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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Spring Training Is Here!

People who aren’t baseball fans just don’t get it.  We heard a few times on talk radio this week that hosts didn’t understand why baseball people get so excited over camps opening, when the regular season is still six weeks away.

It’s pretty simple.  First of all, baseball is the one sport that occurs pretty much every day.  To be a hard core supporter of the grand ol’ game is to make a daily commitment, 162 games played over 180 days.

Since it is played each day for the most part, it is missed when it isn’t here.  So Tribe fans, still dealing with a heart breaking loss in game 7 of the World Series, haven’t been able to lick their wounds with action on the field since November 2nd.

Second, it’s an early sign of spring, the promise of warmer weather to come, looking forward to warm, summer nights at Progressive Field.

We don’t believe any other sport can offer the regeneration of warm weather to follow.

And Tribe fans are even looking forward more to the beginning of spring training this year because of last year’s success, but also because of the tremendous off-season Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff had, signing perhaps the most prominent free agent this winter in 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion.

They also added to an already strong bullpen by inking lefty Boone Logan as a free agent.  They did have to say goodbye to two large contributors to last year’s success in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, but overall it appears the Indians are stronger than they were when they ended the season.

Baseball fans will be awaiting the first pictures from Goodyear, Arizona, particularly pics of the newest Indians, seeing Encarnacion in Tribe togs for the first time.

We also want to see how our old favorites look in camp, even through many of them were just in town for Tribe Fest at the end of January.

And we are all very anxious to see reports on those players recovering from injuries, mostly Michael Brantley, who missed virtually the entire regular season with shoulder issues.

Brantley’s recovery would be huge, adding another solid bat to an everyday lineup that finished 2nd in the American League in runs scored in 2016.

We will also be interested in the progress of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, two stalwarts of the starting rotation, who missed most of  the post-season fun with injuries.  Neither should be a problem long term, but until they are on the mound in exhibition games getting hitters out, you can’t be sure.

It is also fun to follow the progress of the top prospects in the organization, to get your first look at catcher Francisco Mejia and outfielder Greg Allen, both of whom should get some “A” game at-bats.

And we will get a newer look at OF Bradley Zimmer, who will likely start the season in Columbus, and should be on track to make his big league debut this summer.

Those are just some of the reasons why baseball fans look forward to hearing “Pitchers and catchers report”.  It’s the beginning of eight months of a commitment to the sport.

It’s a sign that winter will soon be over…baseball is back!

MW

 

Tribe Thinking Like A Contender, As They Should

Today, the Cleveland Indians will announce the signing of free agent 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion to the largest contract in club history.

We have all been waiting for the official signing because the news has been out there since the weekend before Christmas, and the Tribe fans have been excited about the move for two weeks.

And the contract has paid immediate dividends as even more season ticket packages were sold after the announcement that Encarnacion, arguably the most consistent slugger in the game over the last five years, was joining the team.

Thus, a new era for the Indians is here.  They are legitimate contenders to win a World Series.  That’s what happens when you get to the seventh game of the Fall Classic the prior year.

Unlike the last times the Indians made the post-season, in 2007 and 2013, they haven’t stood pat.  They improved the ballclub.  Make no mistake, no matter how important Mike Napoli was to the 2016 Tribe, Edwin Encarnacion is a better hitter.  No question about it.

With the departure of Rajai Davis as a free agent, the current outfield set up looks to be a platoon of Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte in centerfield, another platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer in rightfield, and hopefully Michael Brantley in left.

However, until we see Brantley swing the bat effectively in spring training, there is a lingering doubt that he can return to the form he exhibited in 2014 and 2015.

If he can, the Tribe offense should be even better than it was last year, and remember, they ranked second in the AL in runs scored last season.

What if Brantley isn’t ready or he is not as effective as in the past, what can the Indians do?

When you are a contender, you can’t rely totally on rookies.  They may be able to do the job ultimately, but you need to have a backup plan.

Preferably, they would sign another veteran bat who could play in left if Brantley isn’t healthy and may be able to slide over to centerfield if Naquin’s end of the year struggles continue into 2017.

We like several young players currently in the Cleveland farm system, particularly Yandy Diaz, who can play the outfield and 3B, and Bradley Zimmer or Greg Allen, both of whom could be candidates to play CF before the end of 2017.

However, it is tough to depend on rookies when you are chasing a ring.  You have to have a backup plan if they don’t hit or need more experience.

Which is why it seems at times that Terry Francona would rather go with a veteran.  When your expectation is winning the division there is no time to go through the growing pains of a rookie.

In our opinion, that’s why we would rather start the year with a rookie and if the player isn’t working out, you have the veteran in reserve.  However, neither Diaz, Zimmer, or Allen have any major league experience and none of the three have spent an entire year in AAA, although Diaz spent most of ’16 there.

Another alternative would be moving Jose Ramirez to LF and look at using Giovanny Urshela at third.

We have confidence the Tribe front office will bring in a low risk, high reward veteran outfielder as insurance for Brantley.

It’s part of the new philosophy at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.  The philosophy of a team trying to bring a title to Cleveland.

KM

 

Why Tribe Can’t Stand Pat

The second half of the baseball season starts tomorrow night, and the Cleveland Indians are in good position to make the playoffs.

They have a 6-1/2 game lead in the American League Central Division and after they return from the trip they start tomorrow, they will play 39 of their last 65 contests at Progressive Field.

So, the question is does the Tribe need to make a move before the July 31st trading deadline?  After all, they lead the AL in ERA and rank third in the league in runs scored per game.

Don’t they have enough on the current roster to win the division?  Isn’t Michael Brantley getting ready to come back, giving the team an added bat?

The reason is simply this…president Chris Antonetti, GM Mike Chernoff, and skipper Terry Francona cannot assume that everything that went well in the first half is going to continue after the All Star break.

Jose Ramirez has been arguably the team’s most valuable player in the first half, filling in for Brantley and hitting .295 with a 769 OPS.  His prior career high in these categories is .262 with a 646 OPS.

Now, Ramirez is just 23 years old and is improving day by day as he should be, but what if he wears down because this is the most he’s played at the big league level?

Tyler Naquin was a solid hitter in the minors, but what he has done at the big league level is eye popping.  He has a 965 OPS and 21 extra base hits in 159 at bats.  Even the most ardent supporter of the rookie can’t think that’s going to continue.

Lonnie Chisenhall is 27 years old now and should be entering the prime of his career.  He entered the break hitting .299 with a 819 OPS, both highs for his time in the bigs.

He has had hot streaks like this before, though.  In 2014, Chisenhall was hitting .332 with 9 HR and 41 RBI in the first half of the year.  After that, he hit .218 with an OPS of 591.

You have to have an alternative if this happens again.  We aren’t saying it will, but you have to be ready.

Rajai Davis (35 years old) and Mike Napoli (34) have been huge for the Indians in the first half, but Francona has leaned on them a lot, probably more than he planned going into the season, but Brantley’s injury and the suspensions of Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd changed those plans.

The front office has to be prepared for a possible fall off in production from that duo.

And while Brantley should be back by at latest the beginning of August, there is no telling if he will hit like the guy who finished 3rd in the MVP voting in 2014.  There may be a period of adjustment or he may wind up being 75%.  Still a solid player, but not producing like normal.

Look, we aren’t saying all of these players will decline in the second half, but a good front office has to anticipate that things will go wrong.  Getting another bat will allow Francona to give some players a rest and that player could be plugged in if someone regresses after the break.

And it never hurts to upgrade your bullpen, but that has been addressed before.

Yes, the Indians have good chemistry and have a very good team.  However, you can still make it better.

The Tribe needs to do everything it can to win the division and avoid the dreaded, one game wild card playoff.

That’s why you make a move.  It may just put you in the World Series.

MW

Does Tribe Need To Exercise More Patience With Injuries?

We were hoping against hope that Michael Brantley’s shoulder was fine when he was activated from the disabled list at the end of April.

Unfortunately, history was not on our side.

When Brantley came back, manager Terry Francona said the outfielder would play two days in a row, then get a day off.  This course of action was followed until the Detroit series last week, when the skipper wrote Brantley’s name in the lineup four straight days and in five of the six games on the homestand.

It was after the plan was altered that soreness we appeared in Dr. Smooth’s shoulder, which resulted in putting him back on the disabled list yesterday.

Again, we were hoping that Brantley recovered sufficiently from his surgery to allow him to have a normal season, but recent history should have taught us something different.

In 2014, Jason Kipnis pulled an oblique muscle on April 29th.  He was coming off his first All-Star Game appearance in 2013, and although his batting average wasn’t great at that time (.239) he had an OPS of 763, thanks to a .360 on base percentage.

The second baseman made it back to the lineup on May 28th, and struggled for the most part the rest of the season.

The highest his batting average hit the rest of the year was .261 (his career mark is .272) and he wound up hitting just .240, with 6 HR and 41 RBI.  He knocked in his last run of the season on August 29th.

And yes, he did play regularly in September.

Yan Gomes was coming off a year where he won a Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting catcher in the American League when he injured his knee on April 11th.

Gomes was struggling at the plate to that point in the season, but the campaign was only five games old.

The catcher returned to the lineup on May 24th, didn’t hit a home run until his 10th game back, and wound up hitting just .231 for the season with 12 HR, a drop from 21 the year prior.

His numbers prior to the All Star Game were 234/327/560, while after the break, they were closer to his career norms at 289/435/725.

Were both players rushed back too soon?

First, we are sure both players said they were ready.  We do not think the Indians’ front office and training staff pressured either Kipnis, Gomes, or Brantley to get back in the lineup.

All three are the team’s leaders, and probably feel obligated as leaders to get back on the field.

Since those players are keys to the Indians’ offense, having them out there at less than 100%, or let’s say 80% doesn’t allow them to hit like they normally do, and that creates even a bigger burden on the ballclub.

Wouldn’t it be better to have them take an extra two weeks to get even more rehab and more healthy before putting them right back in the starting lineup?

Let’s say the Tribe waited an extra couple of weeks with Brantley, had him get more at bats in minor league games and activated him on May 15th (today).  Could he play the rest of the year like Michael Brantley?  And wouldn’t the Indians be better off if he could?

We will never know, but it behooves the organization to get the leftfielder back to 100% when he does return, because his bat is so important to the team.

They say those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.  The Indians aren’t learning from the mistakes of the past.

MW

 

An Early Tribe Check

With all of the rainouts and off days this early in the baseball season, it is hard to evaluate any team, including the Cleveland Indians.

That said, we do have some early thought about the Wahoos, a team we picked to win the AL Central.

We have seen fans complaining about the lack of runs scored by the Tribe in this young season.  After all, they rank 10th in the American League in tallies at this point of the season.

However, these people need to look closer.  The Indians rank 10th in the league because they’ve played the least number of games.

In actuality, Cleveland ranks 6th in runs per game at 4.2 a game, one notch ahead of the Blue Jays.  While we aren’t saying this will hold up all year, and we mean scoring more than Toronto, it does show the offense has improved a bit.

The pitching which was supposed to be the strength of the ’16 Indians, has not rounded into form as of yet, ranking 14th in the junior circuit, ahead of just Boston, who seems to give up eight runs per game, and Houston.

The staff ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of strikeouts per nine innings, whereas last year, the Indians led the AL in this statistic.

We said coming into the year that the bullpen was one spot that concerned us, and the first ten games haven’t eased those fears.  Bryan Shaw has been a disaster in two of his four appearances, one costing the Indians a game, and in the other turning a laugher into a game where Cody Allen had to get four outs.

If the Tribe has a lead in a close game tonight, who does Terry Francona go to in the eighth inning?

He can’t use Shaw again, so our guess is it would be Zack McAllister, but then who will be used if needed in the seventh?

Jeff Manship?  Trevor Bauer?  Those are the things that managers have to decide on the fly.  Handling the bullpen is one of best skills a major league skipper can have.

By the way, saying Shaw’s velocity is fine isn’t proof that his arm is sound.  Sometimes, a loss of command is a tell tale sign of arm problems.  Just saying.

In the meantime, losing games late is demoralizing to a team that needs to get off to a good start.  That’s the biggest reason Francona needs to use Shaw is some low pressure situations until he is right.

Back to the offense, it has been a bit inconsistent, but remember, the Indians are still missing their best bat in Michael Brantley.  Hopefully, the brass doesn’t rush him back, so that when he does return, he will stay in the lineup all year, and he hits like he normally does.

Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall will be back soon, which means some rosters moves are coming.

Here’s hoping Tyler Naquin isn’t a victim.  The rookie has had limited playing time because of all the lefties the Indians have seen, but he has looked good.  He definitely deserves a roster spot over Collin Cowgill, but if Francona isn’t going to play him everyday, he may be better off in Columbus.

We would let Cowgill go, and send down a bullpen arm and keep Naquin because Brantley will probably need sporadic days off for his shoulder.

You could have a Marlon Byrd/Chisenhall platoon in right field, and a Naquin/ Rajai Davis platoon in center, with Davis getting extra time in relief of Brantley.

We bet the Tribe will go another way.

Remember though, it’s still early.  The first real opinions here will be made after 27 games, the 1/6th pole of the long season.

KM

 

Will Tribe’s Strengths Override Weaknesses

We remember reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and his essays about the Montreal Expos, a talented team that just couldn’t get over the hump and win the division.

If we recall correctly, James’ theory was that even though the Expos had some great players like Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Tim Wallach, and Warren Cromartie, all near the top at their positions in the major leagues, the team was weighed down by the spots where they didn’t have great players.

The Cleveland Indians remind me of those Expo teams right now.

The Tribe has some of the best players in the game at their respective positions:  Michael Brantley and Francisco Lindor were both ranked by MLB Network’s Shredder as the best left fielder and shortstop, respectively.

And Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes are among the best second basemen and catchers in baseball too.

In fact, the network had five Indians among the game’s Top 100 Players Right Now:  Brantley, Corey Kluber, Kipnis, Lindor, and Carlos Carrasco.

That’s a good place to start for any team.  The hope is the weaknesses at the other positions don’t drag the Indians’ win-loss record down.

Without Brantley, it is well documented that Terry Francona has a lot of question marks to deal with in his outfield.  Since Abraham Almonte was suspended, and he isn’t a great answer to any question either, the starting OF looks like Lonnie Chisenhall in RF, Rajai Davis somewhere, and the other spot is wide open.

And outside of prospect Tyler Naquin, the upside for Joey Butler, Shane Robinson, Robbie Grossman, and/or Collin Cowgill isn’t exactly awe inspiring either.

At the infield corners, the Tribe is going with veterans on the wrong side of 30 years old in Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe.  Both have been productive recently, so it’s not exactly a huge risk, but neither is it etched in stone that these two will be productive.

The bedrock of this team is it’s outstanding starting pitching.  But the question that most national pundits have is did the front office get enough offense to take real advantage of arguably the best rotation in the American League.

Look, because of their arms, the Tribe is going to be in most games barring an injury or two.  Kluber, Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer give you a chance to win every night, and Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin aren’t bad either.

However, we’ve seen what the Indians record over the years is when scoring three or fewer runs per game, even with this pitching staff:

2015  18-61
2014  25-56
2013  17-53
2012  16-63

In the last four years, the trend has been an offense scoring three runs or less in about half the Tribe’s games.

Imagine how good this ballclub would be with a consistent and more potent batting attack?

They would be the team to beat in the American League, and perhaps all of baseball.

The front office is also fortunate they don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for that rotation right now.  Kluber, Carrasco and Tomlin are under affordable contracts, and the rest of the hurlers are under club control.

The story of this season is will the weaknesses in the outfield and the possible age on the corner infield outweigh all of the good things the franchise has going for it.

Or can the talented players on the Cleveland roster make up for the weaknesses.

KM