Last year, the Cleveland Indians won 69 games and finished 25 games out of first place. This year, the Tribe is well on its way of surpassing that win total. As a result, the team has been atop of the American League Central Division most of the season. Cleveland has a young core of players and seems destined to be contenders in the game for years to come. Through trades of star players, draft picks, hires and excellent scouting, the Indians have built themselves a winning club.
Just five years ago, the Indians were up three games to one against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. This team featured a front of the rotation, consisting of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. The past two Cy Young award winners at the time. Because of expiring contracts and a lock of capital to resign these stars, General Manager Mark Shapiro and staff sought trades to build for the future. These trades brought the foundation of young productive players: Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta, Justin Masterson, Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo. These players, added with the talent of Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera and others, have produced a stellar 2011 campaign.
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Despite being atop the AL Central, the Tribe has dealt with a series of issues — a 2-11 slump , a fired hitting coach and injuries to key veterans, the Indians have seen it all. However, these injuries may be a blessing in disguise, as they have forced young players into pressure-packed roles. Thus, allowing them to gain experience for a playoff run in late September early October. The 2011 Cleveland Indians have yet to have their grade “A” lineup in place. But the team has managed to hold off a talented Detroit Tigers team with arguably the best pitcher (Justin Verlander) and the best 3-4-5 (Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez) in the game. Besides the Tigers, the veteran, but under-producing White Sox and pesky Twins are within striking distance. This experience is forcing the young Indians to hit at the top of the batting order in a tight division race. Batting at the top of the lineup and clean-up will give Brantley, Santana, and LaPorta an edge come playoff time, when these hitters will most likely hit later in the batting order. A grade “A” lineup for the 2011 Cleveland Indians would look similar to this:
This lineup (average age: 27.6) and rotation (25.7) has the potential to be in place for years to come. With contracts for the next few years on key players, few adjustments will need to be made. The bullpen can always be bolstered. Although, this year they are producing quality stats, and closer Chris Perez is on the All-Star roster. Also, the Tribe will soon need to replace DH Travis Hafner (too bad Manny Ramirez retired) and second baseman Orlando Cabrera, who has been an excellent acquisition for this group of Indians and always seems to be in a pennant race.
This 2011 Tribe has many similarities to the 1994-1995 Indians teams with Jim Thome and Ramirez batting in the six and seventh spots in the batting order. That team had veterans like Eddie Murray, Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar and Orel Hershiser to mentor these young guns. This team has the potential to rival the success of the Indians of the ’90s, and revitalize a sports-crazy town looking to celebrate sports success with the stigma of LeBron James and NBA and NFL lockouts still gloomy. Cleveland fans enjoy celebrating successful sports franchises. Through all the doubt owner Larry Dolan and GM Mark Shapiro have received from writers, fans and blogs, the Cleveland Indians front office has put together a Tribe destined to become a force to be reckoned with now and for some time to come.