November 21, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
20°F

Young Indians optimistic in expected rebuilding year

Projected lineups

Indians

Michael Brantley, CF

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

Shin-Soo Choo, RF

Carlos Santana, C

Travis Hafner, DH

Orlando Cabrera, 2B

Austin Kearns, LF

Matt LaPorta, 1B

Jack Hannahan, 3B

Fausto Carmona, RHP

White Sox

Juan Pierre, LF

Gordon Beckham, 2B

Adam Dunn, DH

Paul Konerko, 1B

Alex Rios, CF

Carlos Quentin, RF

A.J. Pierzynski, C

Alexei Ramirez, SS

Brent Morel, 3B

Mark Buehrle, LHP

Chris Assenheimer

The Chronicle-Telegram

CLEVELAND — Opening Day breeds optimism, and the Indians were no exception to the rule Thursday 24 hours before playing their first regular season game.

Though they will open the year under cold conditions against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field today, it didn’t stop some Cleveland players from heating up expectations for the 2011 season.

“Playoffs,” right fielder Shin-Soo Choo answered, when asked what the team’s goal was this season, “first in the division.”

“Our goal is to win the division and make the playoffs,” said designated hitter Travis Hafner, who the Indians are once again hoping has overcome a chronic shoulder ailment and return to his feared from from 2004-07. “Yeah, we have a lot of development to do, but I think we have the talent in this room to do it.”

That is a lofty goal for a team coming off consecutive 90-loss seasons and will employ the youngest roster in the majors. Not too mention, the Indians will enter the season with an unproven rotation and key position players coming off injury-plagued years.

That’s why the Indians have been picked nationally to finish no higher than fourth place in the Central Division behind Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago. And it’s why not everyone in the Cleveland clubhouse was talking postseason.

“I wouldn’t go as far as playoffs,” said right-hander Chris Perez, who enters his first season as a fulltime closer after a banner 2010. “But we do have the chance to compete. The pieces are there. We just have to do what every other team has to do, to stay healthy and get some breaks.”

It all begins to play out today against a familiar foe and under less than ideal conditions in Cleveland, which had snowfall as early as Wednesday.

Both the Indians and White Sox, who have met six of the last seven years on opening day, left the spring training Arizona sun and 80-degree temperatures to return to snow and 40 degrees.

“It was a little kick in the face,” Perez said. “As long as it’s not going to snow during the game. It’s different, but I think it’s an advantage for the pitchers, so I’m fine with that.”

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen isn’t.

“It’s very stupid to play in Cleveland right now,” Guillen said, as grounds crew members cleared snow from atop a tarp covering the outfield at Progressive Field. “Nothing against Cleveland. We expect that when you play on opening day in Cleveland. A couple years ago they canceled like 30 games here.

“(But) we are here and we have to play through snow.”

Actually, the weather forecast says they won’t. While it is expected to be chilly with temperatures in the mid-40s, snow is not expected to fall under afternoon sun.

“I don’t think it’s going to be too bad,” Hafner said. “It will be a good day for baseball.”

And after all, it is Opening Day. It’s the one day during the baseball season that players’ managers’ and fans’ spirits can’t be dampened — or frozen.

“It’s like a holiday for us players,” Perez said. “It’s what we prepared for the whole offseason.”

“It’s one of the best days of the year,” Hafner said. “The city’s excited. We’re excited. It’s a special day.”

“We’re cold, but we’re excited,” said second-year manager Manny Acta. Opening Day is here.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.