April 6, 2005 Roger that, Tribe has a chance
Maybe I am sick and twisted, but I have this habit of boosting (or lowering) my confidence in our local sports teams based on the predictions of Plain Dealer sports/gossip columnist Roger Brown. When he picked the Browns to win the division last year, I knew we were doomed. Most of the games we did win last year were the games he picked the Browns to lose. He is almost never right and not just on his predictions, but most of his facts. If you haven’t tried this yet, spend the next month reading his column and then count the number of times his fellow sportswriters at the paper contradict or refute his statements. This week it was Dan Gilbert offering to fly LeBron’s mom, but every week there is at least one.
So on Sunday I breathlessly waited on his picks for the Indians. If he had us winning the division, then my confidence would be seriously shaken. First I checked out ESPN.com where Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons picked the Twins to win it all. So I was hoping Brown would do the same and jinx that possibility. Instead Roger threw a curveball. He picked the White Sox. He also picked the Cubs to win the National League. Neither team will win their divisions. Go to Vegas immediately.
The Twins are three-time champs and seem to be the universal choice. They have the reigning Cy Young winner with a solid rotation and strong bullpen. They have a top notch outfield. Behind the plate, Joe Mauer is supposed to be Joe DiMaggio if he wore the tools of ignorance, but until he proves he can stay healthy, he is more like Crash Davis.
I really want to believe in the Tribe’s pitching staff. I know last year’s flameout has everyone understandably worried about the pen but I see potential there. A lot rests on Bob Wickman’s elbow, but Howry, Rhodes and Sauerbeck are real major league pitchers back there now. When we were booing David Riske last year, his infant son was battling for his life. With that burden behind him and a role defined for him, I see big things.
Some question if many of the Tribe’s players had career years last year. Is Hafner the real deal? Well what about Justin Moreneau at first for the Twins? His numbers are half of Hafner’s. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett are not characters on the West Wing, they are the left side of the Twins‘ infield. I see more questions there then Boone trying to regain form, and Peralta has been a league leader in hitting at every level he has ever been. He won’t be Omar in the field, but I bet he runs out every hit. I love Belliard, but if he did have a career year he can’t repeat — we have two proven major leaguers in Hernandez and Cora behind him.
The Indians have built the team the right way. They may not hit a lot of homers, but doubles score runs, too. Sabathia will be OK. He will be the ace that we need. Westbrook is the biggest question mark. Now that he has established himself, can he maintain it? Millwood and Elarton are veterans who I believe love the atmosphere of this clubhouse. I believe they will both thrive this year. Lee can have a monster year at the end of the rotation if he can overcome his own head. I really like the kid.
To be truthful, the team that scares me a little bit are the Tigers. Chances are if they start slow, they will implode and lose 90 games. Detroit calls itself Hockeytown and the Tigers’ owner also owns the Red Wings. With the NHL missing in action, Mike Illitch has remembered he owns a baseball team, too. The Tigers host the All-Star Game this year. If they get hot early (and they have a line-up that can score with a strong back of the bullpen) Illitch will buy the pitching he needs for the second half. They have some young arms that can compete, and a coaching staff that all played for the Tigers in 1984 which knows D-town is a sleeping giant when it comes to baseball.
Mark Shapiro pointed out 2005 as the year the Indians would compete again. I see publicly he has backed off saying the Twins are the favorite and he is cautiously optimistic. That is a good phrase. I was there that Saturday night last August when the Indians won their third in a row over the Twins. The Jake was back to 1995. It was loud and it was fun. The Tribe players got a brief taste of what the fan base can do if they win. So did the Twins. Yes, it ended badly as they lost the next day and then bottomed out, but the foundation is there to compete.
Would I feel better if my buddy Roger had picked the Twins to win it? Yes, I would. But you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes, a team has to go out and make their own luck. But at least both Sports Illustrated and Roger picked the Yankees to win the World Series. May the curse of Giambi live on.
So what is my pick to win it all? Well, I have picked the Tribe every year since 1979. It hasn’t worked out too well, but I figured that I am due. In the National League, I will take the Giants because I feel guilty about the crack I made about Vizquel.
Sorry O, but you know we still love you. Go Tribe!