A year ago at this time, we predicted an American League Central Division title for the Cleveland Indians.
After consecutive third place finishes in 2014 and 2015, that pick was a little more out on the edge as this year, but we will go ahead and say it anyway, the Indians will win the division title for the second straight year.
It’s not hard to see that Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, and Terry Francona have put together a helluva good baseball team, and they complement that with a farm system that seems to be churning out major league ready players.
The first thing people want to bring up when talking about the Indians is their pitching led by staff ace Corey Kluber, one of the game’s best starters, and the bullpen trio of Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw, which was dominant for most of the post-season.
Indeed, Cleveland finished second in the American League in staff ERA in 2016, one of only two AL teams (Toronto) with an ERA of under 4.00.
Besides Kluber, Danny Salazar made the All-Star team a year ago, and Carlos Carrasco is capable of dominating any big league lineup. Consistency and injuries have been an issue with both hurlers in the past.
Trevor Bauer is the wild card. There doesn’t seem to be any reason he shouldn’t be able to win 15 games, but he has gone through long stretches of seasons where he pitches poorly. If he can avoid those, and he’s only 26, he could be an elite starter too.
Josh Tomlin is a solid fifth starter, and in most rotations would be a three or four. If any of the starters falter, Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt can step in.
With the trinity of late inning relievers the Tribe has, most nights, it’s a six inning game for the opposition.
Because of the pitching reputation, people forget the offense, which scored the second most runs in the AL behind Boston. They did it without Michael Brantley, one of the league’s best hitters.
And this off-season, the front office added perennial 30+ home run, 100+ RBI man, Edwin Encarnacion to the lineup. After searching for a right-handed power bat for many years, Cleveland now has one of the best in the game.
They also have one of the best and most exciting young players in the sport in SS Francisco Lindor. If the Indians win the division in 2017, Lindor will be an MVP candidate.
Even if Brantley has a set back, an offensive led by Encarnacion and Lindor, with support from Carlos Santana (34 HR last year), 2B Jason Kipnis, and 3B Jose Ramirez should score a lot of runs.
Kipnis will start the year on the disabled list with shoulder soreness, however.
Francona is a master at using platoon advantages, so even though there aren’t big names in centerfield and rightfield, the Tribe will get production out of those spots.
And behind them in the minor leagues, poised to help in the majors are OFs Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen, 3B/OF Yandy Diaz (if he doesn’t open in Cleveland), and C Francisco Mejia, who will start the year in Akron.
They also have Francona, one of the game’s best leaders, and a master at handling the roster and the clubhouse.
In a long term view, the Cleveland Indians are on the precipice of a good run at the top of the AL Central. In the short term, they will win the division again, and hope to end what is now the longest World Series winning drought in the sport…69 years.