Indians Hoping Spring Success Equals Regular Season Wins
By Craig Gifford
It is hard to put a lot of stock into Spring Training statistics. For the first half of the preseason, teams are made up of a lot of players who will not be on Major League rosters come April.
Then there’s the pitching staffs for each squad. When spring begins, pitchers are throwing one or two innings. Hitters are facing a different hurler each inning. By the fifth frame it is often a thrower who will be in Triple-A to open the regular season. It’s tee off time shortly after.
It is indeed very hard to predict a team’s or a player’s regular season by the success, or lack thereof, they have in March. Take, for example, the Reds, Giants and Angels. All three teams should be playoff contenders this season and all three have spring records below .500 thus far. Seattle and Kansas City have two of the top three records in Arizona’s Cactus League. Neither is a preseason pick of many baseball experts to challenge for a division crown in 2013. Houston is not likely to lead the American League in runs scored this year as the Astros are currently doing in the Grapefruit League.
Then there are the Indians. They are second in the Cactus League with a 12-6 record entering Thursday’s action. The Tribe has scored the third most runs (115) of the teams in Arizona, while being at ninth in runs allowed (99). That actually feels about right for a club entering the season with high hopes for a revamped offense and a lot of questions in the starting pitching rotation. Still, will this success in meaningless games translate to a regular season playoff contender? It really is hard to say.
When it comes to the Indians over the last decade, the preseason record has been hit or miss as an indicator of how April-September would go. Granted, last season’s disappointing 68-94 record was preceded by an even more miserable 7-22-3 Cactus League mark. However, the Indians started the regular season off well and were in first place as late as June. It was not until the final couple months that Cleveland collapsed. The poor preseason did not really seem to carry into the regular slate of games.
In 2010 the Tribe looked amazing in the spring, going 19-9 only to follow that up with a sad 69-93 season. The last time the Indians entered the playoffs they were 96-66 in 2007. A so-so 16-14 spring had nobody predicting what would come in the summer. On the other hand, there was the forgettable 12-20 spring of 2009 followed by a difficult 69-93 mark. The reality is if the preseason and regular season are equal it is probably just a coincidence.
That being said, however, losing teams need to start building a culture of winning games at some point. In the case of the Indians, that could make this spring a little more important in building success. They have not had a winning record since that last playoff campaign. Any indicator of hope could be big for a young team.
Cleveland’s front office spent the offseason adding free agents and management, who have been on winning squads in the past. Veterans Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi all have tasted success with winning organizations over the years. New manager Terry Francona has won two World Series at the head of the Red Sox. That experience is valuable. What is more valuable, however, is gaining momentum and learning how to win as a team.
While preseason victories do not guarantee regular season wins, they can not hurt. A team that is winning in Spring Training certainly has a spark going and a positive vibe. A team that is having trouble and losing may start the year with players questioning themselves and whether their slumps will end as the calendar flips to April.
Of course, a big key for the Indians and their young players will be to keep an even head. Just because they have looked good in the exhibition games, the Tribe’s players have to understand they will see better competition and players going more all out in the real games. That is where the veterans come into play. Those who have bee around the block a few times know that just because the team has dominated or been down in the preseason does not mean a thing come Opening Day.
Cleveland has looked very good this spring. Will they continue to look very good in the summer? The guess here is that they should be decent with hopes of postseason contention. They have some momentum going. If they realize they can not rest on their spring laurels, the Indians have every chance to come out of the gates on a positive note.
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