Over the past month, the Cleveland Indians seem to have become the darlings of the national media.
In the winter, the baseball people were talking about the San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals because they either reshaped their entire rosters or made a huge splash in free agency.
Meanwhile, GM Chris Antonetti made only two moves of real consequence, trading for slugger Brandon Moss from Oakland, and signing RHP Gavin Floyd, who is likely out for the year, as a free agent.
But now the Indians are gathering a lot of attention throughout the nation and we happen to agree, the Tribe will win the AL Central Division title in 2015.
First, we came to this conclusion a few months ago, so we aren’t jumping on the bandwagon, and second, if you read this blog or can look up the archives, we don’t pick the Indians to win every year.
Quite frankly, Cleveland is the best balance club in the division.
The Tigers can hit, but their starting pitching took a hit with the loss of Max Scherzer and the decline/injury to Justin Verlander. And their bullpen is still a mess.
The White Sox are a popular pick to make the playoffs with a very productive off-season, but the Pale Hose weren’t in the top half of the league in hitting or pitching last season, so they have a lot of ground to make up.
The Royals are the defending American League champions, but the loss of James Shields, and the fact they overachieved to get into the post-season is something that will correct itself in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Indians should get a better season from at least one of these three players: Jason Kipnis (most likely), Nick Swisher (possible), or Michael Bourn (least likely despite a good spring). That, along with adding a guy who can hit 25-30 HR in Moss, should help an offense that sputtered at times in ’14.
And the defense will be better with Jose Ramirez starting the season at shortstop, and don’t forget we will likely see rookie Francisco Lindor, who impressed everyone in Goodyear, at some point in the campaign.
Pitching, we know that the Indians will have a solid bullpen with all of the power arms that Terry Francona has at his disposal, with the late innings handled by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Scott Atchison, and others who can matchup after the game reaches the 7th inning.
The rotation did take a hit with the loss of Floyd and Danny Salazar’s poor spring, but they still have the AL Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber, an emerging Carlos Carrasco, who seems to have figured it out, and our candidate for a break through season in Trevor Bauer.
Most forget that for the first four months of the 2014 season, Bauer was the second most consistent hurler the Indians had. He is just 24, and last year allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out twice as many as he walked. That’s a good pitcher.
The team needs Zach McAllister and T. J. House to be solid at the back-end of the rotation, and at least keep the games close until Francona can ride his relief corps.
Lastly, a big edge for the Indians is that they have Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Tito has proven to be one of the game’s top pilots and although we disagree with him on some details, we believe he can and does get the most out of his roster.
The Indians have been close to the division title the last two seasons, making the wild card game in 2013 and avoiding elimination until the 159th game last season.
This season, they will kick down the door and a divisional series will return to Progressive Field.