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.



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.


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–

Kipnis  (at least temporarily)

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.



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.



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.





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.



Who Plays Second For A Few Weeks?

A few days ago, the Cleveland Indians announced 2B Jason Kipnis was about 4-5 weeks away from returning to the lineup.

First off, many people went crazy thinking Kipnis wasn’t going to be able to do anything for 4-5 weeks, meaning his return to the lineup would be about two months away.  Apparently, those people didn’t read correctly.

However, it does mean that the second baseman will miss most, if not all, of the first month of the season, so Terry Francona has to find someone to partner with Francisco Lindor as the team’s keystone combination.

It is not a coincidence that when the amount of time became specified by the Cleveland training staff, we started seeing Jose Ramirez playing in place of Kipnis.

Our guess is if Kipnis was going to miss a couple of weeks of the regular season, Francona would have went with a mixture of Michael Martinez and Erik Gonzalez at second, and left Ramirez at the hot corner, where he played so well in the second half of 2016.

But when it appeared to be a full month, he felt it necessary to move Ramirez back to his natural position, and use find someone else to play third.

In his heart of hearts, Tito probably knows Ramirez is stronger defensively than Kipnis, and a double play combination of Lindor and Ramirez could be among the best in the league.

What to do at 3B?  The primary candidates are Giovanny Urshela who is very good with the glove, but his hitting is questionable because he doesn’t handle the strike zone.

Then you have Yandy Diaz, who looks to be ready with the bat, hitting over .300 combined at Akron and Columbus last year.  The brass seems to be very concerned about his glove, although the defensive metrics show he is solid at third.

A dark horse would be Richie Shaffer, who spent the winter bouncing from team to team, but has made some changes in his swing and approach which has caused his power to spike.

Both Diaz and Shaffer would have to be added to the 40 man roster.

Urshela would be the safe pick, but remember the Indians are in a different situation than in the past.  They are the defending American League champions, they aren’t a contending team anymore, so they should be making decisions to win right now.

We have heard people say Diaz shouldn’t get the nod because they don’t want his service time to be an issue.

This was an issue in 2015 with Francisco Lindor, but the Indians weren’t the top dog in the league at that time.  Of course, the failure to bring him up sooner than June 14th may have cost the Tribe a spot in the playoffs.

But Diaz is 25 (Lindor was 21), so when he does become eligible for free agency, he will be 32 years old, past his prime years.

Our belief is to go with the offense, which means giving Diaz the job.  If you have the lead after six innings, then go to Gonzalez or Martinez, whoever wins the utility man job, for defense.

It’s great news that Kipnis should only miss a month, but they have some options to fill in for him until he’s ready to go.


Time For Tribe Bats To Awaken

There is no question the pitching staff has carried the Cleveland Indians in this year’s run to the World Series.

The Tribe has played ten post-season games to date, and they’ve allowed just 20 runs.  Even the most challenged person, mathematically speaking, knows that’s just two runs per contest.

Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Josh Tomlin have been very stingy in allowing opponents to cross home plate.

With the World Series tied at one game apiece and no heading to Chicago, it’s time for the hitting, and there is no question the Indians’ bats are slumbering, to pick up their end of the heavy lifting.

In those same 10 games, Cleveland has scored only 34 runs, well below their average of 4.83 runs per contest in the regular season.

Yes, we know that the pitching is better in the post-season, and naturally teams will score less runs in the playoffs, but when you consider that 12 of those runs were scored in two games (ALDS Game 2 and World Series Game 1), it is another indication the bats are really struggling.

That means in the other eight games, the Tribe is averaging less than three runs a night.  Based on that statistic, it is kind of miraculous that the Indians have won six of those games and have won the American League pennant.

Besides Francisco Lindor, who has batted .342 with 2 homers since the regular season ended, and Brandon Guyer (4 for 11 in his platoon role), and rest of the hitters have struggled.

Leadoff hitter Carlos Santana has only 5 hits in 35 at bats.  He has walked four times, giving him an on base percentage of just .250.  The #2 hitter, Jason Kipnis, is batting .154 with just three extra base hits in the playoffs.

Cleanup hitter Mike Napoli nudged himself over the “Mendoza line” with two hits last night, but he has only one homer in the 10 games and is striking out in over one-third of his at bats (12 whiffs in 34 ABs).

World Series Game 1 hero Roberto Perez has been feast or famine.  He’s hitting just .200 (6 for 30), but does have four extra base hits and a team leading six RBIs, although three of those came on his three run blast in the 8th inning of that game.

The only other consistent batter outside of Lindor has been Jose Ramirez, and even he struggled throughout the Toronto series.

The offense does have 13 home runs in the playoffs, but they have only mustered 13 other extra base hits in the ten games, all of them doubles.

Rookie Tyler Naquin has continued his struggles, going 3 for 18 with 11 whiffs, but who do you replace him with?  His platoon partner, Rajai Davis is just 1 for 19 and hasn’t really hit since the middle of September.

If Davis were swinging the bat well, it would make sense for Terry Francona to replace the rookie, but right now, why make the move?

The Indians have just four hitters with an OPS over 700 in the playoffs (Lindor, Guyer, Perez, and Coco Crisp).

There is talk about Santana playing LF in Wrigley Field, but at this point, that has to be Tito hoping he will get hot, because he hasn’t hit so far.

Playoff games are supposed to be tight contests, but right now, it feels like if the Indians fall behind in a game, then it’s over.  At some point in this World Series, the bats will be needed to win a game.  Heck, the Cubs only scored five last night, an offensive output like Game 1 would have won that game too.

It’s time for the hitters for the Cleveland Indians to join the party, whether it’s at Napoli’s or at Wrigley Field.



Tribe, Tito Exact Revenge

It was a tough series for sure, and last night’s game was a nail biter, but the Cleveland Indians swept the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series with a 4-3 victory and advanced to the AL Championship Series starting Friday night.

The Red Sox came into the series with all the hype and the whole David Ortiz is retiring thing, but it was the largely unknown Tribe that won the series.

That three of the principal heroes in the clincher were Josh Tomlin, Tyler Naquin, and Coco Crisp tells you a lot about this group of Indians, led by their manager Terry Francona.

Certainly, Cleveland got incredible pitching mostly from Corey Kluber in game two, and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen (despite last night’s nervous performance) out of the bullpen, as they held down the highest scoring team in the American League to just seven runs in the three games.

But you can’t overlook the performances of Trevor Bauer and Tomlin, who put the bullpen in a situation to win the first and last games.

But look at the offensive heroes in each of the games.  Roberto Perez, the back up catcher going into the season, and a guy who missed two and a half months with a thumb injury was a star in the first game.

In game two, Lonnie Chisenhall, who normally wouldn’t have played against Red Sox lefty David Price because of the platoon advantage, had the game’s biggest hit, a three run homer in the second.

And don’t forget Brandon Guyer, acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline because of his ability to hit southpaws, chipped in with three hits in the middle game.

Last night, it was Naquin, who has struggled since September 1st, putting Cleveland in front with a two run single, and Crisp, picked up at the end of August, belting a two run homer over the Green Monster.

Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez made major impacts, but the Tribe overcame pedestrian performances from Carlos Santana, Frankie Lindor, and Mike Napoli to advance.

We hate to talk about perfection, because there were subtle things that could have been changed, but Francona pushed seemingly all of the right buttons in the series.  When his team got the lead, he managed as if it were the seventh game of the series.

And that’s the way it should be in the post-season.

Francona has to be secretly be smiling today, and that grin would be directed at the Red Sox’ ownership who dumped him in 2011 after a late season collapse.

If you listened to the press conferences for the ALDS, when Tito was asked about the good, young Boston players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, he mentioned it was a tribute to former Sox GM Ben Cherington, also fired by the ownership.

That was Francona getting a little dig in.

The skipper showed he can still motivate a team and push the correct buttons in a post-season series.

We also found it funny that the Boston media questioned the Cleveland manager at times like he was still managing the team that plays at Fenway Park.

So, in a day or two, there will be four teams remaining in Major League Baseball, and the Cleveland Indians are one of them.

To paraphrase Tom Hamilton, Cleveland’s “October to Remember” will continue.


Tribe Earned This Title In Many Ways

The Cleveland Indians are the 2016 American League Central Division Champions!

No one game wild card nonsense this season, the Tribe will start the AL Division Series next Thursday somewhere, hopefully at Progressive Field.

Although the Indians have been in first place since June, it hasn’t been an easy trip to the division title despite the margin being eight games as of this morning.

Terry Francona has been without arguably the team’s best player, OF Michael Brantley, for the entire season.  He has played just 11 games, getting 39 at bats for the year.

The starting catcher, Yan Gomes was mired in a batting slump the entire season, and then separated his shoulder in July and has missed the remainder of the season.

And in the past few weeks, the team has lost two starting pitchers, the strength of the team coming into the season, as Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were ruled out for the rest of the regular season.

Look, all teams have injuries and they overcome them as well, but we are simply pointing out that this hasn’t been one of those magical seasons where everything fell into place for the Indians.

The Tribe earned this division title by dominating within the division.  They have a 46-24 record against Central Division teams, and have a winning record against the other members of the division.

They earned this title by going on a 14 game winning streak in June, a franchise record.  And for those who belittle the accomplishment and point to the team’s record without the streak, we would say that every major league had the opportunity to win 14 in a row.

To date, only the Cleveland Indians have done it.

They earned this title by ranking first in the American League in staff ERA, and scoring the second most runs in the league.  If you do that, chances are you will have a very good record.

They earned this title by dominating at Progressive Field, going 53-28 at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.  They’ve gone .500 on the road too, so it’s not as though they are horrible outside of Cleveland.

They earned this title because they had young players from their farm system step up in the wake of the injuries that occurred, and guys like Jose Ramirez, Tyler Naquin, and Mike Clevinger have been major contributors to the cause.

They earned this title because two veterans signed in the off-season became major contributors.  Mike Napoli had career highs in home runs and RBIs, and Rajai Davis is going to lead the league in stolen bases at age 35.

Both have also become leaders in the clubhouse and taken the younger guys under their wing.

They earned this title because the front office went out at the trade deadline and acquired perhaps the best relief pitcher in baseball in southpaw Andrew Miller, whose addition has made the Tribe relief corps maybe the best in the game.

They earned this title because they have one of the game’s most dynamic young players in SS Francisco Lindor and his partner at the keystone, Jason Kipnis.

They earned this title because Carlos Santana rebounded from a couple of lackluster seasons in the power department to bash a career high 34 dingers, a club record for a switch hitter.

Lastly, they earned this title because they have one of the game’s best skippers in Francona.  We have questioned his in-game strategy from time to time, but you can’t doubt the respect he has from his players.

The hugs he gave his key guys as they left the field last night spoke volumes as to the relationship he has with the players.

Now, it’s time for some rest, but the Indians also need to win some games to secure home field for at least the first round.

But it was a sweet scene last night in Detroit.  And if they couldn’t clinch at home, that’s the next best place to do so.