1 Cleveland Indians As usual, precarious pitching will be saved by hitting, which may be even better

March 26, 2001

For all the talk in recent years about how the Indians would
never win the World Series because they lacked a quality
front-of-the-rotation pitcher, it was ultimately shoddy work from
its innings-eaters that ended Cleveland's five-year stranglehold
on the American League Central crown. Dave Burba, Bartolo Colon
and Chuck Finley gave the Tribe the league's only trio of 15-game
winners, and their combined ERA of 4.17 was better than that of
the top three starters on every American League playoff team
except the A's. But the rest of the Indians' starters--and thanks
to injuries, Cleveland used everyone this side of Sid Monge--won
only 18 times and had an ERA of 6.97.

In a related story, reliever Steve Karsay suffered through a
miserable second half. After nailing down 19 of his first 24 save
opportunities, he lost his job when the Indians acquired Bob
Wickman from the Brewers. "I was a little disappointed," says the
righthanded Karsay, whose ERA was a run and a half higher as a
setup man after the trade. "Nobody wants his job taken away when
he feels he's doing a good job."

So manager Charlie Manuel was left with two problems this spring,
filling out his rotation and finding a role for Karsay. He
decided to kill two birds with one stone and make Karsay the No.
4 starter, which made everyone happy. "In my heart I feel I've
always been a starter," Karsay says. "We think his stuff
translates better as a starter than as a closer," says general
manager John Hart. "He's got starter's stuff."

But Karsay might not have a starter's elbow. He had Tommy John
surgery in 1995, and the Indians have used him almost exclusively
as a reliever since acquiring him from the A's in '97. The Tribe
sent Karsay to visit orthopedist James Andrews in Birmingham in
late October. "He knows my elbow better than I do," Karsay says
of the man who has operated on his arm four times. Andrews poked
and prodded the limb before telling Karsay that throwing between
100 and 110 pitches every five days might actually be easier on
his arm than getting up in the bullpen two or three times a
night.

Now that he's out of the pen, Karsay is throwing his changeup
more, and he's become confident enough in his splitter, which he
picked up two years ago, to throw it anytime. That gives him a
nasty four-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that touches 97
mph. The pitch-count limit Andrews imposed should be enough to
get Karsay through six innings, at which point he can turn things
over to a solid if unspectacular bullpen. And it's not as if
Karsay and the rest of Cleveland's starters are operating without
a margin for error: Three fourths of the infield won Gold Gloves
last year, and the Indians set a major league record for fewest
errors in a season, with 72. Then there's the offense, which
scored 950 runs last year (second in the league) and might have
actually improved despite losing its most-feared hitter.

With the $20 million a year he saved by letting Manny Ramirez and
his 409 RBIs over the last three seasons sign with the Red Sox,
Hart obtained free-agent outfielders Ellis Burks and Juan
Gonzalez. Burks, who hit .344 with 96 RBIs for the Giants, will
bring stability to leftfield. The 32-year-old Gonzalez,
meanwhile, brings a big bat and plenty of baggage. He has driven
in more runs per game over the past five years than anyone else
in baseball, but last season, injuries and a general disdain for
Detroit--with its frigid weather and its spacious new
park--combined to send his numbers, not to mention his market
value, south. Hart got him for one year at $10 million. "Hitters
don't change," Hart says. "Not at his age. We've seen this guy.
We know what he's all about."

Ironically, the one year the Indians were hitting on every
cylinder as the season ended--they outscored their opponents by
two runs a game over the final month--was the one year since 1994
that they missed the playoffs. "We were definitely peaking at the
right time," says Karsay.

But as Manuel points out, "We were playing good, but you know
what? We didn't get in. And that will be the motivation for us
this year."

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Cleveland lost a Ramirez and gained a Gonzalez, and if the new guy stays happy and healthy, it will mean more jacks at the Jake. COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT CLARKE KARSAY

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Indians

"If the Indians click on all cylinders, they'll have the best
record in the league with a chance to win it all....Robbie
Alomar looks great. Awesome. He's had an outstanding spring and
will have a big year....Juan Gonzalez looks healthy and in great
shape. He's going to hit a lot of home runs in that
ballpark....I love Jim Thome and Travis Fryman. They're true
professionals. So is Ellis Burks. In San Francisco he seemed to
be in the middle of all the rallies. How much he's got left in
the tank is a question, but he'll be a major contributor. He
could share leftfield with Russell Branyan, who will play third
down the road. He's starting to figure it out--a guy with huge
power who's making more contact....Eddie Taubensee is a good
hitting catcher who hits good pitching. He can turn around
anybody's fastball....Kenny Lofton's still strong defensively,
but he's dropped off. There are some people in Cleveland who
think he's the Indians' second-best defensive centerfielder,
behind Jolbert Cabrera....The pitching is good enough to win the
division. The health of Chuck Finley is the key, especially in
the playoffs, because he's had success against the Yankees and
the A's. The wild card is Steve Karsay. Can he hold up over the
rigors of a full season of starting?...C.C. Sabathia is a kid
who can help. He's a lefty who throws hard, but command and
conditioning are keys for him. He's got electric stuff--like a
young Arthur Rhodes but with a better delivery....Bob Wickman
doesn't have the same stuff he had five years ago. He's not in
the same class as the closers for the other contenders."

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 90-72 (second in AL Central)
Manager: Charlie Manuel (second season with Cleveland)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Kenny Lofton L 63 .278 15 73 30
SS Omar Vizquel S-R 70 .287 7 66 22
2B Roberto Alomar S-R 24 .310 19 89 39
RF Juan Gonzalez[1] R 30 .289 22 67 1
1B Jim Thome L-R 59 .269 37 106 1
LF Ellis Burks[1] R 49 .344 24 96 5
3B Travis Fryman R 89 .321 22 106 1
DH Russell Branyan L-R 198 .238 16 38 0
C Einar Diaz R 224 .272 4 25 4

BENCH

OF Wil Cordero* R 201 .276 16 68 1
C Eddie Taubensee[1] L-R 321 .267 6 24 0
OF Jolbert Cabrera R 360 .251 2 15 6
OF Jacob Cruz L 390 .241 0 5 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Bartolo Colon 10 15 8 6.3 1.39 3.88
LH Chuck Finley 22 16 11 6.4 1.43 4.17
RH Dave Burba 47 16 6 6.0 1.52 4.47
RH Steve Karsay 86 5 9 -- 1.36 3.76
RH Jaret Wright 169 3 4 5.7 1.39 4.70

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Bob Wickman* 51 3 5 30 1.53 3.10
RH Paul Shuey 187 4 2 0 1.27 3.39
LH Ricardo Rincon 218 2 0 0 1.50 2.70
RH Steve Reed 266 2 0 0 1.41 4.34
RH Justin Speier 301 5 2 0 1.24 3.29
RH Steve Woodard* 192 4 10 0 1.32 5.85
RH Charles Nagy 332 2 7 0 1.61 8.21

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Combined AL and NL stats

"Some think Lofton is their second-best defensive centerfielder,
behind Cabrera."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)