Not Panicked, But Concerned About Tribe.

The way the Cleveland Indians are playing isn’t making us worried, but it is time to be slightly concerned as we are in the middle of the Memorial Day weekend.

The Tribe is sitting at just one game above the .500 mark at 24-23, and it is particularly concerning that they are just 8-13 at Progressive Field, the worst home mark in the American League.

The main culprits for the malaise of Terry Francona’s club would be an inconsistent offense, ranking 10th in the AL in runs per game, and the instability of the starting pitching, which can’t seem to get deep into ballgames.

The Indians have scored three runs or less in 24 of their 47 games to date, a total slightly more than 50%.  It is tough to win games in today’s baseball that way, and Francona’s club is just 7-17 in those contests.

When they get to four runs, they have an outstanding 17-6 mark, which of course, is championship level.  The question is how can they be more consistent on a daily basis.

It would help greatly if Edwin Encarnacion (who actually has hit better lately) and Carlos Santana started providing some pop in the middle of the order.  The latter has just five home runs on the season, after hitting 34 a year ago.

Another thing killing the offense is a 668 OPS for hitters leading off an inning, which includes a .305 on base percentage.  Guys leading off an inning simply aren’t getting on base, which makes it hard to get something going.

And when they do get runners on, Cleveland is hitting just .205 (670 OPS) with runners in scoring position, meaning the Tribe isn’t coming up with the clutch hit.

The Indians aren’t a big power team, so they rely on hits to score runs.  Last year, Cleveland hit .262 as a team.  This year?  That mark has dropped to .240.  That’s a huge drop off.

Right now, the Tribe only has four regulars hitting over .250, which isn’t great.  They are Francisco Lindor (.279), Jose Ramirez (.265), Michael Brantley (.291), and Lonnie Chisenhall (.261).  Only one, Brantley (.367) has an on base percentage over .350.

That’ an awful lot of outs being made.  Until that changes, we fear the offense is going to continue to struggle.

As for the starting pitchers, length of starts is becoming a huge factor.  Right now, it is rare to see an Indian starter still around the in the 7th inning, and that puts a huge burden on the bullpen.

Right now, they have been more than up to the task, but will we be able to say the same thing come August.

Since Mike Clevinger completed seven innings against the Astros on May 20th, no Cleveland starter has accomplished this, and only two (Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco) threw a pitch in the seventh.

Most nights, you look at the box score and see 5+ innings out of a starter.  That’s not good enough, and that Tribe starters have the highest ERA in the American League doesn’t bode well either.

Perhaps we will see some change when staff ace Corey Kluber returns to the rotation this week.  The speculation is that Clevinger will stay and Danny Salazar will go to the bullpen for the Carrasco like refresher course in pitching.

We are still in May so it is too early in the season to panic, but on the other hand, almost 1/3rd of the season has been completed.  Progress has to be seen if the Indians are going to make the playoffs in 2017.

MW

 

Our “Concerns” About The Tribe

Friday night, the Cleveland Indians will play their 40th game of the 2017 season, meaning the season is 25% completed.

Coming off an American League pennant, we are sure many fans were hoping for a start similar to the 1984 Detroit Tigers (35-5), so they could start looking for the inevitable repeat berth in the Fall Classic.

Baseball doesn’t work that way.

The old axiom in the sport is you can’t win a post-season spot in April, but you can certainly lose one.  The Tribe is just a game out of the AL Central Division lead as of today, and they are just a game out of the second wild card spot too.

They are still in a good position to get back to the playoffs, because they are right around the .500 mark, and really haven’t played good baseball to date.

There are some things that concern us about the Tribe, though.  And in no particular order, here they are:

The Starting Pitching.  Injuries aside, and losing one of the best pitchers in the game in Corey Kluber, even for a short time, doesn’t help, the rotation has been shaky outside of Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

Look at these numbers:

Danny Salazar–5.2 innings per start, 5.66 ERA
Josh Tomlin–5.1 innings per start, 6.86 ERA
Trevor Bauer–5.6 innings per start, 6.92 ERA

Just as bad as the high ERAs is, the lack of length from this trio is putting a big toll on the bullpen.  If the starters can’t start giving Terry Francona some length, the relief corps will be fried by August.

Salazar and Bauer’s struggles extend into the second half of last season.

The bigger issue might be that the Tribe doesn’t have a lot of options currently in the organization.

Inconsistent Offense.  The 2016 Indians finished second in the American League in runs scored.  Right now, the team ranks 10th, despite the addition of Michael Brantley to his pre-injury form.

Most people will put the blame on free agent signee Edwin Encarnacion, who is hitting just .203 with 6 HR and 14 RBI (691 OPS).  However, Jason Kipnis has struggled since coming back from a shoulder issue, and the outfield platoons haven’t provided much hitting either, outside of Lonnie Chisenhall.

We feel Encarnacion is pressing, trying to live up to his contract, and Kipnis will come around as he gets more at bats.

One other thing.  We are a little concerned that Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have become a little too home run happy.  That’s something to keep an eye on.

Loss Of Aggressiveness On Bases.  This has started to return, starting with last Sunday’s game vs. the Twins.

Lindor and Ramirez have just two stolen bases each.  For as many times as each have been on base, that’s incredibly low.  We understand that Rajai Davis led the league in steals a year ago, but he didn’t take the instructions on how to steal with him.

The Indians strikeout fewer than all but two AL teams (Boston and Minnesota), and they are fifth in drawing walks.  Francona needs to put runners in motion more often.

Cleveland is 11th in the American League in homers, so they shouldn’t be playing Earl Weaver baseball, looking for the three run bomb.

It’s time to use the speed to the team’s advantage.

We don’t think this is a horrible baseball team.  We don’t think the sky is falling.  It is silly to ignore some trouble spots for the Indians.

They still have another gear as the season goes on.

MW

On Tribe’s Hitting And Base Stealing

The Cleveland Indians’ hitters are in a slump.  They have scored just 27 runs in the 11 games since the calendar turned to May.

That’s an average of less than three runs per contest, and it is very difficult to win baseball games scoring at a rate of 2.4 tallies a night.

It gets a little worse when you realize 13 of those runs were scored in two games last week in Toronto.

In the other nine games in May, Cleveland has put just 14 runs on the board, which translates to less than two runs per contest.

Now, this is not to say we think the Tribe should be buried, or they are in trouble, which some on social media suggested yesterday, but there is no reason to not be concerned about the ability to score runs consistently for the 2017 edition of the Cleveland Indians.

Terry Francona’s crew has scored three runs or less in 20 of the 35 games the team has played to date.  That’s 57%.  Last year, the Indians scored three or less in 62 of the 161 games played, which comes to just 39%.

We know some are quick to blame Edwin Encarnacion, who is off to a slow start, but the front office made the correct move replacing Mike Napoli, who by the way is hitting under .200 with Texas.

And some Indians are actually having strong starts to 2017.  Michael Brantley (843 OPS), Francisco Lindor (868) and Jose Ramirez (841) are all very productive.

Unfortunately, Cleveland is getting very little out of 2B, where Jason Kipnis has struggled mightily coming back from a shoulder problem in spring training, and in RF, where the platoon (it really isn’t we know) of Abraham Almonte and Brandon Guyer has not given the Tribe any offense.

We certainly aren’t giving up on Kipnis, a two time all star, and one of the Indians’ best hitters a year ago, but it does seem a little odd that Francona is hitting him in the middle of the lineup, moving him from 6th to 5th (or even 3rd) in the last few days.

Several people have mentioned the absence of Rajai Davis, and again, we understand and support Chris Antonetti’s and Mike Chernoff’s thought process in not bringing him back, the base stealing he provided has disappeared.

Cleveland led the AL in stolen bases a year ago, but currently rank 12th in the American League.  Besides Davis, Lindor, Ramirez, and Kipnis all stole in double digits a year ago, and Almonte was 8 for 8.

This year, the team leader through 35 games is Michael Brantley with three, while Ramirez and Carlos Santana have two.

The Indians have become a station to station baseball team.  They need to get some of that aggressive on the base paths back.

It might be time to shake up the batting order a bit in an effort to get guys going.  We understand that Francona doesn’t make rash decisions, but it could be a temporary thing too.

Perhaps put Ramirez and his .356 on base percentage at the top of the order, with Brantley (.362 OBP) in the #2 hole.

Maybe something like this–

Ramirez
Brantley
Lindor
Encarnacion
Santana
Chisenhall
Gomes
Kipnis  (at least temporarily)
Almonte

Or maybe it’s time to bring up Bradley Zimmer?  If Yandy Diaz isn’t going to play everyday, send him back to AAA.

The Indians have too many solid hitters to be struggling this bad.  They shouldn’t be having to scratch out 1 or 2 runs a night on a regular basis.

It is still early, but we are coming up on the quarter pole of the season.  It’s not going to be early much longer.

MW

 

Tribe’s Starters Need To Step Up

Last season, the Cleveland Indians went to the seventh game of the World Series despite missing two of its starting pitchers (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) for the entirety of the post-season.

It was a handicap because the starting rotation was considered the strength of Terry Francona’s ballclub.

So far in 2017, that simply hasn’t been the case.

Last night’s start by Danny Salazar just highlighted the issue once again.

The right-hander had early inning issues once again, giving up a three run homer to Jose Bautista after the hitters handed him a 2-0 first inning lead.

Then, after the Indians went up 7-3 with a five run third, Salazar couldn’t finish the bottom of the inning, giving up two more tallies before departing.

With Corey Kluber on the disabled list with a bad back and Trevor Bauer’s struggles being well chronicled, Salazar needs to pitch well to take the burden off the bullpen.

The statistics show the starting pitchers haven’t been that bad on the season thus far.  In the first 33 games in 2017, Cleveland pitchers have compiled 16 quality starts, a percentage that ranks in the middle of the pack in the American League (7th).

However, those numbers are skewed by the dominance of Carlos Carrasco, easily the Tribe’s best starter this year with a 1.86 ERA.

Carrasco has six of those quality starts (out of seven appearances), meaning in the other 26 starts, Indian hurlers have put together just 10 starts of six innings, allowing just three runs.

Kluber has three of those 10, and he’s not pitching right now.

Outside of Carrasco, the other four starters have an ERA of over 5.00.  Josh Tomlin and Bauer both have figures over 7.00.

Some of the issues can be from playing in a lot of hitter havens to start the 2017 season.  Cleveland has played a dozen games in Texas, Arizona, Chicago, and Toronto, all pretty good places to hit.

However, as a pitching staff, the team ERA is better on the road than it is at Progressive Field.

Each of the struggling pitchers seem to have different issues.

Salazar is striking people out (53 K’s in 36-1/3 innings), but has had problems with control, a team leading 18 walks, and putting hitters away.  He winds up throwing a ton of pitches because of the latter.

He’s also had issues in the first and second innings.

Tomlin doesn’t have control issues, but he’s allowed 41 hits in 30-1/3 frames.  Surprisingly, he’s allowed the least home runs among the rotation, and we say that considering his history.

To be fair, since two horrible starts to begin the season, he’s been pretty good in his last four starts (24 IP, 11 ER).

And Bauer was discussed earlier this week.  He has tremendous stuff, but has had extreme consistency issues in 2017.  He needs to start being able to keep his team in a game through five innings to give them a chance to win.

We know that if the rotation straightens itself out and goes two times through it, the Indians could have a 10 game winning streak.  That’s how good they can be at their best.

That the ballclub is 18-15 without them being special is a tribute to how good the Tribe and their bullpen is this season.

MW

 

 

 

The Bauer Conundrum

It is not a secret that Trevor Bauer hasn’t gotten off to a great start to the 2017 season.

After last night’s loss to Toronto, Bauer is 2-4 and has allowed 27 runs in 33 innings, including 7 home runs.  Those numbers are somewhat skewed by two horrible starts vs. Detroit (13 runs in 9 innings)

This performance to date, and Mike Clevinger’s very good start on Sunday vs. Kansas City have many in the Indians’ fandom to want to replace Bauer in the rotation with Corey Kluber returns to the starting rotation.

There is no question that Bauer is a polarizing figure among Tribe fans.  Many feel he cost the Indians the World Series last year (we really don’t get that one), and there is the drone incident before the American League Championship Series, and the fact the pitcher makes his political beliefs well known.

None of that should matter to fans if it doesn’t matter to Terry Francona, Mickey Callaway, and the team’s front office.

Of course, they may indeed be bothered, but they do not and cannot put those feelings in their evaluation of the right-hander.

In looking at the numbers over his career, Bauer has never allowed an inordinate amount of long balls, his main problem has been control.

He led the American League in free passes in 2015, and was 7th last season.

This year, his walks are down, allowing more than three in a game just once this year (his walks per nine are about his career average as result of a five walk game vs. Detroit), and perhaps the homers are a result of being in the strike zone more often.

If that is the case, it might be just a matter of time before he learns to limit the home runs to solo shots.

Regardless, Bauer is just 26 years old, and throws 95 MPH with his fastball consistently.  He also have a very good curveball. It would be very difficult to give up on someone with that kind of stuff.

Besides, outside of Clevinger, the Tribe doesn’t have a lot of depth at AAA.  Ryan Merritt is okay, but has marginal stuff, and Adam Plutko and Shawn Morimando are struggling.

Also, Francona and Callaway like how Bauer takes the ball every fifth day, and for the most part will stay out on the mound to save the bullpen.

Last night was a great example of that.  Bauer gave up four runs in the first three innings, but stayed out there, throwing 125 pitches to get the Tribe through the sixth.

There is a value to that that most fans don’t understand.

So, Francona only had to use one reliever (Zack McAllister) last night, saving everyone else for tonight’s game.  Perhaps someone else lets it spin out of control in the 4th, and the skipper has to use a bevy of relievers.

He has given the Indians 366 innings over the last two seasons,  more than anyone not named Kluber.

As Francona always says, when you think you have enough pitching, you go out and get some more.

Yes, Bauer is frustrating.  Yes, he’s a different cat.  Yes, he is very inconsistent.  But he’s talented enough to play this out.  You have to go the last mile with him to find out if he can be a top of the rotation starter.

MW

 

 

Reviewing The Tribe So Far

It’s hard to believe, but the Indians 3-2 win over Detroit on Wednesday means the ballclub has completed 1/6th of the season.

Their record is 15-12 which doesn’t sound very impressive, but over a complete 162 game season, winning at that pace computes to a 90 win season.

Terry Francona’s club has been a little inconsistent, but it does say a lot about this baseball team that they have a winning record despite only one phase of the team, the bullpen, performing up to expectations.

The offense ranks just 7th in the American League in runs scored (they were 2nd last year), and they have scored three runs or less in 14 games to date, more than half of the schedule.  They are 4-10 in those games.

This means when they get to four runs, they are virtually unbeatable at 11-2.

Why has the offense struggled?

Edwin Encarnacion is off to a slow start at .198 with 4 HR and 10 RBI (667 OPS).  This is his history, so we aren’t concerned about that.  His lowest numbers in his career by month are in April.

What is concerning is his strikeouts.  Encarnacion has struck out 39 times in 118 plate appearances, well above the normal rate for his career.

We believe he is just trying to justify his new, hefty contract, and once the weather gets warmer and he relaxes, he will be fine.

Carlos Santana is also off to a slow start, with a 663 OPS and only 2 home runs.  He does continue to take his walks with 17 compared to 13 strikeouts.  The walks rank second to Encarnacion.

Jason Kipnis didn’t get many at bats in spring training, and it has shown, as he is hitting just .132.  Perhaps he would have benefited from an extra week in the minors for rehab.

On the other hand, the two youngsters in the batting order, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are raking.

Lindor is taking his place as one of the game’s new stars, adding power with 7 homers, 17 RBIs and a 976 OPS.

Ramirez is showing his 2016 season was not a fluke (we didn’t think it was), batting .323 with a 986 OPS and a team leading 23 RBIs, tied for 4th in the American League.

The starting pitching has also been up and down.  Corey Kluber is now on the disabled list with lower back tightness, and has an ERA of 5.06.  He’s pitched some very good games, but has also had clinkers.

Carlos Carrasco has been the best starter, with a 2.18 ERA and allowing only 26 hits in 41 innings.  If Danny Salazar can get past the first inning he has been solid as well.

However, Josh Tomlin hasn’t pitched like he did in the post-season last year (currently an 8.87 ERA) and Trevor Bauer has had only one start where he allowed less than four runs.

Still, if you remove his two starts vs. Detroit, his ERA is 5.00.

The bullpen has been the strength of the team to this point.

The combination of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller has been spectacular.  In 24-2/3 combined innings, they have struck out 42 batters, and allowing just one run.

Bryan Shaw continues to be a workhorse and has been effective, but newcomer Nick Goody has impressed as well.

Acquired from the Yankees over the winter, he has thrown nine scoreless frames, allowing just two hits.  He seems to have moved ahead of Zack McAllister in the bullpen pecking order.

The offense will get more consistent and so will the starting pitching, so you have to be very satisfied with the Tribe’s start to the 2017 season.

There is nothing to change our mind that this edition of the Indians will win the American League Central Division.

MW

 

Lindor-Ramirez Combo Bodes Well For Tribe’s Future

We started saying this last season, but one of the best things about the Cleveland Indians is their best players are 23 years old (Francisco Lindor) and 24 years old (Jose Ramirez).

Although everyone recognizes the talent of Lindor, who is not only the Tribe’s best players, he is one of the games’ premier players.  But including Ramirez could be construed as controversial, seeing that many people in media still consider him a utility player.

That’s despite the fact that the switch-hitter collected 565 at bats last season.  He is an everyday player, it’s just that he played two different positions, starting the season in leftfield, before shifting to third base when Cleveland released Jose Uribe.

There is no question that Terry Francona is managing a very talented roster, with many players having made All Star Game appearances.

Having a team with Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Edwin Encarnacion, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar on it is a good start, but add in Carlos Santana, Cody Allen, and you can see why the Indians are the favorite to defend their American League Central Divison title.

But the young duo of Lindor and Ramirez are arguably the stars of the team.

We all know Lindor’s pedigree.  He was a first round draft pick and the organization’s top prospect from the minute he signed his professional contract.

He quickly rose up the list of top 100 prospects in minor league baseball, finally arriving in the top 10 in 2015, when he was (finally) called up to the Indians in June 2015.

Ramirez was never ranked as a top prospect, despite consistently being one of the youngest players in each minor league he participated in.  People forget he was just 20 years old when he arrived in the big leagues in 2013, primarily to serve as a pinch-runner for the playoff push.

Perhaps if he was drafted and not an international free agent signing, he would have received more love from the people who cover prospects.

Check out these minor league numbers:

Player A:  .279 batting average  354/384/738
Player B:  .304 batting average  355/411/766

You may be surprised that the player with the better minor league hitting numbers is Ramirez.  That’s why we shake our heads at the thought that his hitting in 2016 could somehow be an aberration.

His minor league statistics show the man can hit.

Ramirez is probably the best defensive second baseman on the club too, but we understand Kipnis’ position on the team, and that Francona is loathe to move an established player out of his spot.

Remember that because of the duo’s ages, they should get nothing but better over the next four to five seasons.  We are already seeing the pair developing power, with both having four home runs in the first 14 games this season.

We can easily envision both being 20+ homer guys, perhaps as soon as 2017.

It struck us the other night what a great era for sports our area is having.  We get to see LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love on a nightly basis on the basketball court.

And right next door, at Progressive Field, we see Kluber, Miller, and two of the game’s best young and up and coming stars in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

We can’t wait to see what kind of players they will be in two or three years, because they are certainly special right now.

MW

 

 

 

Opening Day Means Welcoming Old And New Friends.

Today is the day baseball fans in northeast Ohio have been looking forward to since the World Series ended in early November.

The Cleveland Indians are back home at Progressive Field today to take on the Chicago White Sox in the first of 81 dates at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

It is also the beginning of six division games as the Tigers come in for three games over the Easter weekend, and it is important for the Tribe to again play well within the AL Central as almost half the schedule is divisional contests.

And that schedule is top heavy in terms of road games early for the Indians, as 23 of the first 35 games are away from downtown Cleveland.  While that’s a difficult early slate, it does mean a decided advantage after that stretch is done.

No doubt it will be a party atmosphere at the ballpark tomorrow, it always is for the home opener in this area, but the encouraging thing is it doesn’t appear the park will be a ghost town after tomorrow’s game.

Last year’s post-season run to the World Series sold a lot of tickets, and a good start will get even more people to visit Progressive Field.  The Tribe could have its highest attendance figures in many, many years.

It will be the fans first look at Edwin Encarnacion, their high profile free agent 1B/DH, and one of the game’s premier sluggers.

On the other side, age wise, it will also be the first time they get to see Yandy Diaz, who although he is just 5 for 23 to start the year, has shown an ability to hit the ball extremely hard.

Diaz isn’t likely to be here for long, he will probably go back to Columbus once Jason Kipnis returns from his sore shoulder, but he is a guy who is very much part of the Indians’ not to distant future.

It is time to resume our love for the mainstays of last year’s American League Champions, to celebrate how lucky we are to get to watch Francisco Lindor, now firmly established as one of baseball’s best young players, on an everyday basis.

It’s also a great feeling to have a lead late in the game knowing the Indians have likely the best one-two bullpen combination in the sport in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.  That duo can be interchangeable if Terry Francona so desires.

We will say hello to last year’s breakout star in Jose Ramirez, who filled in at several spots in 2016, and is doing the same now at second base, until Kipnis returns, and he moves back to the hot corner.

And we say welcome back to Michael Brantley, remembering it was just three short years ago that he finished 3rd in the MVP voting. It’s easy to forget Brantley has been here since 2009, and he and Kipnis were the first building blocks for a World Series squad.

It’s a day of celebration, remembering what the 2016 edition of the Indians did, and looking forward to what could be another great season at Progressive Field.

The boys of summer have returned to Cleveland.

MW

 

Tribe Wins Opener, And More Thoughts On AL Champs

For some reason, many people, including baseball fans put a lot of importance on the results of the Opening Day of baseball.

In reality, it is just one game of 162, but because the non-baseball sports media actually watch the season lidlifter, there is more analysis on game one, compared to a contest in May between the Tribe and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Indians did get off to a winning start, overcoming a 5-1 deficit after three innings to outlast the Texas Rangers 8-5 to go to 1-0 on the season.

Corey Kluber gutted out six innings on a day where he didn’t have his best stuff, Edwin Encarnacion debuted with a home run, and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen struck out five of the last seven Texas hitters to wrap this one up.

Remember though that baseball is a series sport, you want to win series, and the Indians have a leg up on that by winning last night.

So, while we celebrate a win in the first game, there are still some issues for this baseball team, although none of them are based on a lack of talent, which is very refreshing.

Over the weekend, the front office signed another player to a multi-year contract, Roberto Perez.  Perez inked a four year deal with two club options that could take him through 2022.

Perez was a star in last year’s post-season, and it says here that he will be the regular catcher by the All-Star break.  It is a well kept secret that Perez is better defensively than Yan Gomes (who is very good behind the plate), and better with a bat in his hand too.

Gomes doesn’t control the strike zone which in our opinion is why he has struggled at the plate since 2014.  Pitchers know they don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out.

Perez is also one of the best pitch framers in the business, and draws a ton of walks too.

By the way, we know Terry Francona is protecting rookie Yandy Diaz, but hitting Gomes sixth seems like it will come back to bite the Tribe.

The other situation worth looking at is in the outfield, particularly when Lonnie Chisenhall is eligible to come off the disabled list.

Austin Jackson was told a week before spring training ended, leading to speculation that Abraham Almonte would be sent to the minors.  But Chisenhall’s shoulder issue allowed the switch-hitter to make the team.

We still feel that Almonte is a better choice than Jackson for the roster because of his ability to hit from both sides of the plate, and because Jackson has had issues making contact at times.

We know it is one game, but Almonte had a day, didn’t he?  Two walks and the go ahead single in the ninth.  You have to wonder what happens when Chisenhall is back.

Does Almonte still go to Columbus, or does Jackson agree to go down.  Or will the team send out Tyler Naquin.  Just another problem teams have when they are good.

As for people disappointed that the Indians didn’t open at home?  Relax, worry about something else.  Hopefully, the Tribe wins both series on the road and they come home to a party after a successful trip.

MW

 

Why Tribe Will Repeat As AL Central Champs

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.

MW