Despite Doubts, Cleveland Indians Offense Poised to Carry Team

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Cleveland Indians fans have heard the same arguments again and again: Travis Hafner is past his prime, none of the young players have developed, and the Indians offense will be one of the weakest in the MLB. It may be early in the season, but thus far, the Indians have shown that their offense has the potential to be far more potent than a anticipated.

Hafner appears to have regained some of his old swagger in the early games this season. Though his production last season was far below his bloated salary’s worth, he managed to hit .278 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI’s, not completely terrible production. As he had a slow start last season, most of those numbers came as the year progressed, and thus far Pronk has brought that momentum into 2011. He is tied for the team lead in home runs, batting average, and hits, going 7 for his first 19. His production this season has already likely outdone what most fans and experts expected from him.

Having Carlos Santana take over Hafner’s role as the cleanup hitter may have allowed Pronk to relax at the plate, but it has also added a strong bat to the center of the lineup. Santana is one of the best young catchers in the game, and his development has gone as the Tribe planned. He hit .300 in Spring Training with two home runs, and has started the regular season strong as well. Santana is currently tied with Hafner for the team lead in batting average, hits and home runs. In fact, had Santana not suffered a leg injury during a collision at the plate last year, his development may have been even further ahead of schedule.

In a most shocking turn of events, the Tribe’s worst hitter remains Shin Soo Choo. The Indians best hitter by far last season, Choo appears to be struggling to see the ball properly, and has just two hits but 8 strikeouts in 20 at-bats. Choo has had more opportunities to drive in runs than any other player on the team given the fast starts of Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera. With more runners on base, Choo will likely have far more opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position than last season. If he gets hot, which he is clearly capable of doing, the top half of the Tribe’s lineup could be extremely frightening.

The bottom half is, undeniably, more of a question mark. However, Hannahan and LaPorta have provided decent production thus far, with two home runs and nine RBI’s combined. If they can continue this type of production, the Tribe will swing from the bottom of the lineup to the top much more smoothly this season, giving Cabrera, Choo, and Santana far more opportunities to drive in runs.

The pitching has been spotty to start the season, but the Tribe’s offensive potential is undeniable. The team is currently in the top-10 in the MLB in runs, batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Though it is early, as these young players continue to mature, the offensive production is likely to continue or increase as the season progresses.

–Jamie Arkin

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