We remember reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and his essays about the Montreal Expos, a talented team that just couldn’t get over the hump and win the division.
If we recall correctly, James’ theory was that even though the Expos had some great players like Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Tim Wallach, and Warren Cromartie, all near the top at their positions in the major leagues, the team was weighed down by the spots where they didn’t have great players.
The Cleveland Indians remind me of those Expo teams right now.
The Tribe has some of the best players in the game at their respective positions: Michael Brantley and Francisco Lindor were both ranked by MLB Network’s Shredder as the best left fielder and shortstop, respectively.
And Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes are among the best second basemen and catchers in baseball too.
In fact, the network had five Indians among the game’s Top 100 Players Right Now: Brantley, Corey Kluber, Kipnis, Lindor, and Carlos Carrasco.
That’s a good place to start for any team. The hope is the weaknesses at the other positions don’t drag the Indians’ win-loss record down.
Without Brantley, it is well documented that Terry Francona has a lot of question marks to deal with in his outfield. Since Abraham Almonte was suspended, and he isn’t a great answer to any question either, the starting OF looks like Lonnie Chisenhall in RF, Rajai Davis somewhere, and the other spot is wide open.
And outside of prospect Tyler Naquin, the upside for Joey Butler, Shane Robinson, Robbie Grossman, and/or Collin Cowgill isn’t exactly awe inspiring either.
At the infield corners, the Tribe is going with veterans on the wrong side of 30 years old in Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe. Both have been productive recently, so it’s not exactly a huge risk, but neither is it etched in stone that these two will be productive.
The bedrock of this team is it’s outstanding starting pitching. But the question that most national pundits have is did the front office get enough offense to take real advantage of arguably the best rotation in the American League.
Look, because of their arms, the Tribe is going to be in most games barring an injury or two. Kluber, Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer give you a chance to win every night, and Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin aren’t bad either.
However, we’ve seen what the Indians record over the years is when scoring three or fewer runs per game, even with this pitching staff:
In the last four years, the trend has been an offense scoring three runs or less in about half the Tribe’s games.
Imagine how good this ballclub would be with a consistent and more potent batting attack?
They would be the team to beat in the American League, and perhaps all of baseball.
The front office is also fortunate they don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for that rotation right now. Kluber, Carrasco and Tomlin are under affordable contracts, and the rest of the hurlers are under club control.
The story of this season is will the weaknesses in the outfield and the possible age on the corner infield outweigh all of the good things the franchise has going for it.
Or can the talented players on the Cleveland roster make up for the weaknesses.