Tribe At Halfway Point…First Place To Stay?

The Major League Baseball All-Star is considered the midway point of the season, and that will occur a week from today in Miami, with five members of the Cleveland Indians participating.

However, the real halfway point of the campaign happened on Sunday, when the Tribe won the series against the Detroit Tigers with an 11-8 win, thus ended the first half at 44-37, a pace that would get them 88 wins in 2017.

The Indians seem to be getting it together though, as the last 27 games have produced a 16-11 mark, compared to the first 1/6th of the year in which the Indians were 15-12 and the second sixth of the season produced a 13-14 record.

The Tribe figured to half solid pitching this season, and that has come to fruition with Cleveland ranking second in the American League in ERA, trailing only Boston.

The starting pitching stabilized with the return of AL pitcher of the month Corey Kluber, who made his 2nd All-Star Game, and Carlos Carrasco could’ve been selected as well, with his 9-3 record and 3.50 ERA.

Trevor Bauer has started to be solid each time out and youngster Mike Clevinger has delivered more often than not.

The fifth spot is a concern right now, with Josh Tomlin struggling at 4-9 and the worst ERA in baseball, and Danny Salazar currently in the minor leagues rehabbing a shoulder problem.

It would not be surprised to see president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff look for another solid starter prior to the trade deadline at the end of this month.

The inability of the starters to provide innings has caused the bullpen to spring a couple of weeks over the last 27 games.  Andrew Miller was being overused and Francona recognized that and started using him just an inning at a time.

Cody Allen is also going through a period where he hasn’t been unhittable and leads the relief corps in allowing home runs.

Overall, when Tito goes to his ‘pen, the results have been outstanding.  As long as the usage is kept under control, that should be the team’s strength.

The offense had a bit of a surge because of the hot hitting for a trio of Tribe batters: Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

Ramirez continues to show his 2016 season is no fluke, making his first All Star Game.  The switch hitter is at .325 with 15 homers and a 963 OPS. He has been scolding since the first of June.

Encarnacion showed why he is one of the best power hitters in the AL over the last five years, and is now on pace for 34 HR and 90 RBI.

Chisenhall has had hot streaks like this before, but he is tied for the team lead in RBIs (with Carlos Santana) at 46 despite being in a platoon role, and has a 963 OPS.

However, the offense still needs Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor to get going.

Santana only has 10 home runs and a 732 OPS, Kipnis still hasn’t hit his stride after dealing with a shoulder issue in spring training, hitting only .229 with a .284 on base percentage, which makes you wonder why Francona leads him off.

Lindor is showing signs he is human, batting just .229 since May 1st.  He’s become pull happy, which he acknowledges, and we actually saw Detroit putting the shortstop basically behind second base when he was batting left-handed.

If those three get going, the Indians will have as formidable attack as any team in baseball.

Terry Francona feels his club reached a turning point on this recent stretch where Cleveland played 20 games in 20 days.  If this is true, the Indians are heading for a second straight division title.

MW

 

Consistency Continues To Elude Tribe

A couple of weeks ago, it appeared the Cleveland Indians started to figure it all out.  They went to Minnesota, swept the first place Twins to go from two games out at the beginning of the series to two games ahead at the end.

Then they went to Baltimore and took three out of four from the Orioles, completing an eight game trip at 7-1.

The Indians were 11th in the American League in runs scored going into the trip, and came home 7th as the bats started to click, led by red hot hitting by Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

They came home for a seven game homestand with a 2-1/2 game lead over Minnesota, only to score just two runs in a three game series in which they were swept by the visitors.

Outside of Ramirez, who has put together a remarkable month of June, the bats went silent.  They put plenty of men on base, but couldn’t get a big hit.  It seemed the old rule of the rally finding a struggling hitter was in effect because Yan Gomes left a small village on the basepaths.

The starting pitching wasn’t great, and overall the Cleveland pitching staff now ranks second in the AL in ERA.  Even in the Twins’ series, Trevor Bauer persevered after a tough second inning to get into the 7th, and Corey Kluber struck out 13 in seven frames on Saturday.

Josh Tomlin struggled in the third game, but still only allowed four runs when it was all said and done.

Terry Francona is clearly frustrated with his ballclub, stating again yesterday that this is a different season, and the players can’t keep harkening back to 2016.

Tito should follow his own advise and make some changes in the batting order, something we wrote about a few weeks ago.

The top two hitters, Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis aren’t getting on base in front of Ramirez and Encarnacion.  Lindor’s on base percentage is .313 and Kipnis’ is .286.

Perhaps when Michael Brantley (.360 OBP) is back, he should go into the leadoff spot with Lindor in the #2 hole, and Kipnis dropping into the #5 or #6 hole.

He has already mentioned a leadership void talking about how his club misses guys like Jason Giambi and Mike Napoli.

When Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff traded Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn during the 2015 season, they turned over the team to players like Kipnis, Brantley, and Yan Gomes.

Brantley missed most of last year with a shoulder injury, Kipnis has struggled after missing most of spring training with a sore shoulder, and Gomes hasn’t hit since the 2014 Silver Slugger season.

It’s hard to lead when you are hurt or struggling.

Perhaps the team turned a corner last night when after trailing 8-1 and 9-2, the Indians rallied for a 15-9 victory, their first big comeback win of the season.

We still feel the Cleveland Indians are the best team in the American League Central Division because they have the best pitching mostly because of the bullpen and best hitting in the division.

However, there are warning signs that they may need something to shake them up.  The skipper is clearly concerned.  He can make the first moves by changing the lineup and perhaps going to Roberto Perez as the regular catcher.

Francona’s concern should make for an interesting few weeks prior to the trading deadline.  Just another thing to keep an eye on.

MW

 

 

 

 

Why Has Tribe Stopped Running?

The Oakland A’s arrived in town yesterday for a four game series against the Cleveland Indians.  Why is this significant?

Because it marks the return of World Series hero Rajai Davis, who hit the game tying home run in game seven of the Fall Classic.

Davis brought the added weapon of the stolen base to the Indians, leading the American League with 43, as the Tribe led the junior circuit as a team with 143 steals.

Along with Mike Napoli, Davis was credited with making Cleveland a very aggressive team on the base paths, and the Indians seemed to go from first to third quite a bit.

In fact, the Tribe led the AL in extra bases taken last year with a 45% percentage.  This statistic is based on taking more than one base on a single or taking more than two bases on a double.

Terry Francona’s team also led the league in stolen base percentage, succeeding on 81% of their steal tries.

This year, it’s a completely different story.

Cleveland ranks 11th in the American League in stolen bases, and is 12th in stolen base percentage.

They’ve also dropping to 11th in extra bases taken.

Granted Davis was a huge part of the Tribe’s speed game, but he’s wasn’t the only player running.  Jose Ramirez stole 22 bags, Francisco Lindor had 19 and his keystone combination partner, Jason Kipnis had 15.

Abraham Almonte added 8 more.

This year, Michael Brantley leads the Indians with five, which for a full season, doesn’t even project to 20.

Ramirez has three, Lindor and Kipnis each have two.  This year’s team just isn’t as aggressive on the bases.

Davis’ replacement is Austin Jackson, who hasn’t stolen 20 bases in a season since 2014, and he has never been the base stealer that Davis is.

Napoli was replaced by Edwin Encarnacion, who has been the better hitter over his career, but doesn’t have the aggressiveness on the basepaths of his predecessor.

So, this aspect of the game has to come from other players.  You would think it would come from Lindor, a team leader in every sense of the word, but he’s turned into an extra base machine, ranking third in the AL behind Mike Trout and Corey Dickerson of Tampa Bay.

He’s not stopping at first base very often, but his on base percentage is down almost 20 points from a year ago.

Ramirez would be the other candidate, but his on base percentage is down 25 points from a year ago.  Perhaps he will steal more when he starts drawing some walks again.

Maybe rookie Bradley Zimmer can be a force in this area.  Zimmer stole over 40 bases in each of his last two minor league seasons, so he has the kind of speed the Indians need.  However, he will have to learn the pitchers’ moves or he will just rely on raw speed to advance.

There are other reasons why the Tribe offense is sputtering, mostly a considerable drop in the team’s on base percentage and a terrible batting average with runners in scoring position.

But don’t overlook the aggressive base running we saw in 2016.  That was a big part of the Indians’ attack a year ago.  They need to get back to that mindset this season to help get the offense going again.

MW

 

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

 

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

 

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.

MW