The great Lewie Pollis, editor of Fansided’s Cleveland Indians’ blog Wahoo’s on First, writer at Beyond the Box Score and all-round respected member of the saber-sphere, was kind enough to do a blog exchange with me to preview this weekend’s White Sox-Indians series. Follow Lewie on twitter @lewsonfirst
He put up with my nonsense. Especially when I responded to his question about the Sox being stuck in third place by asking him about the Indians being stuck in third place.
-Most fans (at least in Chicago) seem to see the Indians as the third-best team in the AL Central. Where do you see them landing in the final standings? (Hee hee)
"Oh ye of little faith. The Indians have probably the best lineup in the division, possibly the best defense in the league, and a deep pitching staff that isn’t nearly as bad as people think. I’d have a hard time seeing how you’d call them anything but the second-best team in the AL Central, and with a little luck they’ve got a tangible (if small) chance of overtaking the Tigers. Third place is the worst-case scenario."
-With the way last season ended, and the offseason beginning with Shin-Soo Choo getting traded and rumors about the Indians shopping Asdrubal Cabrera, the sudden surge of investment in the big league club was surprising to outsiders. Can you explain what went into that? Were you surprised by it? Do you agree with the approach?
"In the words of the Tammany Hall politician George Washington Plunkitt: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.” Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn were both terrific fits for the team and signed reasonable contracts so the only potential roadblocks were ownership’s willing to spend and the stigma about playing in Cleveland, but the Dolans opened their wallets and Terry Francona brought some real gravitas to the clubhouse. Maybe that’s inconsistent with the Cabrera rumors (though to be fair it was never clear that the Indians were trying to shop him), but getting one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and a new right fielder who’s under team control for far longer for a player who was going to leave in a few months anyway still looks like a fantastic move.One of our staff writers, Steve Kinsella, is always saying that teams shouldn’t worry about rebuilding or competition cycles, just stockpiling as much talent as possible. That’s the approach the Indians seem to have taken this winter. And I’m happy to admit that this philosophy (combined with the increase in payroll) is why they’ve been able to improve the team far more than I thought was possible at the end of last season."
-Drawing from that, where do you see the competitive window opening for the Indians? Is it now? Is it when Lindor and other low-minors talent rises?
"It’s now. An AL Central title isn’t out of the realm of possibility in 2013, and though I wouldn’t bet on it I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tribe win a wild card berth this year. I don’t know that there will be enough talent coming through the MLB roster at any given time in the near future for the Indians to be a truly great team, but with a strong core of young players and a wave of intriguing prospects on their way up through the minors this should be a very good ballclub for the next several years."
-What’s troubling Jason Kipnis? After seeing him in person in May it was shocking to see him slugging under .400 at the end of the year, any concern with his struggles so far?
"Not really. Last year was his first full MLB season and I think he just got worn down by the end of the summer. Combine that with the torpor that took hold in the clubhouse over the last few weeks of Manny Acta’s tenure and it’s easy to see why his production slipped. That said, he was still pretty good last year (FanGraphs had him at over three wins above replacement) and though his overall numbers were down in the second half his walk rate actually went up. A fresh start, better lineup protection, and a more positive clubhouse environment should help what’s ailing him."
-What was holding back Carlos Santana previously (from being great rather than very good, that is), and why should we think he’s poised to break out now?
"It all starts with health. Ever since Ryan Kalish barreled into him in 2010 to bring his rookie season to an early end, Santana’s been dealing with one nagging injury for another for almost the entirety of his MLB career. The disappointing results have led him to press and tinker with his swing, which make him even more uncomfortable at the plate. Give him a clean bill of health and the occasional day off from squatting behind the plate and he could very well take him an MVP award."
-Who’s pitching for the Indians this weekend and what should Chicago fans look for from them?
"First up is Justin Masterson. He’s looked great in his first two appearances of the year, giving up one run in 13 innings and getting wins against both reigning Cy Young winners while showing more composure than we’ve seen from him in quite some time. You’re going to see a ton of sinkers and hit a ton of ground balls. The questions are how many strikeouts and walks you’ll see with them and whether he’ll keep his cool against left-handed hitters.Next is Zach McAllister, who was supposed to start Thursday before the series finale with the Yankees got rained out. McAllister has the best strikeout stuff we’ve seen in the Indians’ rotation since the days of CC Sabathia (admittedly that isn’t saying much). The biggest question about McAllister in 2013 is whether he can learn to keep his composure when he gets in tough spots. He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball the first time through the order, but the fact that he gave up the most unearned runs in baseball last year supports the anecdotal evidence that he has trouble refocusing when things start to go wrong. It’s really a question of whether the White Sox can get in his head.Finally you’ll see a familiar face: Brett Myers. There’s no use sugarcoating it, he’s looked awful so far this season. His velocity is down, his command has been spotty, and he’s given up 14 runs on 18 hits (including seven home runs) in just 10.1 innings this year. If any White Sox fans can offer us Clevelanders some reasons for optimism we’d gladly appreciate it."
-What’s your prediction for the series?
"The Indians take the first two and the White Sox win game three."