With opening day four days away, the Cleveland Indians will open the 2007 campaign with renewed expectations.
Anything short of a playoff birth will result in the season being deemed a failure.
Coming off of a disappointing 2006 season which resulted in a mediocre 78 wins, the Indians will look to rebound and make some noise in the American League.
This past summer, the Indians looked to improve in a number of areas.
The main concern was the bullpen, which led the league last year in blown saves.
Scoring runs was never a problem for the Indians but holding a lead was.
Time and time again, the game imploded in the late innings due to the Indians’ lack of a closer.
General Manager Mark Shapiro has tried to improve this area by signing closer Joe Borowski and relievers Aaron Fultz and Roberto Hernandez.
Another area of concern were the corner outfield spots.
With the additions of David Dellucci and Trot Nixon, the Indians should be considerably stronger in the outfield.
So, how do the Indians stack up with the rest of the Central Division?
In my opinion, the only potential threat that may prevent the Indians from winning the division is the Detroit Tigers.
By adding slugger Gary Sheffield and acquiring the necessary playoff experience from going all the way to the World Series last year, the Tigers are a veteran ballclub that may stand in the way of the Tribe.
The White Sox and Twins have become noticeably weaker with the departures of Freddy Garcia and the injury to Francisco Liriano. The Royals? They do not even count.
As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how the potential platoon battles will play out.
It is a given that Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Josh Barfield and Jhonny Peralta will be plugged into manager Eric Wedge’s lineup almost every day.
However, the corner infield positions of third and first base still remain foggy.
Andy Marte has basically been handed the third base job but has been batting .224 in spring training.
Meanwhile, first baseman Ryan Garko, who turned heads last season by driving in 50 RBI in 50 games, may not even make the roster.
If Marte struggles in the first half of the season, look for Casey Blake to move to third base and Ryan Garko to get the majority of the at bats at first base.
With regards to starting pitching, the Tribe arguably has the best rotation in the American League, if not in all of Major League Baseball.
Anchored by staff ace C.C. Sabathia and other notables Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Paul Byrd and Jeremy Sowers the Indians can make the opposition look silly at times.
The rotation often can pitch into the 7th and 8th innings. If the starters are able to do this, that will minimize the Indians weakness, which is their bullpen.
If all the cards fall into place, the Indians should win over 90 games and contend deep into the playoffs.
Borowski remains the wildcard because his success will dictate how far the Indians will go.
There is just too much talent and strong starting pitching for the Indians to have another mediocre season.
Look for Wedge to get canned by Owner Larry Dolan if the Indians finish under .500 again.