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3 Cleveland Indians With a dropoff in firepower, this Tribe won't be lighting it up in the postseason

March 25, 2002
March 25, 2002

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March 25, 2002

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3 Cleveland Indians With a dropoff in firepower, this Tribe won't be lighting it up in the postseason

Russell Branyan has a long, slow-developing swing. When the bat
leaves his shoulder, you can go grab a hot dog, slather it in
Bertman's Ball Park Mustard and be back at your seat in time to
see what happens. Quite often Branyan misses the pitch, but if
he catches hold of it, he can hit it a mile. Last year Indians
TV broadcasts featured a clock that measured the hang time of
Branyan's blasts, as if they were Ray Guy punts. In the minors
he hit a homer every 12.7 at bats; he whiffed every 2.6. In the
majors last year he had a league-worst 59 more strikeouts than
hits. So he's a project. He's also the Indians' starting
leftfielder.

This is an article from the March 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

That's significant, because for the past seven years Cleveland
has not been the kind of team to give starting jobs to unproven
players. The Tribe spent enough money to have a solid--often
spectacular--player entrenched at every position by St.
Patrick's Day. Not so under the ownership of Larry Dolan, who
took possession of the team in February 2000. The days of the
stringless purse are over.

Rightfielder Juan Gonzalez is gone, allowed to sign with the
Rangers in the name of fiscal responsibility. Second baseman
Roberto Alomar is gone, dealt to the Mets so that Cleveland
could replenish itself. "There are fewer Mercedes in the parking
lot this year," says reliever Paul Shuey. The Indians are so
desperate for power (the 13 position players likely to be on the
Opening Day roster hit a total of 153 home runs last year, and
first baseman Jim Thome had 49 of those) that Branyan will play
every day, regardless of the likelihood that a single-season
strikeout record will be set.

Branyan got off to a good start last year, hitting 11 homers
with 32 RBIs in April and May while playing regularly at third
base for the injured Travis Fryman. When Fryman returned on June
2, Branyan moved to the outfield, but the hot bat of Marty
Cordova cut into his playing time. (Cordova signed with the
Orioles in the off-season.) Branyan hit only nine homers and
drove in 22 runs in his last 64 games of the season. "Can I do
better?" he asks. "Yeah. I can cut my strikeouts, drive the ball
better. But I can't focus on [strikeouts], because the more you
focus on them, the more they're going to happen. They just go
away with quality at bats. If they don't go away, I probably
won't stick around too long."

Playing every day should help Branyan, because his long swing
suffers if he isn't using it regularly. "He's definitely not a
guy you want sitting on the bench, because of the timing in his
swing," says manager Charlie Manuel. "Russell was the kind of
guy in the minor leagues who put up big home run numbers, and
when you see him hit the ball, you get real excited. We're
trying to get a read on how good he can be. We think it's time
to turn him loose and let him play."

New G.M. Mark Shapiro inherited some of baseball's most rabid
fans, who have become accustomed to winning the AL Central (six
of the last seven years), but this club is doomed to let them
down. The Indians have a mediocre offense and slightly above
average pitching. Payroll was reduced by about $10 million, to
$82 million.

Should Cleveland somehow be in contention at the All-Star break,
the question becomes whether Dolan will spend a little extra to
make a push for the playoffs. "Every team has to make that
decision," says Shuey. "Do you feel like you've got a really
good shot at making it, and if so, is it worth that extra money
to go out there and try to get it done? My feeling is Larry
Dolan will give the thumbs-up if we're in the race."

Chances are it won't come to that. --M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: ICON SPORTS MEDIA The big-swinging Branyan will be playing every day, which means the single-season strikeout record will be in jeopardy.COLOR PHOTO: M. DAVID LEEDS/GETTY IMAGES COLON

In FACT
Cleveland and Anaheim have gone 27 years without a 20-game
winner. Gaylord Perry and Nolan Ryan were the last for each team,
respectively.

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

"With three quality arms--Bartolo Colon, C.C. Sabathia and Danys
Baez--plus Chuck Finley, a crusty veteran who knows how to
pitch, the Indians have one of the best rotations in the league.
The big question is whether Colon can maintain his
concentration, especially if the team struggles. When his
concentration drifts, he throws 100 pitches in four innings....
Bob Wickman is an above-average closer who gets people out, but
he has to watch his weight.... I'll be curious to see how many
pitches Jim Thome sees over the plate. With Robbie Alomar and
Juan Gonzalez gone, his protection is down. He may set a record
for walks.... Ricky Gutierrez is no Alomar at second base.
Alomar and Omar Vizquel saved the pitchers time and time again
last season, but this year opponents will get a couple of extra
outs. It'll be interesting to see what it does to the pitching
staff.... Matt Lawton is pretty good, but for this team to win,
he has to have a big year getting on base and scoring runs....
Milton Bradley has good ability. The question is whether he lets
it come out on a day-to-day basis. He's been described as a Carl
Everett in the making--his makeup is questionable--but Cleveland
has had success with guys in that category who did mature, like
Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez. If the fans adopt Bradley and he
feeds on that, he has a chance to be a good player.... This is a
team in transition. The Indians could be very good or mediocre.
If Thome goes down, they'll be in big trouble."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

RF Matt Lawton*[1] L-R 100 .277 13 64 29
SS Omar Vizquel S-R 157 .255 2 50 13
DH Ellis Burks R 75 .280 28 74 5
1B Jim Thome L-R 23 .291 49 124 0
3B Travis Fryman R 144 .263 3 38 1
2B Ricky Gutierrez[1]R 204 .290 10 66 4
LF Russell Branyan L-R 189 .232 20 54 1
CF Milton Bradley* S-R 207 .223 1 19 8
C Einar Diaz R 220 .277 4 56 1

BENCH

OF Brady Anderson[1]L 313 .202 8 45 12
OF Wil Cordero R 345 .250 4 21 0

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

RH Bartolo Colon 33 14 12 6.5 1.39 4.09
LH Chuck Finley 65 8 7 5.2 1.46 5.54
LH C.C. Sabathia 35 17 5 5.5 1.35 4.39
RH Danys Baez (R) 104 5 3 -- 1.07 2.50
RH Ryan Drese (R) 229 1 2 5.9 1.28 3.44

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH Bob Wickman 43 5 0 32 1.11 2.39
RH Paul Shuey 127 5 3 2 1.45 2.82
LH Ricardo Rincon 245 2 1 2 1.20 2.83

[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 154)

*Combined AL and NL stats

Manager
Charlie Manuel
third season with Cleveland

2001 record
91-71
first in AL Central

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Bradley
Lawton
Vizquel

Good Leather

Thome
Gutierrez
Fryman
Colon
Diaz

Iron Hands

Branyan