5 things we will remember
Out of nowhere
Picked no higher than fourth in the Central Division by most, the Indians shocked the baseball world by getting off to an unbelievably fast start that had them owning the majors’ best record with nearly two months of the regular season complete.
Alas, injuries, an anemic offense and a red-hot Tigers team eventually brought the Tribe back to reality and out of contention.
It seemed as though a new day brought another injury for the Indians, who used the disabled list more times during the season (22) than any other team in the American League save the Twins.
A host of regular position players – Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley – and three members of the opening-day rotation – Fausto Carmona, Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco – dealt with injuries. That’s tough to overcome even with a competitive payroll.
One of the few bright spots as far as position players are concerned, Asdrubal Cabrera (right) continued his ascension to elite AL status at his position.
He was the Indians’ lone All-Star Game representative, reserving a deserved spot in the starting lineup when the Yankees’ Derek Jeter missed the game with an injury. The 25-year-old Cabrera also took on a leadership role as Cleveland’s best player at the plate and in the field.
Bully for the bullpen, again
For the second straight season, the Indians owned one of the best bullpens in the majors, getting top-shelf contributions from nearly everyone.
Closer Chris Perez was one of the league’s best closers, and the Indians were able to get to him, thanks to top-shelf performances from setup men Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, and for the majority of the season – Tony Sipp.
For one of the first times in years, the Indians were buyers, not sellers at both the trading deadline and on the waiver wire.
Bolstering the roster for a run at the division title and a playoff berth, Cleveland added outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, longtime Indian slugger Jim Thome and supposed frontline starter pitcher in Ubaldo Jimenez. The trio made Cleveland a better team, but not good enough to achieve the ultimate goal.
5 best players
Asdrubal Cabrera … shortstop
Though his batting average slipped to .273 as he tired toward the end of the season, Cabrera led the Indians with 92 RBIs and set a single-season club record for home runs (25) at his position. His defense was top-shelf all year long.
Justin Masterson … starting pitcher
The right-hander assumed the ace role in the first half and offered up an impressive season, carrying a sub-3.00 ERA for nearly the entire year before finishing at 3.21. His 12 wins could have easily been 17 with a little more run support than he got on a regular basis.
Carlos Santana … catcher/first baseman
Though he hit just .239 and didn’t dazzle at either of his positions in the field, Santana led the club in a number of offensive categories – homers (27), on-base percentage (.351) and walks (97). His walk total ranked third in the AL.
Chris Perez … closer
Though he struggled in some magnified non-save situations, Perez was reliable in his first full season as a closer, converting 36 of 40 save opportunities and posting a 3.32 ERA in 64 games.
Vinnie Pestano … relief pitcher
The right-hander wasn’t even a lock to break camp with the Indians, but he wound up being one of their best relievers, posting a 2.32 ERA in 67 games, while striking out 84 batters over 62 innings.
5 worst players
Chad Durbin … relief pitcher
The Indians thought they were getting an effective mid-to-late-inning reliever in Durbin, one of their “big” offseason acquisitions. He turned out to be nothing more than an ineffective long man.
Mitch Talbot … starting pitcher
After a promising rookie year in 2010, Talbot struggled mightily to open the season and was banished to the minors, where he remained for the majority of the year.
Ezequiel Carrera … outfielder
Speed was about all there was to offer from Carrera, who couldn’t get on without bunting and was a butcher in the outfield.
Matt Laporta … first baseman
It was another wasted season for the highly touted slugger who has yet to display much slugging despite plenty of opportunities over the past two seasons.
Fausto Carmona … starting pitcher
Carmona returned to head-case status, beginning the season as the team’s ace and ending it as one of the worst pitchers in the rotation.
We’re No. 1
There’s no doubt the fast start was as good as it got for the Indians, who had a penchant for dramatic walk-off wins over the first two months of the season – most of the victories coming in front of the hometown fans. They carried the comeback mentality into the majority of the regular season, adding some excitement to their surprising extended flirtation with contention.
‘I’ll be back’
The Thomenator returns: Jim Thome was back in an Indians uniform and all was forgotten for Tribe fans, who after booing him lustily for years as an opposing player, embraced the club’s all-time leading home run hitter. Thome, who reached the 600-homer plateau before arriving in Cleveland, helped the Indians at the attendance gate and still had some magic left in his bat, hitting a home run on the night the Indians chose to commemorate his 600th homer and career in Cleveland.
Who’s on third?
Yes, it involves Thome, but this moment needs a spot all of its own. In what was an extremely classy move from a class-act manager in Manny Acta, Thome was inserted as a defensive replacement at third base, manning the position for the first time since he broke into the majors with the Indians nearly 15 years prior. It was only for one pitch, but it allowed Thome, a probable Hall of Famer, to finish his Cleveland career where it began.
The revolving door to the injured list was almost comical, but not in any way to the Indians, who endured the pain of health issues at the start of the season, in the middle and all the way to the bitter end. It was the largest factor in Cleveland failing to remain in contention.
The Indians’ last chance to stay afloat in the Central Division race arrived Sept. 5-7 with a visit from first-place Detroit, which led Cleveland by 51⁄2 games. A sweep changes everything for both parties, and that’s what took place, the Tigers winning all three games and running away with the title.
Shin-Soo Choo appeared poised to have a breakout season but a slow start was followed by a DUI arrest that came just when the five-tool outfielder began to swing the bat better. It admittedly affected Choo, who dealt with injuries all season and was not the same productive player he has been in the past when he was on the field.
The Indians own club options on Grady Sizemore ($8.5 million) and Fausto Carmona ($7 million) and have not officially announced they will exercise either. It is a real possibility that the oft-injured Sizemore, a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove award winner has played his last game with the Indians.
If so, the Indians have to decide whether Kosuke Fukudome is an acceptable replacement in center field. Jim Thome would likely be open to returning to Cleveland should he decide to nix retirement, but Travis Hafner and his $13 million contract says that’s not going to happen.
The Indians lineup struck little fear into the opposition on a regular basis this season. Yes, it was depleted by injuries, but even at full strength, it’s not good enough to contend for a .division title. General manager Chris Antonetti said the team’s payroll would increase “significantly” in 2012. That money needs to be spent on offense, and one big bat might not be enough for this offensively challenged bunch.
Ubaldo, you bet?
The Indians gave up a lot to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez, trading first-round draft choices and coveted starting pitchers – Drew Pomeranz and Alex White – to the Rockies. Jimenez arrived as a frontline starter but fell well short of that advanced billing, going 4-4 with a 5.01 in 11 starts for the Indians. The right-hander needs to regain his No.1 form or the deal will wind up being a sour one for the Indians.
Coaching report card
Manager Manny Acta
The second time around was much better for Acta in Cleveland, where he had the over-achieving Indians in contention for nearly the entire season despite a host of injury woes. Bottom line, his club exceeded expectations with a second-place finish.
Pitching coach Tim Belcher
Pitching wasn’t the problem for the Indians, who got another quality job performance from Belcher. Unfortunately, he won’t be back in 2012, leaving the field staff for a more limited role in the organization.
Hitting coach Jon Nunnally
Not to say it was Nunnally’s fault alone. It wasn’t. But the Indians’ offense was one of the worst in the majors and he did get fired, so someone must not have thought he was doing a very good job.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.