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Growing Threat
ALBERT CHEN
September 19, 2005
They might look like a bunch of fun-loving kids, but when it comes to the playoff race, the Indians are dead serious
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September 19, 2005

Growing Threat

They might look like a bunch of fun-loving kids, but when it comes to the playoff race, the Indians are dead serious

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Despite his rough edges, Hafner dominated at the junior college level--in '97 he was a juco All-America and MVP of the juco World Series--and the Rangers chose him in the 31st round of the '96 amateur draft. He broke in with Texas in 2002, playing in 23 games, but Shapiro acquired him that winter for catcher Einar Diaz and righthander Ryan Drese. In his first season with the Indians, Hafner had the daunting task of replacing Thome at first base, but after a yo-yo rookie season in which he hit .254 in 91 games, he settled in as the team's every-day DH in '04, hitting .311 with 28 homers and a .583 slugging percentage. The Indians' recent hot streak coincided with Hafner's return on Aug. 1, after he'd missed 17 games with a concussion; since then they have ranked third in the majors in runs and second in homers. "Everyone seemed to hit a little better when he came back," says Sizemore, "and that's no coincidence. His presence alone changes the whole dynamic of the lineup."

If the Indians do win the wild card, they could be a tough out in October. Beyond their balanced lineup, which, according to Detroit Tigers lefty Mike Maroth, doesn't really have "a weak link," Cleveland has the best bullpen in baseball (anchored by AL saves leader Bob Wickman) and an underrated trio of starters-- Kevin Millwood (3.11 ERA with a league-low 3.23 run support), C.C. Sabathia (7-0, 2.37 ERA in his last seven starts) and Lee (6-0, 3.37 ERA over his last 10 starts)--who are peaking at the right time. "I've said since the start of the season that they were a dangerous team," says White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "I love that lineup and the pitching. Cleveland is one of those teams that can put a lot of runs up on the board, so you have to swing the bats."

A year ago the Indians were one game out of first in the AL Central on Aug. 14, then lost nine straight to drop out of contention. "We were young, we were inexperienced, and we ran out of gas," says Broussard. "Last year we learned how hard it is to get into the playoffs, but now we're ready to go the distance. Everyone says how young we are, how our future is bright, but we don't care about the future. We're here to win this year."

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