On Tribe’s Hitting And Base Stealing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe something like this–

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

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

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

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

MW

 

Tribe’s Starters Need To Step Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each of the struggling pitchers seem to have different issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MW

 

 

 

The Bauer Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MW

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

Tribe Injuries Cause Fans Angst

With the Cleveland Indians winning the American League championship in 2016, expectations in northeast Ohio are as high as can be.

With these expectations come the worry that sports fans in this area are famous for.  That angst popped up for Tribe fans at the end of last week when both 2B Jason Kipnis and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco were reported to be injured.

Kipnis is dealing with pain in his shoulder area and will sit for two weeks before trying to play again.  Skipper Terry Francona said this will put Kipnis on the disabled list for the season opener in Texas.

Compounding the concern on Kipnis is Michael Brantley’s injury.  Brantley suffered a torn labrum diving for a flyball in September 2015, and missed virtually all of 2016 with the problem and later developed tricep tendonitis.

So, of course, since Brantley missed most of last year, fans and media alike extrapolate that Kipnis will miss a significant amount of time.

Now, we don’t know the Kipnis’ ailment is minor, but Francona did say Kipnis could DH right now, and could play second too, but the team is taking a precaution.  Obviously, it is better for Kipnis to miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season rather than miss a month later.

What is puzzling is the Tribe’s solution to the problem.  To most, the obvious move is to put Jose Ramirez back to his natural position, and use someone else (Giovanny Urshela, Yandy Diaz, etc.) at the hot corner.

However, it seems Tito wants to keep Ramirez at third, and play a combination of Erik Gonzalez, Michael Martinez and others at second.

We understand Francona loves Martinez and values his glove, but the guy is arguably the worst hitter in the majors (his career OPS is 507), so you can’t put him in the lineup on a regular basis.

We would love to see Diaz get the first shot.  He’s been a .300 hitter in the minors (854 OPS in ’16) and reports out of Goodyear say he seems like he’s one of those guys who could fall out of bad and hit a line drive.

Urshela has a very good glove, but didn’t hit (608 OPS) in his brief shot in 2015.  However, he was called up before spending a full season in AAA, and remember, he wasn’t regarded as a top ten prospect in the organization.

Carrasco’s elbow showed some swelling after a lackluster start on Wednesday, and Francona said he will miss a start.

If he has to miss some time, Mike Clevinger should be the choice to replace him, although in the beginning of the year with off days, his absence could be minimized.

Clevinger started some games a year ago, and made the post-season roster, and the front office has slotted him for the “sixth” starter role anyway.  It just may be those spot starts come in April instead of the middle of summer.

Carrasco’s elbow didn’t show any structural damage, so hopefully it’s just some inflammation and he will be fine with some rest.

While no team wants injuries, and the Indians are no exception, having players miss some time early in the year, when the schedule has some off days, is better than being out later in the year, as the Indians found out when Carrasco and Danny Salazar missed time in the playoffs.

Fans should try to relax a little and hopefully the injuries to Kipnis and Carrasco won’t result in a lot of time being missed.

Remember though, the Indians overcame Brantley’s injury a year ago to win the AL Central Division, and the starting rotation’s hurts didn’t stop them from making the World Series.

MW

 

 

Early Spring Battles For Tribe

Baseball’s exhibition games have been played for just a little over a week, and the Cleveland Indians are right where they should be record wise.

We have long maintained a .500 record is what every team strives for, so as to not overly encourage or discourage a fan base.

Of course, after your team goes to the seventh game of the World Series the previous year, it should be difficult to temper expectations.

Because of the World Baseball Classic and the number of Indians playing in it, several young players will get a longer look than normal, not only because of the tournament, but also due to a longer spring training.

As we have said previously, there aren’t a lot of open spots on the 25 man roster, barring injuries.  There is one spot open in the bullpen, and the utility man position is also up for grabs.

We also have serious doubts that Michael Brantley will open the season on the active roster, so there is an extra spot open for manager Terry Francona.

The frontrunner for the last spot in the bullpen would seem to be Shawn Armstrong, who has put together three straight scoreless outings to open exhibition play.

The real reason Armstrong should be the leader is his 1.84 ERA at Columbus last year and his 72 strikeouts in 49 innings.

The other contenders are Joe Colon (15.75 ERA in four innings), Perci Garner (3-2/3 innings, allowed 5 hits and 5 walks), Nick Goody ( 3 scoreless innings), and rule 5 draftee Hoby Milner (one horrific outing, but 7 strikeouts in four innings).  Milner has to be offered back to Philadelphia if he doesn’t make the big league roster.

The utility man spot is complicated.  Erik Gonzalez should be the front runner because he is out of options and the organization could lose him if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.

Gonzalez is primarily a shortstop and is very good defensively at that spot.  Good enough that he could definitely help another team if they have a chance to get him.

The other primary contender is Michael Martinez, a Tito favorite, and also a guy respected by the clubhouse.

Martinez is solid defensively at several positions, but is also has been one of the worst hitters in the major leagues over his career.

He is also not currently on the 40 man roster, which means someone would have to be removed if he were to make the team.

Our guess is that Gonzalez gets the job with Martinez being the good soldier, starting the season in Columbus where he is just two hours away.

That is, unless both make the team as outfielders replacing Brantley on the roster to open the year.

With Brantley healthy, we would expect the outfielders to be him, Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Brandon Guyer.

Assuming Austin Jackson is healthy, he would be the favorite to take Brantley’s spot to start the season.  If he can’t go, you could see both Martinez and Gonzalez open the year on the big league roster, or perhaps Chris Colabello makes the team.

On the other hand, a lot could happen between now and April 3rd, when the Tribe opens up in Texas.

But keep on eye on these players to see how they handle being the frontrunners.

MW

 

Baseball Is Back Today!

In many respects, it seems like Game 7 of the World Series was just yesterday, and in others, it feels like an eon ago.

But today is the first exhibition game in Goodyear, Arizona for the Cleveland Indians, as they take on the team they share their complex with, the Cincinnati Reds.

It is our first opportunity to see Edwin Encarnacion in a Tribe uniform, and we also get to see the heroes of a year ago:  Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, Andrew Miller, and the Tribe’s resident superstar, Francisco Lindor.

For the most part, the opening day is pretty much set, with Terry Francona looking for one more reliever to fill out the bullpen, and he’s also looking for who will be the utility man, and Tito has mentioned that spot is up for grabs between Michael Martinez, Erik Gonzales, and Ronnie Rodriguez.

We would also assume that Michael Brantley will not open the year on the active roster, so there is probably an extra outfield spot open too.

With the Indians being the defending American League champions, the main thing to focus on this spring is the organizational depth.

To win a division, you know you will need more than 25 men contributing to the cause, so the main players to keep an eye on are the guys who will open the season in Columbus, but will probably be called upon by Francona at some point to contribute during the regular season.

So, the players we want to watch are Yandy Diaz, the 25 year old who hit .318 with a 854 OPS between Akron and Columbus a year ago, and who can play 3B and the corner outfield spots.

Watch Gonzalez, also 25 and who has a sterling reputation as a defender, but who is blocked in Cleveland by the presence of Lindor.  Gonzalez hit .296 with a 779 OPS at AAA last season, and could be the bait at the trading deadline to bring a piece that Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff need for the stretch run.

We are also interested in seeing the depth in the starting rotation this spring.  You know the Indians will need more than five starters throughout the regular season, so we want to watch Mike Clevinger, Cody Anderson, Carlos Frias, and Tim Conroy perform throughout the spring.

Those guys will be counted on to make starts for the big club this summer, and they will be needed to win games.

Same with the pitchers making up the bullpen depth.  Francona and Mickey Callaway will need Shawn Armstrong (if he doesn’t make the team), Perci Garner, Joe Colon, and Nick Goody during the long regular season.

Luckily, the Indians have this depth, another example of the great job done by Antonetti and Chernoff.

One player we haven’t mentioned is C Francisco Mejia, who is widely regarding as the organization’s best prospect, and whom Francona has already said can be an impact hitter.

We also will be watching two outfielders who could be in Cleveland before the end of the season in CF Greg Allen and Bradley Zimmer.  Both of these guys could be playing big roles in Progressive Field if they have good starts in AAA.

Enjoy the fact that baseball is back, but look at the future for this organization.  The present looks very solid already.

MW

 

Another Uphill Fight For Tribe

Some team’s World Series victory drought will come to an end this year.  Either the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won since 1908, or the Cleveland Indians, whose lack of a title is a rather pedestrian 68 seasons, will put an end to their lack of baseball’s World Championship.

Make no mistake, the Cubs are very worthy of being here, having the best record in baseball with 103 wins.

They have the National League’s best offense that doesn’t play in hitting friendly Coors Field, and they have the league’s best ERA too.

They lead the NL in on base percentage and OPS, and rank 4th in the Senior Circuit in slugging.  They do not run much, as they were 4th last in the NL in stolen bases.

And they actually hit better away from the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field than they do at home.  In fact, the park on the north side of the Windy City, actually played as a pitcher’s park this season.

Joe Maddon, one of the game’s best skippers (along with Terry Francona), has the likely NL MVP in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, both of whom have OPS over 900.

Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler has a .393 on base percentage, while Ben Zobrist and Wilson Contreras both are very good offensive threats.

The Cubs do have some swing and miss bats in their order though, they were 5th in the NL in that category.

Pitching wise, Game 1 starter Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and their closer, Aroldis Chapman all have ERAs under 2.00 at Wrigley Field.

Their other three starters (Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel) are all under 3.00, very formidable indeed.

However, on the road, both Lester and Arrieta, presumably the game two starter, are both over 3.00, and Lackey is over 4.00, although his start appears to be a home.

The former Angels and Red Sox hurler is 8-9 lifetime vs. Cleveland with an ERA approaching 4.

And then we have the American League’s best baserunning team, the Indians, vs. Lester, who has a known “phobia” about throwing to bases.

If the Tribe can get on against the southpaw, they need to run and run and run some more.  Take advantage of every little thing possible against one of the game’s better pitchers.

And last, we will hear plenty about Francona and his relationship with Cubs’ president Theo Epstein, and how they ended the “Curse of the Bambino” in Boston and repeated with another title in 2007.

This series features two of the best managers in the sport, two outstanding young executives, one (Chris Antonetti) looking to win for the first time, and two teams with a sordid past, although with three AL pennants in the last 21 years, the Indians are the franchise with more recent success.

There is no question the Cubs are very good.  Their run differential this year is the highest in the National League since 1906.

On the other hand, they played in the National League, the inferior league in our estimation.  Outside of the Twins, you can argue that the five worst teams in baseball played in the NL (Reds, Braves, Diamondbacks, and Brewers).

Can the Indians pull it off?  Of course, but the bats need to wake up.  You can’t expect the pitching staff to continue to perform as they have thus far in the playoffs.

MW