Ahhh...springtime and baseball. If it has somehow escaped your attention, the Indians' season opener is upon us. Now, be honest here: What else represents a "fresh start" – the proverbial "new beginning" if you will – in quite the same manner as the MLB season opener? They go hand-in-hand, much like Grady Sizemore and the disabled list. Yes, baseball has always been numero uno in my book. (Looks like that free CD from Rosetta Stone is already paying dividends, doesn't it?)
Not surprisingly, some of my very first memories revolve around baseball: I attended a Cubs game when I was just barely into grade school – as my grandparents resided in Chicago – and I'll never forget the ivy which adorned the outfield walls at Wrigley Field. Nor will I forget the roar of the crowd, the excitement which seemed to ride on every pitch, or the first beer spilled on my back (which, not surprisingly, is directly linked to me also uttering my first swear words).
And back home, spending the evening listening to the fractured AM radio signal, tilting my Dad's transistor radio at all angles to try and improve the crummy reception, while Jimmy Dudley and Bob Neal called the Indians game. My friend, those were the days.
A half-century later, baseball still maintains a pretty firm grip on my attention. But, before I get thoroughly ensconced in my trip down memory lane – of which there may be no return (unless it's a cul-de-sac) – why don't we take a quick peek at this year's ballclub? Of course, having been subjected to some pretty awful baseball throughout the sixties, seventies, eighties and into the nineties, some of my youthful optimism has been replaced by a more sobering, (a.k.a. "realistic") view of my baseball team.
Keeping that in mind, let's look at the starting pitchers:
1. He's the Master, son: Yes, I'm referring to Justin Masterson, unquestionably the ace of the staff. Came into his own in 2011; with any run support should win 17-18 games this year.
2. Not Joshin': Josh Tomlin was the second-best starter on the staff last year. What concerns me? During the second half of the season, the American League seemed to have figured him out. He has only a marginal fastball at best, and relies on pinpoint control to get through opposing lineups. Batters wait for him to throw more pitches now, which may have exposed his Achilles heel. Let's hope not. In the meantime, I'll be surprised if he wins as many as he did last year.
3. Not "enthralled-o" with Ubaldo: This trade could haunt us for the next ten years, as we traded our two best pitching prospects for this guy. I've seen Jimenez pitch five or six times since we got him, and so far, I think the Rockies saw Tribe GM Chris Antonetti coming with regards to this deal. After Ubaldo's first outing of the spring – a real stinker – he actually tried to coerce Tribe beat writers into not writing anything unpleasant about his performance. We may need to summon the men in the white coats for this piece of work. Anybody out there remember Dontrelle Willis? I have a queasy feeling Ubaldo might be the answer to a trivia question in a few years.
4. How Lowe can we go?: Let me state that I have absolutely nothing against Derek Lowe. Well, except that he lost 18 games last year for the Braves. Well, and the fact that the only reason he's pitching for us is because Atlanta's picking up half his salary for 2012, which made him "club-friendly" (as in a relative bargain for the Indians). Well, and the fact that he turns 39 on June 1, which makes him ancient in "baseball years." Come to think of it, I have a LOT against this guy! In any case, let's hope he still has some petrol left in the tank. A dozen victories would be wonderful.
5. Go far with Jeanmar?: This fifth spot is just a guess, for as of this writing the final spot in the rotation hadn't been decided yet. Between David Huff, Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomez, though, Jeanmar was clearly the best this spring, so I'm takin' a shot. I'm pretty enthused with this kid, as it seems every time he comes up to the parent club after a stint in the minors, he pitches better than he did the previous time. Could be a breakout year for the kid...
As far as the relief pitchers go, they have a very talented bullpen, which again should be a strength of the team. However, relief pitchers tend to be the most schizophrenic characters on a ballclub, so it's tough to take anything for granted.
Overall, I think the pitching will be much the same as last year: Good enough to keep us close in most games. Not spectacular, but better than average.
Jeez...Where has the time – not to mention column space – gone? Next issue, let's take a gander at the offense (you may want to already be seated before reading that one).
In the meantime, "Play Ball!"
Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits.