There wasn't a better story through the first four months of the season than the Cleveland Indians. But the story didn't end well.
Cleveland stormed out of the gate and into first place in the AL Central by opening with a 14-2 record at home and a 30-15 record through May 23.
It wasn't just that they were winning, it was the way they were winning. Mixed throughout the season were 36 comeback wins and 18 victories in the last at- bat. The Indians enjoyed 12 walk-off wins, including seven that came courtesy of walk-off home runs. That marked the most walk-off blasts in one season for the Indians since the team had nine such shots in the 1995 campaign.
Injuries, though, started to take their toll and the team struggled mightily in the second half, before ending the year 80-82, up 11 wins from 2010, but still a whopping 15 games back of American League Central Division champion Detroit.
The club used the disabled list 22 times and only had Hafner, Choo, Cabrera and Grady Sizemore -- Cleveland's four most established hitters -- in the same lineup for 17 games. In all, Tribe players lost 826 days due to time spent on the DL.
Injuries have already reared their ugly head this year, as Sizemore (of course), is out until June following back surgery, while closer Chris Perez might not be ready at the start of the season because of an oblique injury suffered early in spring training.
Hopefully that is not a sign of things to come for the rest of the team.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Cleveland Indians, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 FINISH (80-82) - Second Place (AL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Derek Lowe (RHP), Casey Kotchman (1B), Jose Lopez (INF), Kevin Slowey (RHP), Dan Wheeler (RHP), Aaron Cunningham (OF)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Austin Kearns (OF), Jensen Lewis (RHP), Mitch Talbot (RHP), Luis Valbuena (INF)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Michael Brantley (CF); Asdrubal Cabrera (SS); Shin-Soo CHoo (RF); Carlos Santana (C); Travis Hafner (DH); Casey Kotchman (1B); Shelley Duncan (LF); Jason Kipnis (2B); Jack Hannahan (3B)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Justin Masterson (RHP); Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP); Derek Lowe (RHP); Josh Tomlin (RHP); Jeanmar Gomez (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Chris Perez (RHP)
MANAGER: Manny Acta
CAN UBALDO JIMENEZ GET BACK TO WHERE HE WAS IN 2010?
How serious were the Cleveland Indians last season? Well they went out and acquired the best starter on the market at the trade deadline, plucking flamethrowing right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies for a pair of blue chip prospects in a blockbuster deal.
After an amazing 2010 season in Colorado, Jimenez struggled in the first half of 2011 and never really got on track. His time in Cleveland was nothing special, either, as he went just 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts, a far cry from the 19 wins and 2.88 ERA he flashed the previous season.
How concerned were the Tribe with the way Jimenez finished? Well they sent a trainer to the Dominican Republic for the entire offseason to work with him.
The Indians were one of the feel-good stories last season and have a ton of young talent in their lineup. If they are really going to make some noise in the AL Central, though, Jimenez needs to be close to the pitcher he was two years ago in Colorado.
Cleveland did unload some of the burden from Jimenez's shoulders this winter with the acquisition of innings-eater Derek Lowe. Though, he and the right- hander formerly known as Fausto Carmona combined to lose 32 games last season.
Jimenez's struggles, though, have continued this spring. However, he insists that he is healthy. The Indians better hope so if they have any shot at all of unseating the Detroit Tigers.
CAN SHIN-SOO CHOO STAY ON THE FIELD?
It's almost amazing that the Indians were able to accomplish so much with Shin-Soo Choo sidelined for the majority of the season with an assortment of ailments.
The Korean right-fielder, who is a free agent at season's end, is healthy, though, now and is looking to pick up right where he left off in 2010 when he hit .300 and set career highs with 22 home runs and 90 RBI.
Last year, though, was a different story. It all started with a DUI, then Choo suffered a broken thumb and a left oblique injury. In all he only appeared in 85 games last season and hit just .259 with eight home runs and 36 RBI. He had hit .300 with at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in each of the previous two years.
Choo entered camp this year in the best shape of his life and 20 pounds lighter after a four-week basic training program with the South Korean army.
All Korean men are obligated to serve in the military for two years before they turn 30 years old. Choo became exempt by helping South Korea capture the gold medal in the Asian Games two winters ago.
IS ASDRUBAL CABRERA FOR REAL?
Everyone in Cleveland knew Asdrubal Cabrera was as good with the glove as anyone in baseball. What they didn't know was just how good he was with the stick.
Cabrera broke out offensively last season, as he established career marks in homers (25), RBI (92), runs scored (87), hits (165), total bases (278) and slugging percentage (.460).
His 25 homers set a new franchise record for a shortstop, and his 92 RBI were the most by an Indians shortstop since Lou Boudreau collected 106 during the 1948 campaign. Among AL shortstops this past season, Cabrera ranked first in RBI and hits, and was second in homers, runs and doubles.
X-FACTOR: ROBERTO HERNADEZ HEREDIA: Who? Well that is the man formerly known as Fausto Carmona. Heredia, who is three years older (31) than previously thought, was arrested in January for using a false identity to secure a U.S. visa and since he is not yet in the country, will most certainly not be with the team when the Tribe breaks camp. Of course Carmona, or Heredia, won 19 games back in 2007, but since then he has combined to win just 33 times in four years. Heredia has showed flashes of brilliance at times, but overall was too inconsistent. Hopefully Heredia has more wins in his right arm than Carmona did.
The Indians have the talent to be a factor in the AL Central. They will need another solid season from their starters, especially Jimenez, and their key offensive players must stay healthy and perform at a high level. It's almost impossible to count on Grady Sizemore anymore, but if Choo and Travis Hafner spend more time on the disabled list than on the active roster, this team is going to have a tough time winning. Even with the addition of another wild card the postseason may be a tough task, one that would probably require another double-digit leap in victories.