A brief look at an opponent we play this week (and all season).
Offense: Michael Brantley-CF, Asdrubal Cabrera-SS, Shin-Soo Choo-RF, Carlos Santana-C, Travis Hafner-DH, Shelley Duncan-LF, Casey Kotchman-1B, Jason Kipnis-2B, Jack Hannahan-3B. Bench: Jose Lopez-INF, Jason Donald-UTIL, Aaron Cunningham-OF, Lou Marson-C.
I'd like the thank Manny Acta for using the exact same batting order over the first three games. The Indians bench has only gotten eight plate appearances so far. Obviously that's going to change over our series with them, but until Grady Sizemore heals and subsequently reinjures himself, this is looking like the core lineup. Michael Brantley really shouldn't be a leadoff hitter. Sure, he's fast enough (46 SB in AAA in 2009) and he even plays a leadoffish position (albeit poorly). But he hasn't found a way to walk in more than 6.9% of his major league plate appearances and isn't a strong enough hitter to make up for that. We're looking at a hitter whose ceiling looks to be slightly under league average. And he's still the best return they received in the C.C. Sabathia trade. Asdrubal Cabrera had a monster breakout year last season. Somehow a guy five lbs heavier than me and my height went from only hitting six homeruns in a season to hitting 25. So how did he do it? No, not steroids. Well, maybe, but that's a lazy accusation and kind of crappy to say. I'd say hitting 7.3% more flyballs might have had something to do with it. His HR/FB% doubling from his prior career average didn't hurt the cause either. Remember that magical year Joe Mauer hit 28 homeruns? That's what this smells like. Cabrera is terrible defensively. Expect something like 12-14 homeruns with 15-20 steals.
Shin-Soo Choo, also known in some parts as Bill Melton's favorite Japanese player (please never let that man announce another baseball game), never really bounced back after his DUI last season. And then he broke his thumb. But if you trust his uncited Wikipedia page, 2012 has been going great for him "Choo got tattoos on his right arm. Then he lost 20 pounds". Tattoos, the new miracle weight loss drug! Choo is a solid defender in right and should bounce back at the plate this year. He is entering his decline phase, but a .360 wOBA with a near 20-20 season is perfectly within the realm of possible. I'm happy it was Carlos Santana's birthday yesterday, because he apparently loves to mash on it. The top catcher in the AL is only 26 years old and already learning to handle first base to keep his knees from grinding into phosphorous rich bone meal. The switch-hitter is scary strong (I'm thinking 30 homeruns) and has a batting eye well beyond his years (15.9% career BB%). Fast runners should be able to steal on him, as he's only around league average at dispatching would be thieves. I like to think he is the universe balancing out bad trades involving the Indians. Some deity up there (my favorite still being Odin) decided that the Indians would get fleeced by Milwaukee for their best starting pitcher, but would manage to trick Ned Colletti into desiring Casey Blake.
Travis Hafner is still a thing? For real? Honestly, I think him and Grady Sizemore are the perfect embodiment of the 2000's Indians: tons of promise, tons of injuries, tons of disappointment. Hafner's contract ends this winter, though the club could retain the oft-maimed slugger for $13MM. Seeing as he hasn't played more than 118 games in a season since I lived in a dorm room, I think they'll pass. He started to fall apart after his monster years and never regained the power stroke that made him so fearsome. If he can stay healthy long enough (spoiler alert: he won't), he could have a 20 homerun season. Shelley Duncan was named after the author of his parent's favorite poem, Ozymandias. That's probably not true, but if I had such a silly name I would tell people that. I would then tell them to look on my works and despair. I'm weird. Duncan is a AAAA masher who will spend a large chunk of the season in Columbus. Is it weird to anyone else that Cleveland's AAA city is bigger than Cleveland? Duncan has been the victim of a strikeout in 25.4% of his career plate appearances. I'm almost sad for him. Almost.
The immortal White Sox legend Casey Kotchman is manning first base. Until getting a hit last night, his OPS+ on the season had been -100. Needless to say, I'm upset he got that hit. Thanks to an unsustainably high BABIP last season, Kotchman had a bit of a career-saving year. At least enough of one to convince Chris Antonetti that he should be a starter despite being 29 years old and having a career .319 wOBA. Kotchman is essentially Doug Mientkiewicz, but without the Kansas mountain peak that Dougie had. I like Jason Kipnis, despite the fact that he's from Northbrook. He could easily be a 15-15 guy this year, with a ceiling in the 20-20 club. Don't expect him to be hitting this low in the order after the All-Star break. Barring any Gordon Beckham style setbacks, Kipnis shouldn't have any problems becoming the best overall second baseman in the division. Jack Hannahan is the 7th most productive player to have been drafted out of the University of Minnesota. Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield assure him he will never reach the summit. Well, that and the fact that he's not very good. Hannahan is a very good defender at third, which should keep him in baseball for a while despite his deficiencies as a hitter.
Justin Masterson may one day become an ace pitcher, but he'll never be President of the USA. He was born in Jamaica! Like Dee Jay! Masterson is an extreme groundball pitcher (56.2% career GB%), which will likely stop him from ever crossing the 180 strikeout threshold. He's been cutting down on walks every season he's been in the majors and could easily be worth trading Victor Martinez by the time his career by Lake Erie is over. His main pitch is a heavy low-90s sinker that he supplements with mid-90s four seamer, a strong slider, and the occasional show-me changeup. Ubaldo Jimenez struggled mightily after coming over from Colorado mid-season in 2011, as evidenced by his 78 ERA+ over 65.1 innings. Jimenez also seems to be a bit of a head case who still carries a grudge towards the Rockies for not offering him a lucrative extension like they did for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Jimenez is annually at the top of the list of the hardest throwing starting pitchers. His four-seamer used to average around 96 mph, but dropped down to 93.5 mph last season. If he can't get back to blowing hitters away, he's going to continue to struggle. He also throws a tailing two-seamer, a slider, a sinking changeup, and a curveball. Derek Lowe is a fascinating blogger and world class chemist. That Derek Lowe is not the overpaid pitcher throwing in the middle of Cleveland's rotation. The Braves finally unloaded him in the last year of his ill-advised 4/$60MM contract. They're covering $10MM of the $15MM he's owed this season. For his discounted price, Lowe could be a great addition as an innings eater/mentor to the young groundballing Masterson. Lowe lives and dies by his sinker, but uses enough sliders and changeups to keep hitters from being able to comfortably wait for his bread and butter.
Josh Tomlin is entering his age 27 season with only one full year of pitching in the majors. That should tell you a lot about him. He doesn't strike anyone out (4.98 career K/9), but he offsets that by not allowing many free passes (1.51 BB/9). He doesn't keep the ball down either (35.3% career GB%), so I can't really see him ever being more than back of the rotation filler. He alternates between a fastball that sits in the upper-80s and a cutter in the mid-80's, with sprinklings of curveballs and changeups. Jeanmar Gomez is a fictional character who once threw a perfect game for the Akron Aeros. Like the other members of the rotation (non-Tomlin division), Gomez likes the burn many a worm. This makes it incredibly unsurprising that his primary pitch is a sinker. Like Lowe, he offsets this with a slider and changeup. The more I think about it, the more I like Cleveland trading for Derek. If he can help teach Gomez and Masterson the ways of the groundball tribe, he'll earn his $5MM. Chris Perez will most likely lose his job to Vinnie Pestano at some point this season. Perez's big 2010 was created using smoke (86.1% LOB%) and mirrors (0.57 HR/9). When you walk 4/9 and don't keep the ball down you better throw some amazing pitches. Perez doesn't. He throws a good mid-90s fastball and a decent slider.
Outlook: I don't see why the pundits and experts are so confident the Indians are the lead dog to finish second in the division. They're not Minnesota Twins bad, but they're not even close to being considerably better than us or the Kansas City Royals. I'm thinking an 11-7 record against the Wahoos.