No one predicted the Indians to have a four and a half game lead with the best record in the American League going into the final weekend of April. No one outside the great state of Ohio, that is. Yet here it is, the last weekend in April, and the Indians have accomplished both. So why not take this chance to dream big, to imagine an October that has Cleveland fans excited. In golf, they say a player can only hit the shots they imagine. So lets take a moment to imagine a fall classic featuring everyones favorite summer destination in the city of Cleveland (sorry Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame), and the five reasons it might happen:
1) Starting Pitching: Justin Masterson has looked…wait for it…masterful. With five wins in five starts and no outing lasting less than 6 innings, Masterson is looking like an ace that could carry this staff. If Jered Weaver weren’t looking like the second coming of Cy Young, Masterson might be getting some of the early chatter around the award named for the same man. Josh Tomlin’s early season appearance on every fantasy baseball must add list with three wins and a 2.33 ERA has also been a big plus to this staff. Even Fausto Carmona, with his 1-3 record and an ERA of 5.76, has shown he can be lights out. Over a three game stretch Carmona gave up a total of three earned runs while pitching at least seven innings in all three games. With all the off days in the postseason, three strong starting pitchers is more than enough to win the World Series.
2) A Healthy Grady Sizemore: From 2006 to 2008, Sizemore was a perennial All-Star. People tend to forget that because he struggled with injury in both 2009 and 2010. Now he’s back, and while the sample size is still small, he is hitting .406 with a .875 slugging percentage. Expecting those number to last throughout the season is absurd, but if he can get even close to the 28 homeruns he averaged from 2006 to 2008, he would have led this team in homeruns last year. That kind of boost in power from a player many did not expect to make a meaningful contribution this year would be huge this season.
3) Winning with Shin-Soo Choo Underperforming: Yes, some players have been performing well above their average and we should expect them to return to their mean. If that’s the case, then same should be expected of Choo. Last year, he led the team in literally every significant batting statistic. This year he got off to a slow start, batting .205 over his first 20 games. The fact that the Indians were able to go 13-7 despite his slow start, imagine how they’ll play when he starts hitting. He’ll be a Choo-in to make your starting fantasy baseball line-up by mid-season.
4) A Weak AL Central: Twins won in 2010 by feasting on the AL Central, as they finished last year 22 games over .500 against division opponents. It’s unlikely they’ll have the same kind of success this year, particularly with a plethora of injuries, including C Joe Mauer who topped everyone’s pre-season fantasy baseball catcher rankings. The White Sox have more blown saves then saves, the Tigers have more questions in their bullpen then the average four year old, and the Royals are still a year or two away. That leaves the door wide open for the Indians to win the division. Since one of the biggest deterrents to winning the World Series is not making the playoffs, taking the division would be a big step toward that final goal for the Indians.
5) Lonnie Chisenhall: Call him their secret weapon, call him a future All-Star, or call him available in 0% of fantasy baseball leagues with a rookie draft. Chisenhall is the Indians top prospect in the Minors currently, but it’s only a matter of time before he makes his first big league appearance of 2011. After batting .500 with a slugging percentage of .885, the only reason he didn’t make the club out of camp was to hold off free agency for an extra year. So while many things had to go right for the Indians to be 8 games over .500 going into the last weekend in April, know that they have yet to spend their last bullet in what is sure to be an exciting season for Cleveland fans.