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    Baseball Told the Right Way
    In-depth Baseball analysis on various topics regarding the sport we all love!

      Wake up everyone.........
    ......Cleveland is making a run.

    I still like San Diego as the up & coming team, but I also thought it would take another year until we saw Cleveland push forward to the edge of Wild Card contention. Amazingly, they're only 3 1/2 games out of the first place tie between Boston, Anaheim, and Texas.

    Wild card? Hell, they're only 3 games behind Minnesota for the division! With Chicago struggling, and now tanking after losing their two best hitters, Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez, it looks like Cleveland is the legitimate 2nd place team.

    The AL Central is a weak division, no question. After all, Detroit was flirting with .500 for a while with a rotation sporting ERA's of 4.45, 4.47, 4.68, 6.03, and 6.14. Still, the weak division shouldn't take too much away from what Cleveland has accomplished.

    Offensively, they have legitimate stars in Travis Hafner (who leads the AL in RCAA!), Victor Martinez, and the recently called up Grady Sizemore. They also have relatively young, and solid big league talent in Casey Blake, Jody Gerut, and Ben Broussard. Former top prospect Brandon Phillips has started hitting in AAA (.317/.381/.443). He should get a September call-up and look to rebound on his ominous start. SS Johnny Peralta is hitting .339/.393/.518 at AAA. With Matt Lawton around for another year, the team could look something like this in 2005,
    1. LF  Lawton     
    2. 2B Phillips
    3. DH Hafner
    4. C Martinez
    5. CF Sizemore
    6. 1B Broussard
    7. 3B Blake
    8. RF Gerut
    9. SS Peralta
    That would be a very good team, and exciting to watch.

    On the mound, Crooked Cap Sabathia has continued his development into a legitimate ace. Both Jason Davis and Cliff Lee have the stuff to slide in nicely at #2 and #3, and Jake Westbrook, while not nearly as talented, has shown that he can be a solid starter if he improves his control slightly. That has a chance to be a very good (and very cheap) rotation. Which leads me to my next reason to be optimistic.

    Remember the Cleveland of 1999 to 2001? Lofton, Vizquel, Alomar, Ramirez, Belle, Baerga and Thome? Six division championships and two World Series appearances in seven years? The team with no place to play Brian Giles, Jeromy Burnitz, or Richie Sexson? Sold out Jacobs field every single night? Payroll up near the top of the league?

    Yeah, that wasn't too long ago. With the excitement of a much improved ballclub this year, and pushing for the division next year, Cleveland could start filling up Jacobs Field again, and be able to raise their payroll back up.

    And here's the real kicker: the Indians only have $23.5M committed to next season. After a few arbitration raises, that number might be closer to $25-$30M but think about that for a minute. $25M for the team above, and the resources and fan base to probablly spend in the $80-$100M range during a championship push. Wow.

    That tells me two things. Hafner, Martinez, Sizemore, Sabathia, Lee, and Davis won't be leaving any time soon. The Indians not only have the means to pay for their arbitration, but they also have the potential to lock them all up with long term contracts. On top of that, I bet GM Mark Shapiro is making a short shopping list as we speak. With such a young, cheap, and good team, he can afford to go out and drop $8M on a free agent, maybe a starting pitcher. He can also afford to go out and drop $20M on a shiny new bullpen.

    The bullpen for Cleveland has been horrendous. It's been better recently, but they've still blown 24 save opportunities, only saving 23. Now, save numbers don't mean a whole lot (if you count the 43 holds its much different), but that is far and away the worst % in the league. Their bullpen ERA of 5.32 is also far and away the worst in MLB, in case you were wondering.

    A bullpen is the last thing a contender should put together, as reliable bullpen arms are horrible long term investments. Even so, since the return of Bob Wickman and Bobby Howry, combined with better pitching from Rafael Betancourt and David Riske the Indians bullpen has been much better. Not suprisingly, the team has also been winning.

    Since the middle of July, when they were 4 games under .500, the Indians have rattled off a 18-9 record. They now sit 3 1/2 out of the wildcard, and only 3 games behind Minnesota. Can they catch either? I certainly don't think they are good enough to do so right now, but I wouldn't be entirely surpised if they did. It all hinges on the pitching. Davis and Lee aren't ready yet, but if they start pitching now like I think they will next year, the Indians will be a tough team down the stretch.

    Regardless of how the year finishes off, look for the Indians to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs next year. Depending on how the free agent market goes, it wouldnt suprise me to see Shapiro fix the bullpen and pick up a ace-arm to finish off the rotation. Save some money to get a corner outfielder when Lawton is gone after next year, and we could be looking at another powerhouse Cleveland dynasty in the Central. Maybe this one, unlike the last one, will be get their World Series ring.