The Cleveland Indians are ready to make a run at the World Series. They knocked on the door last year, mounting an incredible late season surge that almost knocked the White Sox out of the playoff race, but Tribe skipper Eric Wedge took a metal vacation with 6 games left and gave the AL Central away. How he managed to keep his job after showing the world how not to manage a red hot team is beyond me, but Mark Shapiro loves a good yes man.
Lousy management aside, the Indians got off to a great start in 2006 and have shown the rest of the league that they are ready to contend for real. That is if the rest of the league will cooperate and agree not to abuse their suspect bullpen. The Indians have a lot of offense and solid starting pitching so if they can slap a bandage on the middle relief they have a great chance at winning their division or at least clinching a wild card appearance. With some quality pitchers in AAA, the Tribe should be able to shore up the pen, so fans shouldn't be overly concerned. With the bullpen.
Even though this team is ready to contend, they are still missing a key component that is necessary if they want to win it all. They need that stud starting pitcher. An ace. The guy who can grit his teeth and come up with seven strong innings whenever the team needs it. They simply don't have it.
The Indians believe, and have most of their fans convinced, that C.C. Sabathia is that guy. He is the number one starter...A towering lefty with a powerful arm. On paper C.C. Sabathia should be the best pitcher in baseball. At 25 he is in his sixth year, he's 6'7" officially listed at 290 pounds and reportedly throws close to 100 miles an hour.
Too bad the games aren't played on paper. After making a strong debut in 2001 striking out 171 batters on the way to posting an impressive 17-5 record, C.C. responded by eating a shortstop in the off season. Fat and sloppy in 2002, he went 13-11 with a 4.37 ERA. Since then he has yet to hear the wake up call, proving to be an average performer who is susceptible to nagging injuries and prone to giving up runs in bunches. He has no poise, getting frustrated easily and exiting games early typically leaving lots of runners on the bases for relievers to contend with. Throughout his career he averages six innings per start, which is great for a number three starter but far from what one expects of an ace.
Rumor has it C.C. lost weight heading into the 2006 season and people associated with the team had high hopes, but in his first start the so-called ace got touched up for three runs in 2 1/3 innings before he strained an abdominal muscle and made yet another visit to the DL.
It's obvious that C.C. Sabathia is not the anchor the Indians need in their starting rotation. Aside from an impressive rookie season, C.C. has established himself as an average starting pitcher who occasionally delivers a sensational performance. Much like the old version of David Wells. One might argue that if C.C. weren't left-handed, he might have been unloaded a couple of seasons ago. With a 4.12 career ERA and only 2 shutouts pitched in six years, it's obvious that Sabathia does not have the talent or desire to be that number one starter.
Sadly, that's a component that the Cleveland Indians will need if they want to win it all. Their immediate concern should be a struggling bullpen, but they have talent in their farm system that should be able to plug the gaps nicely as the season progresses. In the long run, however, the glaring hole on Cleveland's roster is the number one starter. If the Indians don't address C.C. Sabathia's glaring deficiencies, they'll simply qualify for the post season so a better equipped team can treat them like a playoff doormat. You've got to have an ace. C.C. Sabathia is more like a nine.