Welcome back, everyone. It’s been a long, dark, misery-laden and actually not-too-harsh winter in the Rust Belt, but all the same the darkness has passed and as spring dawns so too does the glorious time known as baseball season. Our new-look Indians see their first action in the frozen north today, facing the new-look Toronto Blue Jays for three games at the Rogers Centre. Man, everyone is getting down on the new looks. Maybe parachute pants will make a comeback.
The Jays finished 73-89 in 2012, good for fourth in the rugged American League East. They were ravaged by injuries: four of their starting five hitting the DL in a four-day span in June, then Jose Bautista’s wrist injury sapped his power, Brett Lawrie played too hard for his own good, and closer Sergio Santos spent most of the season laid up. For a team with a lot of hope coming in, it was a kick in the pants.
Then everything changed. The blockbuster that netted them Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins (just a year after the Marlins shelled out in free agency for Reyes and Buehrle) along with another move to acquire R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets may have shifted the balance of power in the AL East. They were already a pretty good team that was decimated by the disabled list, but by adding not one but two aces along with a 200-plus innings gobbler and one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the game, Jays fans are seeing flashbacks back to the early 90’s.
Who knows how good the Blue Jays will be, but they’ve suddenly gotten potentially good at just the right time. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are in shambles and the Baltimore Orioles had a crazy season last year but their record in one-run games (a bananas 29-9) is quite unsustainable; and only the Rays look to offer stiff competition thanks to the magic of Andrew Friedman. There’s firepower up and down the lineup as long as Lawrie stays healthy and Edwin Encarnacion wasn’t a fluke, and their bullpen got a ton of seasoning last year. With their starting five, really the biggest thing standing in the way of them and October is that pesky injury bug. You have to think they’ve fumigated after last year, though.
The Indians are looking pretty sharp, too. Uncommonly busy in the offseason, the roster has a whole new look to it with five new starters in the lineup. Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs add a host of speed, Nick Swisher actually gives a little pop to first base, and I am personally excited for the Lonnie Chisenhall era to begin in earnest. Add Mark Reynolds to the mix, and we should get used to homers, strikeouts and stolen bases. So if you like absolutes, the 2013 Cleveland Indians are your jive. And apparently Sith, when you think about it.
All that seems to be promised by Terry Francona, the Tribe’s new manager and de facto sparkplug now that Ezequiel Carrera is gone (does that make him a Sith Lord?). He knows what the Indians have and he’s promised to utilize all he can to win games. Realistically, a manager doesn’t have a huge impact on the final win percentage, but the energy, the spirit we’ve seen out of the Indians this spring is incredible. Tito (I’m still on the fence about using that nickname, but whatever) loves to play, and it’s obvious the guys love him. The Indians were able to sign a couple of guys because they knew he would be there, and even if Daisuke Matsuzaka didn’t make the team I feel like other players like Justin Masterson that worked with Francona previously will be more comfortable and thus more effective.