Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/1/12

The Cleveland Indians surprised a lot of people in the 2011 baseball season.  They had finished only ahead of the Royals the previous season in the A.L. Central going 69-93.  In Manny Acta’s second season, the Indians showed vast improvement.  They tied the franchise’s best thirty game start, going 21-9.  Cleveland cooled off from their hot start and eventually ended the season 80-82, an eleven game improvement from 2010, and finished second in the A.L. Central behind the Tigers.

[2012 MLB Preview Central]

The Indians made waves before the trading deadline in 2011 landing Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.  They continued adding to their pitching staff this off-season by acquiring Derek Lowe in a trade from the Braves.  Through free agency, the Indians have also added more veterans to their young core signing Casey Kotchman, Jon Garland, and Cristian Guzman.

3 UP

Best Case Scenario for 2012

After finishing second in 2011, can the Indians win the A.L. Central in 2012?  Everyone knows the Tigers landed one of the biggest fish in free agency when they signed Prince Fielder.  At the mid point of 2011, the Indians were 44-37.  If they can double that for a whole season, they can contend for either the A.L. Central title or the new second Wild Card spot that will be added.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Most Important Indians

The Cleveland Indians avoided arbitration and re-signed Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal.  They now hope that he can duplicate his 2011 campaign.  Cabrera had a breakout season in 2011 hitting a career-high 25 HR and 92 RBI while batting .273 in 151 games.  Justin Masterson also had a breakout season for Cleveland in 2011.  Masterson didn’t put up the eye-popping numbers that Cabrera did but he did have a career high in wins (12) while leading Cleveland in ERA (3.21).  In 216 IP for the Indians last season, he went 12-10 with 158 SO.  It was a big jump from his first full season in Cleveland where he went 6-13 with a 4.70 ERA.

Potential Breakout Players in 2012

With an injury already sidelining Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley has become the frontrunner to take over for the Indians in CF.  Brantley has played parts of three seasons for the Indians.  Last year, he saw his most time batting .266 with 7 HR and 46 RBI in 114 games.  The Indians hope that he keeps building off this foundation.  SP Josh Tomlin was shut down at the end of last season because of elbow problems.  He’s healthy now, and the Indians are probably going to put him in the third spot in the rotation.  Tomlin pitched 165.1 innings last season going 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA.

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Worst Case Scenario for 2012

The Indians were in the A.L. Central race around the trading deadline, but the Tigers pulled away from them down the stretch.  Starting pitching is important in the A.L., and Jimenez didn’t look like the same pitcher as he did with the Rockies.  The Indians need Jimenez to bounce back along with off-season acquistion Derek Lowe.  Worst case scenario would put the Indians back under .500 for the fourth straight season.

Areas of Concern

The lineup already took a blow losing front man Grady Sizemore to injury.  They will also be counting on players to either rebound, like Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo, or continue to put up big numbers, like Asdrubal Cabrera and Casey Kotchman.  Besides that, the Indians will be relying on younger players like Michael Brantley who has yet to play a full season in Cleveland.  If it all comes together, the Indians can push the Tigers for the A.L. Central.  If they have struggling bats, they may watch the Tigers pull away from them once again.

Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2011

Derek Lowe struggled in Atlanta in 2011, which led to him being dealt to Cleveland.  Lowe had a losing record, 9-17, and his 5.05 ERA was his highest since pitching for Boston in 2004.  This will be his first season in the American League since that 2004 season.  Lowe has proven he can eat innings but the Indians are hoping for better numbers than he had in 2011.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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