COMMENTARY | It looks like the Cleveland Indians are going to have to defy the odds once again to be successful this season.
That's because it seems like no one is on the Tribe's bandwagon heading into 2014. Mike Oz of Yahoo Sports has the Indians 17th in his preseason rankings, and many sportsbooks have given Cleveland fairly long odds of appearing in its first World Series since 1997.
While it may be true that the Indians will regress slightly in 2014, it's hard to imagine the bottom suddenly falling out for Terry Francona's team.
These are three reasons why the Tribe will exceed expectations this season:
The Turnover On The Pitching Staff Isn't Enough To Cripple This Team
Much has been made about the losses suffered by Cleveland's pitching staff this winter. Starter Scott Kazmir and reliever Joe Smith have already bolted town, and fellow starter Ubaldo Jimenez seems like a longshot to re-sign with the Tribe.
Many of the doom-and-gloom prophecies thrust upon the Indians' pitching staff have centered around the losses of Jimenez and Kazmir -- two pitchers that were both disappointments in 2013 before blowing up after the All-Star break.
The Indians' cupboard is not bare, though, because 24-year old phenom Danny Salazar has the ability to put up Jimenez-like numbers in 2014. Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco will be a slight downgrade from Kazmir, but the bullpen could be improved with the addition of John Axford and a healthy Vinnie Pestano.
Cleveland's Offense Should Remain Strong
A big part of Cleveland's success in 2013 was an offense that netted the Tribe 745 runs -- the fifth-highest total in the majors last season. That number could climb even higher in 2014.
The Tribe traded the light-hitting Drew Stubbs to the Colorado Rockies in December, paving the way for what could be a potentially explosive platoon in right field between David Murphy and Ryan Raburn. Yan Gomes will be Cleveland's everyday catcher in 2014 after putting up quality numbers in limited action last season.
Michael Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Nick Swisher all had down years in 2013. If even two of those players can bounce back to their career norms this summer, Cleveland has a shot at averaging five runs a game in 2014.
No Worries With Francona At The Helm
Hiring Francona on as Cleveland's manager might have been the best personnel move made by the Indians' front office last offseason.
Francona's last nine teams have all posted winning records, and he has two World Series titles to his credit from his time with the Boston Red Sox. His guidance of the Indians to 92 wins last season was nothing short of impressive, especially when considering the Tribe had to close out the regular season by winning 10 straight games just to snag a playoff berth.
The pressure cooker that was last September did not get to Francona, and he did not let it get to his team. The attitude that he has cultivated in Cleveland is a winning one, and one that will not go away overnight.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo Contributor who has followed the Cleveland Indians for over 25 years.
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