Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees

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What a way to end a road trip. The Cleveland Indians’ six-game cruise to start the season came to an end in Tampa with a 13-0 shelling of reigning Cy Young winner David Price and his squad of Rays, essentially proving that when I write praising words about a guy in one of these previews they’ll do the opposite. Due to science, of course. The Tribe sits at a respectable 3-3 coming into the home opener, where it’s time to defend the reservation from encroaching Yankees.

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The New York Yankees, that is. In another year I’d call it borderline unfair for the Indians to have to face those Bombers so early. It’s a jab to the pocketbook of the team because the swollen crowds the Yanks usually bring and usually they’re real good so it lends itself to an early disappointment to open the park, something the Indians and their fragile relationship with the fanbase can ill afford.

This year it’s different. The Indians are much improved and playing with mojo early on and the Yankees are demolished by injuries. There’s something like $92 million in salaries on the disabled list with Derek Jeter rehabbing an ankle problem, Curtis Granderson recovering from a fractured forearm, Mark Texieira working back from a broken bone in his hand and Alex Rodriguez down with some hip surgery rehab. There’s a joke in there about him being lame/not hip, something, but I haven’t pieced it together yet.

So for all that, the Yankees are supposedly finished this season. Considering the lineup they’re sending out there, it’s not terrifying, but to say they’re done is foolish. They still have the best second baseman in the league in Robinson Cano and he’s been their best hitter for a year or two. A 30-home run threat, he’s Gold Glove caliber on defense, has the prettiest of swings and makes great contact, 87 percent on his career and he does it with authority. For reference, the Best Hitter in Baseball, Joey Votto, has a 76 percent contact rate, though it was 80 percent last year. Joe Mauer makes contact 88 percent of the time, but Cano has more power. He’s a blast to watch at the plate because something is going to happen, and he’s going to get paid pretty soon. Thanks, Jay-Z.

After Cano, there’s a bit of a dropoff, that can’t be ignored. New York will have the best player on the field, but to say Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez, and Lyle Overbay (despite the damage I did with him in MLB ’11 The Show) are any better than Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall is a lie, and that’s just the infield.

I’m most intrigued by Vernon Wells though. His magical iron weight of a contract made its way east, and Wells is actually doing decently early on. He’s hit a couple home runs and is getting on base at a .375 rate while being less than terrible in the field. Maybe being the forgotten man in Anaheim was the shot his pride needed and he’ll have a resurgence. That would be so Yankees. What can I say, I’m a sucker for redemption stories and I’d love to see Wells good again. Just wish it wasn’t in New York.

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Oh, an old friend will make an appearance in the form of Travis Hafner, designated hitter and disabled list resident extraordinaire. I hope he gets a good reception, he was good to the Indians and if he’d been able to stay healthy everything would be different. Of course, I’d like nine strikeouts and an 0-for the series from him after that, but as long as the fans give him an ovation, I’ll be proud of my fellow fans. Pronk’s knocking a .889 OPS in the early goings, already with a homer and keeping that customary OBP high. He was pretty terrible in spring for the Yankees, but it could have been another case of him just working on stuff and trying to stay healthy. I haven’t been listening to as much NYC sports talk radio of late so I don’t know how they’re recieving him, I know he’ll hit the DL some time this year though and it will be more of the same. Or, because the universe can’t let Cleveland be all the way happy, he’ll have a career year, enjoying that porch at the Stadium and carrying the Bombers back to respectability. Because they’ve toiled in obscurity so long.

The Indians have a shot here to electrify Cleveland, really make it a Tribe Town like the advertisements suggest. A blowout win in Tampa, a .500 record coming home, and a fun new team, this could be the beginning. The bullpen has looked good, the offense has been surprising while the defense has satisfied, Francona has crafted a fine lineup and with Swisher and Francona there’s a lot of revenge story lines here. Personally, I think Terry’s boys will handle the Yankees soundly here, you know he’s circled these games as a statement. A sweep is not out of the question.

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