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What is this team capable of?

August 30, 2011
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Asdrubal Cabrera (Photo: AP)
Ezequiel Carrera, Jerad Head, Jason Donald, Jack Hannahan and Shelley Duncan.

If I told you in April that these five players would start in the last week of August for an Indians team that was still in contention for the AL Central crown, would you have believed me?

Matt LaPorta, Chris Perez, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo.

If I told you that Carrera, Head, Donald, Hannahan and Duncan were starting, and that LaPorta, Perez, Hafner, Sizemore and Choo have all struggled with injuries and/or performance issues for a good chunk of the season, would you have believed the Indians were still in contention?

The obvious answer, of course, is no. But the reality is, despite all their offensive struggles, this team is still a legitimate contender (albeit in an extremely weak division). Despite the inconsistent offense, and the tremendous spate of injuries the Tribe has suffered, it’s almost September, and the Indians are still in the playoff hunt. I don’t know if resilience is the word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.

LaPorta, Hafner, Sizemore, Choo, Donald, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona, Mitch Talbot and Alex White have all missed time (many more than once) due to injuries.

Go ahead and compare these lineups. What we were expecting the lineup to be next month, compared to the lineup that Manny Acta will most likely field.

Projected September Lineup
LF Brantley
CF Sizemore
RF Choo
1B LaPorta
2B Kipnis
SS Cabrera
3B Chisenhall
C Santana
DH Hafner
Real September Lineup
LF Head
CF Carrera
RF Fukudome
1B Santana/LaPorta
2B Donald/Phelps
SS Cabrera
3B Hannahan
C Santana/Marson
DH Thome/Duncan
Projected September Rotation
Masterson
Carmona
Tomlin
Carrasco
White
Real September Rotation
Masterson
Jimenez
Carmona
Huff
Gomez
As you can see, not a single one of the projected outfielders is still available. The only infielder who still remains a regular is Cabrera; and only Masterson and Carmona are still toeing the slab every five days in the rotation. Every team suffers injuries, but this level of injuries is absurd. The only thing more absurd is that this team is still winning games and still in the hunt.

When the season started, we all knew that if everything went according to plan, by this point in the year we would be getting used to seeing Chisenhall, White and maybe even Kipnis playing everyday for the Tribe. But what we didn’t know is that when the Indians suddenly found themselves in contention they would push the envelope on these prospects, bringing up White and Chisenhall earlier than expected and then Kipnis after weeks of the organization telling us that Orlando Cabrera was the answer.

We also never expected that Kipnis would quickly catch fire, and just as quickly come up lame. The Chiz would struggle and then be replaced by a red-hot Hannahan. Zeke Carrera would bring us off our couches in excitement, and in anger. LaPorta’s ineffectiveness would render him almost unplayable and this, coupled with Santana’s laziness behind the plate, would provide Lou Marson a real opportunity for playing time. Donald would finally arrive in the majors in August, and actually hold his own. Indians GM Chris Antonetti would push all his chips to the center of the table by trading for Ubaldo Jimenez. Kosuke Fukodome would roam center field. Jerad Head would finally get his chance and Jim Thome would don the feather once again.

Of course the fact that no one could predict any of this is what has made this season so exciting. Sure watching a young team developing on the fly can be frustrating, but it can also be electrifying (just think of Zeke scoring from first against the A’s Monday night). When someone is developing before your eyes, you never know what you’re going to see, because you have no idea what they are really capable of.

And that’s just it. What is this team capable of? No one knows. Sure we could sit back and dream about a healthy team next year – but what about this team? This team that has battled for 131 games. This team that, despite all the injuries and all the setbacks, despite all the players on the I-71 shuttle and despite the lack of national media attention, this team that refuses to give up, refuses to count itself out.

What is this team capable of? No one knows, but I sure am excited to find out.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra). Use discount code 2Z6F362B to receive 40% off the book through the site store!

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