Indians must be mentally strong in 2008

Tribe must be mentally strong in '08

CLEVELAND -- Baseball is a maddening game. Get too complacent with your past successes, and it will eat you alive. Get too hungry to overcome past frustrations, and you'll tire yourself out by the All-Star break.

The Indians, then, enter 2008 with the distinct knowledge that they must learn to walk a fine line. And that walk begins as soon as they report to Spring Training camp in Winter Haven, Fla., next week.

Once they arrive, the Indians will find reporters and fans simultaneously patting them on the back for their 96 wins and American League Division Series win over the Yankees and asking them what went wrong when they blew a 3-1 lead in the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox.

And those conversations, no doubt, will carry into the regular season, as well.

"The difficult part is we will hear it all season," left fielder David Dellucci said. "There is a desire to come into Spring Training wanting to win the World Series as soon as you get into Spring Training. But you can't do it. It's a completely different year. You can't play Spring Training games the way you played at the end of the season. You've got to take your time and let everything progress, just like we did last year."

Indeed, letting the season play out through its natural wax and wane was, perhaps, the club's greatest strength in '07.

"We got where we were because we weren't worried about the standings," Dellucci said. "We just played consistent baseball."

Doing so won't be as easy this time around.

Unlike a year ago, the Indians will enter '08 with enormous expectations placed upon them -- the same kind of expectations that hounded, and ultimately trampled, them in '06.

So the club must use Spring Training not just to prepare the body for the grind ahead but to prepare the mind, as well.

For one, the Indians will have to get over a mental hump that, understandably, has weighed on them all winter.

"Obviously, you're going to think about the way [2007] ended," center fielder Grady Sizemore said. "That's never far from your mind. You try to stay positive and look at the positive and take out what you can. But it's still hard not to think about how that ended."

The missed opportunity hasn't just vexed guys like Sizemore. It still bothers a guy like Dellucci, who didn't even play in the postseason.

"We had our hands reaching for the World Series and the opportunity to go there, and we fell short," Dellucci said. "It took a while, even for me, to detox yourself out of how it ended. You didn't want to talk to anybody about baseball. Everywhere you go, no matter where you live, you had to hear, 'Oh man, you were so close.'

"When you hear that, you don't want to talk about it, and you definitely don't want to talk to your teammates. I think it was probably a solid month and a half before any of us talked to each other. Not that we don't like each other, but we were kind of burned out on talking about it."

If they thought that was bad, wait until the reporters start rolling into Winter Haven.

But manager Eric Wedge, for one, has no doubt the Indians will be able to put the good and the bad of '07 behind them.

"Our guys do a good job of separating," Wedge said. "Our guys do a real good job of understanding what they just went through, learn from it, and then move forward. We've got a pretty tough group. They've toughened up a lot over the last three years. They've experienced about everything you can experience, with the exception of a World Series. They just have to make sure, to a man, that they work hard to get better."

Psychological talk aside, the physical remnants of what transpired last October will be a matter worth monitoring this spring and summer.

That begins with the workloads dual aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona endured last season. Sabathia led the Majors in innings pitched with 241 in the regular season and added another 15 1/3 innings in the playoffs. His total workload of 256 1/3 innings blew away his previous career high of 210 in 2002.

Carmona, meanwhile, logged 215 innings in the regular season and 15 in October after spending most of '06 pitching out of the bullpen. His previous high for innings pitched was 173 2/3 in the Minors in 2005.

The Tribe's division rivals, the White Sox and Tigers, have both learned in recent years the toll October can take on pitchers' arms. The Indians, who aren't expected to take any special precautions with Sabathia and Carmona this spring, hope to avoid such a trend.

"You're talking about two big, strong guys," general manager Mark Shapiro said of Sabathia and Carmona. "But obviously, you worry about the unknown. They're conditioned well, both mentally and physically, but you never know."

Nor can the Indians know for sure if last year was their one shining moment or the beginning of something special.

The feeling that nothing is guaranteed in this game should serve as motivation as spring camp dawns.

"Just because we went to the postseason last year doesn't mean anything this year," first baseman Ryan Garko said. "We might never get back there. There are a lot of cases of players making the postseason when they're young and never returning. We need to remember that this year. We're starting from scratch."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.