Without a doubt, the biggest surprise for the Cleveland Indians this season has been the offense.
Everyone expected the pitching staff to excel, based on the Tribe having the best rotation in the American League, and perhaps the best in all of baseball. The bullpen could use some help, but for the most part, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen have done a solid job in the back of the ‘pen.
They haven’t disappointed either, as the staff has the lowest ERA in the AL.
There were many who expected the offense to struggle, and had those who thought this known that Michael Brantley was going to play in just 11 of Cleveland’s first 94 games, it would’ve have been felt it was too much for the pitching staff to overcome.
The reason for the surprise is simply this–the Tribe has found the long ball.
Last season, the Indians finished 13th in the American League in home runs, led by Carlos Santana with 19.
Only four other Indians hit more than 10 dingers: Brantley and Brandon Moss (traded in July) hit 15, and Yan Gomes and Francisco Lindor hit a dozen each.
Turn the calendar to 2016, and things are drastically different.
The Indians are 5th in the junior circuit in home runs and the power is dispersed throughout the lineup.
You have Mike Napoli leading the way with 22 bombs, waging a seemingly day to day battle with Carlos Santana for the club lead. The latter has already topped his ’15 total by belting 21 homers this season.
Jason Kipnis is closing in on his career high of 17 home runs, and his next one will tie that mark. And Lindor and rookie surprise Tyler Naquin have each hit 12 circuit clouts.
Rajai Davis is poised to join the double figure club sitting at nine, and Juan Uribe and Lonnie Chisenhall should also hit more than 10 before the year is out.
Last season, the champion Royals based their offense on an up and down the lineup attack which featured six players with OPS of over 800 in their lineup.
The 2015 Indians had just three in Kipnis, Brantley, and Lindor, who didn’t join the team until the middle of June. Against left-handed pitchers, Ryan Raburn was added to the lineup.
That’s why the offense sputtered. There were too many inconsistencies in the hitting on a night to night basis.
This year, it’s the Indians who have the ability to keep pressure on the opponent’s pitchers throughout the lineup. Napoli, Kipnis, Lindor, Naquin, Chisenhall, and Santana all exceed 800 OPS.
That’s a solid lineup that Terry Francona puts out there every day.
We also shouldn’t lose the fact that runs scored are up around baseball this year, and it does make teams with good pitching stand out. When run scoring is down in the sport, everyone has good pitching numbers.
It gives the Tribe a bigger advantage against the teams they are competing with in the American League and throughout baseball.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to add another bat before next Sunday. There is nothing wrong with making a strong unit even stronger.
The Indians need bullpen help, so they are looking to make their pitching better, so why not make the hitting better as well.
With a seven game lead in the division, the goal isn’t making the playoffs, it should be giving the Tribe the best chance it can have to win the World Series.
That’s a realistic goal. Right now!