Sports Outside the Beltway

Watch out for Cleveland!

The American League Central is overflowing with teams that all have playoff hopes for the 2007 season.

There is obviously the Detroit Tigers, who made it to the World Series. Then we have the Chicago White Sox, who won the World Series the year before. Let us not forget about the Minnesota Twins, they always seem to make it work. The Kansas City Royals aren’t that far behind with all their young players (Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochovar, Jeff Bianchi, Chris Lubanski…). Enter the Cleveland Indians.

Considered by most to be a bust last year after giving the White Sox a run for the Central title in 2005 all the way up to final series of the season, the Cleveland Indians are ready to take back the division the way they did in the mid-to-late 90′s when they had Belle-Alomar-Baerga-Thome-Ramirez and they were an offensive powerhouse.

With a rotation matched by few in the entire the Majors, the Indians know what it takes to win championships. Remember, the last two AL Champs (White Sox, Tigers) both lead the league in ERA.

Here is what the Indians rotation will look like:

    1. C.C. Sabathia
    2. Jake Westbrook
    3. Cliff Lee
    4. Jeremy Sowers (Watch out for this kid!)
    5. Paul Byrd

The Indians know that good pitching will beat good hitting most of the time, just look back to 1995 and 1997 when they were beat by the Braves and Marlins. But the 2007 Indians could look like the 1995 Indians, who lead the majors in Batting Average, won 100 games, and lead the AL in team ERA. I don’t think they will lead the majors in AVG, or even get 100 wins, but they have a legitimate shot at leading the AL, if not the Majors in ERA. But let’s not fool anyone, they can mash with the best of teams.

Their lineup could look a little like this:

    1. Grady Sizemore CF
    2. Casey Blake RF
    3. Travis Hafner DH
    4. Victor Martinez C
    5. Ryan Garko 1B
    6. Jhonny Peralta SS
    7. David Delluci LF
    8. Andy Marte 3B
    9. Josh Barfield 2B

The Indians have also revamped a horrible bullpen. They added veteran Roberto Hernandez, closer Joe Borowski, lefty Aaron Fultz, and are giving former closer Keith Foulke his physical as I write this. Add those guys to some of the flame throwing young arms like Jason Davis, Fausto Carmona, Fernando Cabrera, and a personal favorite of mine Tom Mastny.

The Cleveland Indians are tired of losing, tired of not reaching the playoffs, and more importantly tired of not winning a World Series since 1948. And don’t bring up the curse of Rocky Colavito.

Travis Hafner will mash to the tune of .300-40-125, Grady Sizemore is my pick to win the AL MVP, and Josh Barfield adds a good bat at the bottom, speed, and good defense up the middle. Let’s not forget that Victor Martinez is a lock for .300-20-100 and the emergences of young players like Ryan Garko, Shin-Soo Choo, Franklin Gutierrez, and Andy Marte. Jeremy Sowers will finish 2nd behind Delmon Young in AL Rookie of the Year voting, and establish himself as one of the best young arms in the game. Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd are both pitching for huge contracts; they will both be free agents at the end of the season.

This may be a little pre-mature but I am predicting the Cleveland Indians to win the AL Central this season. Who knows, maybe they can be the third team in four years to end a ridiculous streak of championship less seasons.

Tribe fans have a real reason to believe this year is their year!

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