The Wahoo Warriors open their 109th season of baseball this afternoon against the White Sox. Optimism is running, well, tepid is probably the best way to put it.
The consensus puts the Tribe around 75 wins – that’s the over/under in Vegas – with the Beacon Journal’s Sheldon Ocker going high – 82 wins – and Sports Illustrated going low – 66 wins. Everyone else falls into the 75-win range, with the five Plain Dealer writers splitting at two with 75 (Bud Shaw & Bill Livingston), two with 76 (Terry Pluto & Dennis Manoloff) and Paul Hoynes with 77. The New York Times puts the Tribe in fourth place, saying “The Indians should score but will struggle on the mound as they wait for a new wave of talent to mature.”
So what to expect this year? How can the Indians top most expectations? A solid start to the season would help. It’s no secret that the Indians struggled in April & May under Eric Wedge, so a reasonably good start will help things out. If the Tribe can pick up one win they weren’t expecting each month of the season that would add six wins to the 75 and put them at .500. Since most people believe the division can be taken with 88-89 wins, can the Tribe pull out a few more and contend? It’s hard to see that happening, at least this year.
One of the best things that could happen is also one of the worst for the Indians – a deep playoff run by the Cavs. Since everyone will be hyper-focused on the Cavs until June, there will be no pressure on the Tribe early in the season. However, if we all get up the day after the Cavs season ends and find the Indians 10 games under .500 and 12 games out of first, we’ll collectively hit the snooze button until training camp starts for the Browns. Apathy is far, far worse than indifference.
We’ve all been down this road before with a rebuilding team. Sometimes, like in the ’90s, it works. More often for the Tribe it turns out more like the 1970s. The 1996 book Total Indians recalls how fans were optimistic about a young team in 1977 that seemed to be building a core of young players in Buddy Bell, Rick Manning, Charlie Spikes, Duane Kiper, Dennis Eckersley and Jim Kern. That year, the Indians added 20-game winner Wayne Garland via free agency only to see him tear his rotator cuff that spring. Manager Frank Robinson didn’t make it through the season as the team lost 90 games. Two months into the season GM Phil Seghi traded reliever Dave LaRoche for two players and $250,000 to keep the team afloat. The team lost 31 of its first 57 games.
The following year the break-up of the team continued when the Indians traded Eckersley (who ended up in the Hall of Fame) before the season and Bell (six Gold Gloves) after the season for some spare parts.
They summed up the decade by saying “The Indians’ treadmill to nowhere, as usual, was running at full speed.”
Sound familiar to anyone?
Now we’re left to wonder what to make of the coming season. Do we root for Travis Hafner to return to his old self because it will help the team, or because it will increase his trade value? Do we want Grady Sizemore to make the leap to the next level, even though it would mean he would be pricing himself out of Cleveland? That’s the joy of being a Cleveland fan in today’s unbalanced Major League Baseball.
In any event, it will be an interesting season with lots of young players who will hopefully show significant progress during the season.
For a look at what they’re saying in the other Central Division towns, check out:
Detroit Free Press
Kansas City Star