“It's good for your soul to invest in something you can't control.”

Well if you followed the 2011 Cleveland Indians in some consistent form that was the absolute case. It was nice to be invested in this team that played meaningful games until after Labor Day.

The quote, if you were wondering comes from Fever Pitch. Personally I’m a little disgusted with myself for saying it’s one of the baseball movies ever made, because it is about the Red Sox. So shame on me for liking a movie about the Red Sox, but shame on you if you haven’t seen it, I mean c’mon it is Jimmy Fallon’s only good movie.

Anyway, the 2011 season was a good one for the Indians. They may have finished at 80-82, but so many people assumed this team was going to lose 90 games. Many players stepped up, some had resurgence, and one came back for a swan song but unfortunately too many spent a lot of time with Indians trainer, Lonnie Soloff.

But more on that later.

After Opening Day I was about ready to climb Terminal Tower and throw myself off of it. But it was a little April fool’s trickery by the Indians. After losing 15-10 during the Opening Day Massacre and losing the next day, something amazing happened. The Indians won.

Then they won seven more games that followed. They were 8-2 after the first 10 games. They ended up being 30-15 after 45 games.

There were so many moments this season that made people believe the Indians could play October baseball.

Asdrubal Cabrera won a game in April with a suicide squeeze. Carlos Santana hit a walk off grand slam to beat the Tigers in April as well.

In May Travis Hafner hit a walk off two run home run against the Mariners.

In July he ‘Pronk’d’ the Blue Jays by hitting a walk off grand slam, in a game where the Indians trailed 4-1 in the 9th inning.

Cord Phelps hit his only home run of the season against the Pirates on Father’s Day to win a game over the Pirates.

Shin-Soo Choo came back from a finger and rib injury to hit a walk off home run against the Mariners in August.

Then there were Asdrubal Cabrera’s spectacular defensive plays all season long. And he now holds the Cleveland Indians home run record by a shortstop.

Carlos Santana is now the Indians single season record holder for most home runs by a switch hitter.

Jack Hannahan proved he belongs in the Major Leagues for the first time in his career.

Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin were dependable starters all season and Masterson ended up being the team’s ace.

What If?

However despite all those great things that occurred, the Indians campaign of the 2011 season was What If?

What If the Indians didn’t lose their three best hitters to injury for more than half the season.

For the second straight season Grady Sizemore spent more time on the disabled list than games played. When Sizemore went down the first time on May 10th he was hitting .282 with six homeruns and 10 doubles.

Sizemore was never the same coming back. He went back on the DL on June 27th with a right knee contusion and later a hernia. He was hitting .237. After going down on May 10th it was clear Sizemore wasn’t healed.

It should come as no shock that the Indians were a successful team this season and in seasons past, and Sizemore was at the top of his game at that time. He has an $8.5 million option this season that the Indians do not have to pick up. He is currently getting his knee checked over twice.

Speaking of players who propelled the Indians, Hafner spent two stints on the DL. When Hafner was at his best in 2005-2007 it’s no shock the Indians were a good team.

He was hitting .343 when he went on the DL on May 18th with an oblique injury. His averaged dropped over .40 points when he came back. He went on the DL again with a foot injury in mid-August, after hitting .239 in the month. Hafner was a productive hitter when he was healthy.

But that is the common denominator with the Indians two best hitters. Sizemore has chronic knee problems, probably a product of playing the game the right way, sadly. He may not ever be the same.

Age and chronic health problems seem to have made Hafner a frequent flyer in Soloff’s office.

However the one Indian that cannot wait to see the ball drop this year is Shin-Soo Choo. Choo struggled early in the season then ended up getting a DUI. Finally as he started to get into a groove, he fractured his left thumb and spent more than two months on the DL. He worked vigorously to come back. He hit the game winning home run against Seattle then went back on the DL with a rib cage injury. He never recovered.

Leadoff hitter Michael Brantley, having a breakout year, ended the season on the DL with a wrist surgery. Ask Mark DeRosa what wrist surgery does to a hitter. He had wrist surgery in 2010 and played sparingly in 2011, and not well.

Choo’s injuries don’t seem to have the consistency that came with the chronic ones with Sizemore and Hafner, in that they were freak injuries. The only worry with Choo going into 2012 is his mental state after such a disastrous season.

Speaking of Choo, his game winning home run was about the beginning of the end for the Indians. His home run in game one of a double header on August 23rd with the Mariners, saved them from being swept by their former manager in the four game set. They would go on to win seven of their next nine.

Then in came the Tigers. The Indians were four games out of first during that series. They were swept by the Tigers, despite having a somewhat injured Sizemore back as well as rookie sensation Jason Kipnis.

By the Tigers series Sizemore was merely 50% healthy, Choo was out yet again. Kipnis, who held the Indians up in early August against the Tigers was returning from injury. Josh Tomlin was gone with a cranky elbow. Hafner was gone, but the Indians brought back in fan favorite Jim Thome.

It’s a shock Lonnie Soloff didn’t get injured.

Crunch time or be crunched

Perhaps the most alarming problem with the Indians during that Labor Day series was their starting pitching, which had been a strong point when they led the division. Ubaldo Jiminez, brought in to bolster the staff, was beaten by former Indian, Victor Martinez.

Fausto Carmona continued his mental vacation. And the Indians continued to give Masterson no help offensively.

Jimenez’s problems seem to stem from some mechanic’s. Carmona’s mechanics and different pitching related problems have been tinkered over the last two seasons. The Indians need a different kind of doctor to fix him. He has a $7 million option next season that the Indians can accept or decline.

The Indians need to figure out what they will do with Sizemore, and that starts with figuring out whether he will need knee surgery again on his right knee.

Thome played well in his homecoming and might come back in 2012. The Indians owe Hafner $13 million in 2012, so who’s the DH in 2012?

Matt LaPorta’s career OPS is .699, if the Indians want to contend in 2012, he either must improve drastically or they have to find someone else. Those numbers at first base are detrimental to any team with playoff aspirations.

The Indians lost key player after key player to injury once June hit. The Tigers hit the gas in September. They rolled off an 12 game winning streak, which included three against the Indians in Cleveland. The Tigers ended the year beating the Indians 10 straight times. They did what they had to do. Their trades worked out better. Doug Fister went from 3-12 with the Mariners and ended the year at 13-12. Delmon Young came into Detroit and hit third in their great lineup. That still begs the question; why didn’t the Indians block the waiver trade of Young from Minnesota to the Tigers? Either way the Indians didn’t lose the division, the Tigers simply won it because they were the better team.

The bad news?

The Tigers are only getting better. Their pitching staff is locked in for the foreseeable future. Justin Verlander will win Cy Young and should win MVP will be back. Fister has two more years of club control. The Tigers also have contractual control of Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. Young phenom Jacob Turner will be ready to step into the rotation next season. Young is a free agent at the end of the season but the core of Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Martinez will be back.

That makes this off-season extremely important. While the Indians had one of the worst seasons in club history on the injury front, it’s incredibly amazing that not one bullpen pitcher got hurt during the season.

Joe Smith missed the first two weeks because of a spring training injury, but came back and was arguably the Indians best reliever. His ERA was under 1.00 by the time June rolled around. Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, and Chad Durbin didn’t spend a single day on the DL. That is extremely rare for a bullpen pitcher.

While that is a good thing, it’s also alarming. That group worked a lot this season and one thing consistent with bullpens, their never consistent year to year. Overwork this year spells problems for 2012.

While I don’t want to end this article and the year on a negative note the Indians did get a boost in attendance thanks to the early success and the reunion with Thome. But in 2012, Chris Antonetti will not have a mid-90s star to bring back and spark, like a Thome or Lofton. Omar Vizquel is the last active player from those teams, and it if the Indians luck in 2012 is anything like 2011, they could bring Vizquel back when Kipnis or Cabrera suffers an injury in July or August.

The point is the Indians won 80 games. They were expected to lose 90 by many people. They were in the division race until Labor Day, when in 2009 and 2010 they were out of it before the All-Star break. They found two new offensive stars (Cabrera and Santana). They might have found a second baseman in Kipnis. They found an ace (Masterson) and have their bullpen core under contract for 2012.

2011 was a heck of a ride. If you’re disappointed in how the Indians season ended after their great start, remember one thing.

At least they aren’t the Red Sox.

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​POSTED 09/29/2011 17:19
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The 2011 Cleveland Indians really made everyone think, "What If"? Opinion by Justin Lada