Baseball Season Preview: Cleveland Indians

For the third consecutive season, we are proud to introduce the Deadspin Baseball Season Previews. Yes, baseball is awfully close now; it's spring training, after all.

Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.

Today: The Cleveland Indians. Your author is Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell grew up in Cleveland in the 1980s, and as a result, his formative Indians memories have to do with other teams taking advantage of the lowly Tribe. He saw Greg Swindell's Major League debut (the Indians lost to Boston, 24-5) and a Dave Stieb no-hitter (Sept. 2, 1990). And like every true Clevelander, he hates the Yankees, which is why he's fond of the midges and not sure what to make of LeBron. His words are after the jump.

————————————-

What can you say about a season that ends one game short of the World Series?

Plenty.

"I wish we had won one of those games."

"I hope C.C. Sabathia doesn't pitch as badly this year as he did in the playoffs."

"The Indians would have beaten the Rockies, too."

"Can they get back this year?"

It's provocative when your team blows a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and misses the chance to play in its first World Series in 10 years.

But hey, at least the Indians have been to the Series in my lifetime. Clevelanders have to take solace in the little things, like the fact that the Browns and the Giants were the only 10-6 teams in the NFL regular season to end the year with a win.

And, as a Clevelander who has spent most of the last decade in the New York City area, it was incredibly satisfying to see the Indians manhandle the Yankees. Thank God for the midges! Take that, Michael Kay!

(On an aside, Joba Chamberlain and I have something in common — 18-inch necks and games interrupted by bugs. But mine was probably a whiffle ball game with my little brother in the backyard in 1987.)

But past is past. We're looking toward 2008 now, right? It's hardly fair to be asked to write this late February, but at least the Indians being one of the last teams alive in 2007 means this preview won't run on the opening day of the NCAA Tournament like it did last year. I did get a kick out of one commenter who said the sound of chirping crickets accompanied my story. (Too bad he didn't know what a midge sounded like.)

Anyway, onto the exercise of absurdity that is this preview.

For example: If I had told you last year that the key components of the Indians playoff run would be Fausto Carmona — the guy who hadn't won a game in nearly a year — and Asdrubal Cabrera — a Double-A shortstop who would make his greatest impact in the big leagues at second base — you would have laughed ... or at least made that aforementioned crickets sound. And, if I said the Tribe's seemingly solid pair of lefties, Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers, would have spent most of the season in the minors ... crickets again. But the point is that in February, no one can really say whether a team will be any good.

But I'm going to say the Indians will be good. They have a chance to get to the World Series. That's the best I can do. I mean, a year ago, Mark Shapiro was singing the praises of David Dellucci, Trot Nixon and Jason Michaels. We never figured that guys with the names of Jhonny and Asdrubal would be driving in runs in the playoffs and cleaning up grounders on either side of second base.

Unfortunately for the Indians, they won't be able to sneak up on anyone this year. Which means they'll have to play hard in Kansas City in July, something I'm still not sure they can do. And they'll have to bunt guys over in the April snow in Cleveland. And dive for fly balls when their bodies are tired after a grueling stretch of games in August. That's their prize for being the runner-up in the AL. If they're not prepared to do all that, they'll disappoint a lot of fans in Cleveland.

Call me a realist. Even great teams fall short of the World Series. And last year, the Indians weren't great. So having the chance to make the series and falling short hurts.

And while the Indians will take on the world with essentially the same team that made it to Game 7 of the ALCS, there are some positives ahead.

There's no Johan Santana (even though the Indians seemed to figure him out in 2007), the White Sox are going for a youth movement, and while the Tigers may hit with the Indians, their pitching staff is shaky.

I'm going to look for the Tribe in the playoffs this year. And I'm hoping their 2007 success will give them regular-season confidence.

But I'm also going to look for a good place in the Progressive Field bleachers to hide my capsule of live midges so I can remotely release them in October. Hopefully Joba will be on the mound again.