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Top 10 reasons the Tribe still contends in 2012

Top 10 reasons the Tribe still contends in 2012
January 26, 2012
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Prince FielderWell, with the signing of Prince Fielder the Detroit Tigers certainly sent a shot across the bow to the Cleveland Indians for the 2012 season and beyond. But in reality that is all it was, a warning shot.

Yes, the Tigers are a major favorite to win the division now, but just ask the Boston Red Sox if throwing a bunch of money around in the offseason is any sort of guarantee for the postseason.

So while it does feel like a major punch to the gut, it does not in any way preclude the Indians from making the playoffs in the 2012 season.  Here are the Top 10 reasons the Indians can still be contenders this season:

1. Expanded playoffs.  As of this writing, Major League baseball is still debating whether to add a second Wild Card team in 2012 or 2013.  There is significant momentum towards the expansion happening in 2012.  Should it come to fruition this year, the Indians won’t even need to beat out the Tigers.  As long as the Tribe takes care of their own business, they can sneak into the playoffs while the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays beat up on each other in the East and the Rangers and Angels do the same in the West.  At that point, anything is possible.

2. The Arizona Diamondbacks.  Going into the 2011 season, the Dbacks were an afterthought in the National League West.  The team was given no chance to contend.  Of course when the dust settled on the 2011 regular season, Arizona had won their division over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants and preseason favorite Colorado Rockies.  With the Fielder signing in Detroit nobody is giving anyone in the American League Central a shot at unseating the Tigers.  Who’s to say the Indians won’t become this season’s version of Arizona.

3. Ubaldo Jimenez.  For the first half of the 2010 season he was arguably one of the five best pitchers in the Major Leagues.  That sort of talent just does not go away, particularly when a player is still in his 20s.  He is still only 28, and he has dedicated this offseason to finding that old form.  He may not be Justin Verlander, but when right Jimenez is not far behind and better than anything else the Tigers can put out on the mound.

4. Justin Masterson.  If Jimenez is better than 4/5 of the Tiger starting rotation, it can be argued that Masterson is as well.  Coming off of a breakout season, Masterson is bound to improve upon his win/loss record with just a little more run support.  Even with a slight regression, 15-18 wins are well within the reach of the lanky right-hander.

5. The Bullpen Mafia.  Their closer has a self-proclaimed arm like a cannon.  That is some pure rage to throw at any late inning threat.  To get to Chris Perez, opposing offenses must go through the matchup nightmare that is Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Frank Herrmann, Joe Smith, and emerging family members down on the farm.  Games can get short rather quickly if these guys get a team where they want them.

6. Jason Kipnis.  In the brief time between his call-up and unfortunate injuries, Kipnis was a shooting star in the Tribe lineup.  What he showed was a tantalizing glimpse at the potential this second baseman poses.  The man is filled with grit and armed with a swing that makes the ball explode off the bat.  He should be a doubles machine.  Kipnis will quickly become a fan favorite, making all of Cleveland "Kipnisses". 

7. Shin-Soo Choo.  Throw 2011 out the window, it was a season of bad luck and bad decisions.  To get a true feel of what to expect from the Indians’ right fielder, look to the previous two seasons.  In 2009 and 2010, Choo hit .300 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.  In the post-steroid world of baseball, those are simply beautiful numbers.  Expect a return to form this season. 

8. Grady Sizemore.  Yes Grady Sizemore.  Every year, the world of sports is witness to a feel good story of someone overcoming countless injuries to put together a season nobody thought was possible.  Isn’t it about time Cleveland had one of those stories?  It is already known what is possible when Sizemore can stay healthy, just look at what he did last season before the injury bug hit again.  His speed might be gone, but Grady can still hit for power. 

9. Carlos Santana.  He is 25 years old and coming off an impressive first full season in the Major Leagues.  And he is only going to get better.  He already gets on base and hits for power.   Chances are he increases his run production, reduces his strikeouts and becomes an elite offensive weapon this season. 

10. Asdrubal Cabrera.  On one hand it can be argued 2011 was a career year for the Tribe’s shortstop.  On the other hand, Cabrera is still only 26 years old and should still have his career in an ascending state.  He may never hit 25 homers again, but he is still one of the best hitting shortstops in the game and may only get better.

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