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Francona plays the long game and gets burned

Practically everyone in Cleveland loves Terry Francona, and for good reason. His hiring signaled that the Dolans were finally serious about fielding a competitive team again, and the flurry of moves that followed led to the competitive roster we have now.

We’re also learning to appreciate Francona’s style. He’s a players’ manager, and he also preaches patience. And he know what he’s doing, so in most instances his approach plays dividends. Early in the season many fans wanted to cut Ubaldo Jimenez and move Jason Kipnis down in the lineup. Now Kipnis is on fire and Ubaldo is at least showing flashes of his old, All-Star form. Patience is a virtue with Francona. He understands that it’s a long season.

But, no manager gets it right all the time, and every approach sometimes fails you, at least in the short term. Yesterday’s meltdown in Boston was one of those days. Chris Perez didn’t have it. As we know now, he was hurt, but in his desire to be there for his teammates he basically let them down by blowing an easy 3-run save opportunity. But more blame goes on Francona, who seemed much more concerned with supporting his closer than winning the game. But in the end he lost the game and probably made things even worse for Perez, who will have nightmares after this outing.

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Tribe starting pitching continues to impress

Ubaldo Jimenez 1

Perhaps the Indians are getting a little lucky. Even in a beleaguered sports town like Cleveland luck has to turn your way at least a little from time to time. With Scott Kazmir returning to All Star form and Ubaldo Jimenez suddenly looking at least competent, the Indians appear to have a starting rotation that can support the rejuvenated offense and solid bullpen in a run to the playoffs.

Or maybe we have a front office that’s made some shrewd moves at a time when ownership finally ponied up enough money to give them a fighting chance. Chris Antonetti certainly deserves some credit for taking a chance on Kazmir and plucking out guys like Mark Reynolds and Ryan Raburn.

And finally, we might have one of the best managers and coaching staffs in baseball with Terry Francona leading the teeam. It’s hard to put too much blame on Manny Acta when ownership tied the hands of the front office, but Acta didn’t exactly get the most out of his team. With Francona we have a proven champion and someone who clearly knows more about baseball than everyone in the Cleveland sports media combined. He and his staff have been working tirelessly with Jimenez and Kazmir, and when everyone was panicking about Jimenez, Tito knew that patience was needed. Jimenez may still disappoint everyone, but he seems to have a fighting chance with the coaching he’s been getting.

Throw in some breaks like incompetent umpires and the Indians are on a roll heading into a weekend showdown with the Tigers. It’s still very early, and we all know baseball seasons can turn on a dime, but this fast start feels different than previous years. This team is very deep on offense, giving Francona endless options to play matchup baseball with his lineup, and suddenly the pitching looks like it can turn into a strength as well. And we have some insurance with guys like Trevor Bauer at AAA. They definitely have my attention . . .

The Ubaldo enigma

Baseball is very hard to predict from year to year, and one of the reasons has to do with the unpredictability of starting pitching. And then we have guys like Ubaldo Jimenez. He has a ton of talent, but he also has a delivery that can easily get out of whack. The results can be hideous, but then he can put together dominating performances like he did last night.

I love what the Indians are doing after years of running the franchise on the cheap, and Terry Francona is an excellent manager. But, we all know that the team’s success this season will depend on the team’s very unpredictable starting pitching. It’s unpredictable because we have young talent mixed in with guys like Jimenez and reclamation projects like Scott Kazmir. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. With a little luck the Tribe might stumble into a starting rotation that helps them compete for a playoff spot.

Cleveland Indians World Series Chances

It’s no secret that the Cleveland Indians had a pretty rough time last season, plummeting toward the latter half after a strong beginning. There’s still a lot of hope for the 2013 season, however, since the Indians had a very productive winter making a lot of progress in (hopefully) the right direction. Let’s look at the changes the Indians have implements that just might get them into the playoffs, and maybe even the World Series.

The first thing the Cleveland Indians did this winter was grab some new baseball gloves for the many new members they’ve welcomed onto their team. Having traded a lot of players and signing a couple of free agents, the Indians have revamped their lineup in hopes of bringing stronger players to their team. Matt Albers, Brett Myers, Nick Swisher, and Bryan Shaw have all been added to the Cleveland Indians, giving the proud city of Cleveland hope for this season.

When they began signing their new players, the Indians forewent trying to save money on their payroll by obtaining young players and instead put their money into getting well-known talent. This makes their budget for the upcoming season pretty tight, but it should also assist in helping them regain the immense losses that they incurred last season. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for the team.

Ubaldo Jimenez was the height of discussion last season as his performance continued to decline since the Cleveland Indians brought him onboard in 2010. A very talented pitcher in the past, he was called a disappointment by a lot of Indians fans for his 5.25 ERA (the second worst for the entire year). He plans to step it up in this upcoming season though. Throughout winter, Jimenez spent a lot of time with the Indians’ pitching coach to better his performance and solidify his techniques, admitting that last year was really bad for him. If he takes the training to heart, the boost in Jimenez’s ERA will be a huge advantage for the Cleveland Indians this season.

Carlos Carrasco should also be returning to the Indians this year after having undergone surgery in his elbow. Always a promising player for the team, the return of Carrasco will also benefit the Cleveland Indians immensely and will definitely help them in their upward mobility toward the playoffs. Scott Kazmir, who pitched during the winter league, will also be joining the team this year after being gone from the majors since 2011.

What the Cleveland Indians need is consistency and a strong lineup of fresh, talented players will provide that. If they can continue to scout out the best players and train the ones they already have, they will definitely be on mark to potentially make the playoffs, even if they aren’t quite ready to get back into the World Series.

Tribe gets aggressive with Ubaldo Jimenez deal

Colorado Rockies ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez waits throws at Coors Field in Denver on May 26, 2010 in Denver. Jimenez was traded to the Cleveland Indians on July 30, 2011 for LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Alex White, 1B Matt McBride and RHP Joe Gardner pending a medical examination. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

The price was staggering. The Indians traded Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Joe Gardner for a pitcher who can be dominant. Ubaldo Jimenez is in his prime and he has a great contract through 2013.

I hate the idea of trading Alex White, as he looks like the real deal and he’s ready to pitch now. That said, you have to take calculated risks as a mid-market team, and the Indians now can be a force in the playoffs if they manage to get there. That would mean that Shin-Soo Choo comes back and returns to his old self, because the Tribe desperately needs offense.

The Indians were on track to have an excellent pitching staff for years to come. Now they have the chance to have a dominating pitching staff for several years. With a young lineup that can only get better, this might be a winning formula.

We’ll see, but they deserve credit for taking a calculated risk.

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