March Madness: 30 teams in 30 days. 2012 MLB Season Preview: Cleveland Indians

Team: Cleveland Indians

Manager: Manny Acta

2011 Record: 80-82

Playoff Result: No playoffs

Top Player: Justin Masterson (4.9 WAR)

What happened last season: The Cleveland Indians were the biggest surprise team in baseball in the first half of last season. By the beginning of June, they had the best record in the majors. Unfortunately, they could not beat the dog days of summer as injuries piled on the Tribe, and a midseason trade for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez could not help, as he went just 4-4 with a 5.10 in 12 starts in Cleveland.

The lone bright spots on the team in the second half were catcher Carlos Santana (25 home runs, 124 OPS+), Asdrubal Cabrera (25 home runs, 92 RBIs), closer Chris Perez (36 saves) and Justin Masterson (3.21 ERA in 216 IP. Masterson, of course, was a throw-in in a 2009 trade that brought switch-hitting catcher Victor Martinez to the Boston Red Sox.

What they did in the offseason:  The Indians were quiet on the free agency and trade market during the winter, only making headlines with the “Fausto Carmona” false identity controversy and yet another injury to Grady Sizemore. The team also traded for Derek Lowe, who was absolutely horrible with the Braves last season, losing 17 games and having a 75 ERA+.

Projected starting lineup:

Catcher: Carlos Santana

First Base: Casey Kotchman

Second Base: Jason Kipnis

Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera

Left Field: Shelley Duncan

Center Field: Michael Brantley

Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo

Designated Hitter: Travis Hafner

Rotation:

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

RHP Justin Masterson

RHP Derek Lowe

RHP Josh Tomlin

RHP Jon Garland

Closer: Chris Perez

Outlook for 2012:  The Indians this year look to be relatively the same average team they were last season. Without any notable improvements to the offense, rotation or bullpen, there doesn’t seem to be any reason that they could be legitimate contenders with the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. The biggest factors are the health of Travis Hafner and Sizemore, as well as to have Jimenez to return to his dominant form we saw in Denver.

Regular Season Prediction: 82-80, 4th in AL Central

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