As we usher in a new MLB Season, gone are the days of Cleveland relying only on Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, and Jason Kipnis for runs. With the additions of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and even Mark Reynolds, the previous three can finally have some peace of mind. The new trio was signed for an injection of power, speed, and energy that the Tribe so desperately needed a season ago, especially after tying a franchise record for the most losses in a month, going 5-24 in August. Fans were overjoyed at these additions, and rightfully so. We went from watching a Shelley Duncan/Aaron Cunningham/Johnny Damon merry-go-round in left field, to watching possibly the best defensive outfield in the game with Brantley/Bourn/Stubbs. The same can be said about first base. No longer do fans have to watch Casey Kotchman hit weak grounders to infielders, they can now watch Nick Swisher hit long balls out of the park. The team needed these high profile additions to show fans that they were serious about contending.
One aspect of these signings that has gone overlooked is the added protection that has been given to the rest of the lineup. I previously mentioned how the Indians would no longer have to solely rely on Cabrera, Santana, and Kipnis for runs, and this should ease that pressure. The pressure is not only relieved for these three, but also the entire lineup. This was evident in the Tribe’s season opener. Aside from Cabrera’s homerun, who had the other two RBIs? Not Nick Swisher, but the 8th and 9th hitters, Drew Stubbs and Lonnie Chisenhall. Being surrounded by quality hitters will ease the pressure on guys like these two. It is especially important for Chisenhall. It would be tough for the Indians to have to depend on a young hitter like Chisenhall for the entire season. Batting eighth is a perfect spot for him to develop his approach at the plate.
Another aspect of this added protection that was evident in the opener was not in the batter’s box, but on the base paths. Michael Bourn opened the top of the fifth with a single. Right away, Bourn extended his leadoff by a large margin. Dickey was obviously concerned with the leadoff, and Bourn’s base stealing prowess, as he tried to pick him off. Just after this, Cabrera hit one over the right field wall for a two run homer. No one can determine what Dickey was thinking, but you can reasonably assume that he was spending more time worrying about what Bourn was going to do, and less on Asdrubal Cabrera. Anytime a pitcher has to worry about a speedster like Bourn stealing second base, some of their attention is diverted to the runner and away from the hitter. Luckily for the Indians, they have other speedsters like Bourn, in Drew Stubbs and Jason Kipnis.
With all this being said, it is still very early in the year and certainly not a time to draw conclusions about this revamped lineup. Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds are not going to hit .300 just because Bourn and Swisher are in the lineup. However, I do believe that the added protection to the Tribe’s lineup will go a long way in improving the overall offense.