Indians' 8-3 Start Might Foreshadow Surprisingly Successful Season

CLEVELAND - APRIL 06: Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates with his teammates after hitting a three run home run against he Boston Red Sox during the game on April 6, 2011 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Okay, so it looks like the Cleveland Indians won't go 160-2 this season, as their eight-game winning streak ran into a pitching buzz-saw named Dan Haren Tuesday night.

Still, after the Indians opened their season with consecutive five-run losses to the White Sox, did anyone guess they would win eight of their next nine games and leap to the head of the American League Central standings?

Probably not.

Are these Indians going to finish the season atop the standings?

Probably not.

But there are reasons to believe that these Indians are better than we might have thought, before the season.

Last season, young players Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt LaPorta -- both the products of rebuilding trades -- struggled terribly. But management didn't give up on them; Cabrera's back at shortstop this season, LaPorta back at first base. And both players have rewarded that faith. LaPorta's still struggling to make contact, but he's hit a couple of home runs and drawn a few walks. Meanwhile, Cabrera -- who hit only three home runs last season -- leads the team with four bombs already this season.

Another lovely -- and perhaps sustainable -- surprise has been Travis Hafner's performance. Beset by injuries, Hafner hasn't played even 120 games in a season since 2007. But reports suggest that Hafner's finally healthy again this spring, and if Hafner can stay off the Disabled List there's reason to think he'll enjoy his biggest season since 2006.

Speaking of perpetually injured Indians, it's been some years since we've seen the best of Grady Sizemore. But Sizemore's rehab assignment this spring has gone well, and he's expected to rejoin the Indians sometime soon.

Is it really so difficult to imagine a competitive Cleveland squad led by one-time superstars Hafner and Sizemore, finally healthy once again?

Oh, and one more thing ... Before the season, if you were asked to identify the Indians' three best players, you would likely have come up with right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, catcher Carlos Santana and starting pitcher Fausto Carmona.

Well, Choo and Santana have been among the Indians' worst hitters, and Carmona remains winless in three starts (despite twice pitching well).

Is it really so difficult to imagine Sizemore and Hafner and Choo and Santana all playing well? With some nice complementary performances from Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt LaPorta? Is it really so difficult to imagine Fausto Carmona throwing his sinker as well as he threw it last season? Is it really so difficult to imagine 26-year-old starters Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson coming into their own this season?

No, it's not really so difficult. A lot of things will have to go well for the Indians to actually contend for a playoff spot this season. But the ingredients are there for a lot of things to go well. This club might not put together another eight-game winning streak all season. But enough three- and four-game streaks and the summer might get interesting.

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