his 2.32 ERA and his 84 strikeouts in 62 innings. Pestano’s 12.19 strikeout per 9 inning rate was good enough for 4th best in the entire American League.
The starting rotation offered solid performances of their own. Justin Masterson proved to be a reliable, top of the rotation arm. The trade deadline addition of Ubaldo Jimenez brought in another pitcher capable of leading a rotation and brings a potentially deadly one-two punch with him and Masterson. Cleveland’s ace to begin the year, Fausto Carmona, had his struggles, but has proven to be reliable in the past.
The surprise of the 2011 rotation was the fearless Josh Tomlin. The right-hander doesn't light up radar guns or blow anybody away with unhittable pitches, but he has developed a reputation for attacking the zone and not giving into hitters. In 2011, Tomlin’s precision pitching earned him a 3.81 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break. After the break he struggled a bit with consistency and came down with a right elbow injury. He did not make another start after August because of the injury and finished the season with a respectable 12-7 record and 4.25 ERA.
With all of the injuries suffered by the Indians’ starting nine, fans were able to get their first glimpses of top prospects Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis.
Chisenhall took some time to get adjusted to big league pitching, but in the season’s final month the third baseman put up a .279 batting average with 4 homers and 14 RBI. September showed Cleveland fans what Chisenhall is capable of doing at the Major League level.
Jason Kipnis added an immediate spark to the Tribe offense when he was called up from Triple-A Columbus in July. The second baseman’s first career hit was a walk-off single to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Throughout the remaining months of the season, Kipnis showed his pop by hitting 7 homers in only 136 at bats.
During the rebuilding stages, Cleveland’s front office said they believed that 2012 would be the year that fans would see the Indians start to compete for the division crown. What people saw in 2011 was a team that was ahead of schedule but ran into some tough luck with injuries and is possibly destined for far greater success in 2012.