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For Whom The Bell Tolls

August 26, 2011
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The emergence of Asdrubal Cabrera gives
hope for next year and beyond. (Photo: AP)
The disappointing conclusion to the Mariners series allows the tealeaves for the Cleveland Indians’ season to be read much more clearly.

Whatever way you want to say it, buzzards are circling, the bugler is preparing to play taps, and the writing is on the wall.  There is no mistaking that the Indians are on life support.

Of course they are not dead yet.  There is still plenty of time to catch the Tigers.  Lord, Leyland and labor know Detroit has choked before.

And if the Indians were able to go 30-15 to start the season, they can certainly do it again to end it.

The problem is that early season version of the team was playing over their heads; the latter season squad is minus many of those contributors and are now fielding guys playing below their abilities.

The entire projected starting outfield from the start of the season is currently on or threatening to land on the disabled list.  Grady Sizemore is weeks away from possibly returning to the lineup.  Michael Brantley has been battling a wrist injury that has limited him to seven starts over the past two weeks.  He may be forced to the disabled list if he is unable to play come Friday.  Over the past few weeks Shin-Soo Choo was finally beginning to resemble the player he has been the last two years.  Of course he subsequently injured his side warming up for Wednesday’s game.  Like Brantley, Choo may be heading to the disabled list.

It is a list already holding the names of Travis Hafner and Jason Kipnis.

If you are keeping count, five out of nine of the players that would be regular starters in this lineup are currently injured.

Of the four remaining players, one - Asdrubal Cabrera - has been absolutely carrying the Indians all year.  Perhaps that weight on his shoulders has finally begun to wear him down.  Over the past two weeks his batting average and power numbers have begun to dip.

The other stalwarts of the team - the Bullpen Mafia - have seen their don Chris Perez whacked around the ballpark during the second half of this season.

Of the starters, two are currently pitching well with the reemergence of Fausto Carmona and the masterful Justin Masterson.  The others are a crapshoot at this point in the year.  Carlos Carrasco is on the disable list.  David Huff has shown promise but is still a work in progress.  Josh Tomlin has hit a wall.  And God knows what is going on with Ubaldo Jimenez.

All of these issues inspire little confidence in the Tribe’s ability to muster one last charge up the standings of the American League Central Division.

However, mentioning this is not meant as a dirge on the season.  Rather it is meant as an appreciation for a team nobody expected to be in contention this year.  It is an appreciation for a team that overcame a myriad of issues to provide exciting baseball for Cleveland deep into August.

Should they not mount a late charge, the team’s demise shall not be in vain.  From the up and down ashes of the 2011 season, a mighty Phoenix of a team is poised to emerge for the coming years.

Just look at the talent that has fueled this season.  Most of the guys should only get better.

Cabrera will be a fixture at shortstop in the coming seasons.

Kipnis looks to be the real deal at second base.

Though he has struggled, Carlos Santana is still a building block for the future.  He has started to figure out major league pitchers and should make a leap forward next year.

Brantley is going to be a solid contributor for a long time.

Masterson is an imposing anchor at the top of the starting rotation.

Jimenez’s track record shows his struggles since coming to the Indians will be short lived.  Maybe he won’t be the dominant pitcher of the first half of 2010, but even a shade of that talent arguably makes him one of the top five pitchers in this division, coming somewhere behind Justin Verlander and Masterson.

All of this does not make this slow slide into oblivion easy to take.  But it does lessen the disappointment.  A foundation for the future has been laid and building blocks are in place.  This season has been fun, but it is nothing compared to what should lie ahead for the Indians.

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