Big Week For Tribe Leading To Break

The All Star break is a little over a week away for the Cleveland Indians, and it will be a very important stretch for the hometown nine.

First, of the 11 games Cleveland has leading into the break, eight of them are at Progressive Field, where Terry Francona’s team has been mediocre at best, with a record of 17-21 to date.

Second, seven of the contests are against Central Division rivals, the Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers are sitting at 34-43 on the season, six and a half games behind the Indians for the division, and six games out of a wild card spot.

Success against the Motor City Kitties over the next two weekends would pretty much eliminate the Tigers from overtaking the Tribe, and it would probably cause them to be sellers at the July 31st trade deadline.

The Indians also have a three game series at home against the lowly San Diego Padres, who are sitting at 32-46 coming into today.

It appears the Tribe is sitting in a good spot to perhaps take command of the AL Central if they can play well going into the break.

However, outside of last year when Francona’s squad went 14-4 against the Tigers, Detroit has dominated the Tribe and has won four of the six games to date this year.

Cleveland scored half of their runs against the Tigers in one game, a 13-6 win for the Indians in April.  The Tribe has scored three runs or less in four of the six contests between the two teams this season.

Conversely, Mike Matheny’s team has scored five or more runs in four out of six games.

The middle of the Detroit batting order, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Upton have killed the Tribe, and now J.D. Martinez, who has missed all of the games between the two squads is back.

And long time Indians killer, Alex Avila is back and hitting well for Detroit.  He always seems to come up with big hits against the Tribe.

Compounding this weekend’s series is a doubleheader on Saturday, which means someone from the minors, probably Ryan Merritt will start one of those games, and Corey Kluber is pitching today, so he is not available this weekend.

On the other hand, Trevor Bauer, who has been hit hard by Detroit in both starts against them in 2017 will not pitch this weekend either.

Both Kluber and Bauer will probably pitch against the Tigers at Progressive Field right before the all star break.

The other key is to start playing better at home.  Cleveland’s record at Progressive Field has been mediocre to date and it is time to start playing better there.

The starting pitching, save for Josh Tomlin, seems to have righted itself, but the offense needs to pick it up, especially against the Tigers.

On this current homestand, here is the number of runs scored by the Indians:  0, 2, 0, 15, 1, 5.  It’s tough to win scoring two or fewer runs in four of the six games.

Playing well these next 11 games will put the Cleveland Indians in a very good spot entering the second half of the season, which starts with six games in the Bay Area.

Beating the Tigers is a must if you want to accomplish that.

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

 

 

 

 

Tribe Bats Going Now, Starting Pitching???

After losing the second game of the midweek series against the Los Angeles Dodgers a few days ago, the Cleveland Indians looked nothing like a good baseball team.

They were struggling to score runs and mental mistakes were occurring on a regular basis.  That night, rookie Erik Gonzalez cost the Tribe three runs because he didn’t have his foot on the base in the middle of a sure double play.

It was just another in a recent patch of poor play, and we aren’t talking about physical errors.

Since then, the bats seem to have come alive, mostly because of three hitters who are scolding hot right now, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

However, there is still one area of the team that has to break through and soon, and that is the starting pitching.

Terry Francona needs to get some length out of the starters.  The result of this not improving?  Either the bullpen, which has performed well for the most part, will be fried by the time August hits, or the Indians will not be able to outscore their opponents consistently.

Overall, Cleveland ranks fourth in the American League in team ERA, but most of that work has been done by the bullpen, one of the best, if not the team in the sport.

Outside of Corey Kluber, who is giving Francona over six innings per start, most Tribe pitchers are having problems getting through six frames when they take the hill.

Carlos Carrasco averages over six innings as well, but recently has been having some issues with a pulled muscle in his chest, and when he loses his stuff recently, he loses it very quickly.

Danny Salazar was supposed to be the #3 starter, but he isn’t on the roster currently, due to soreness in his shoulder, and a total lack of confidence.

Trevor Bauer prides himself on his endurance, but he is averaging just over five innings per start, as his pitch count gets to the 100 mark about then.  He must be more economical with his pitches.

Josh Tomlin has allowed 21 more hits than innings tossed thus far in the season, and more often than not, he has struggled to get hitters out.  You wonder how much patience Francona will have this summer.

In yesterday’s doubleheader sweep over Minnesota, the Indians got just four innings from their starter in each game, although Mike Clevinger’s short start was due to the rain.

The Tribe has played 66 games to date, and workhouse Bryan Shaw (no surprise) has been in half of them.  The concerning thing is Andrew Miller has made 30 appearances, throwing 34-2/3 innings, which is far too many.

Here are the innings pitched by starting pitchers over the last 10 games–4, 4, 6-1/3, 5, 7, 5-2/3, 5-1/3, 2-2/3, 6, 3-1/3.  That’s an average of under five innings per start.

Kluber and Carrasco contributed 24-2/3 frames in their four starts, more than half of the total for the 10 game stretch.

That’s why Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff will probably need to find a starting pitcher for at the trade deadline.  They need another starter who can give the skipper innings.

We saw the bullpen leak some oil in the Dodger series, probably because of the heavy workload they’ve had over the last two weeks.  Even Miller, who is usually unhittable, showed he was human in back-to-back appearances vs. Los Angeles.

The biggest thing about the rotation is that was supposed to be the Indians’ strength coming into the season.  To date, they haven’t performed like expected, which is probably why the Indians don’t have the same record as the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox in the AL.

Improvement is needed from within or via a trade, because the burden on the relievers has to be lessened.

MW

 

Tribe Needs A Shake Up…Maybe Change The Batting Order?

We don’t think it is unfair to say the Cleveland Indians are in a funk.  Whether or not it’s a hangover from last season’s World Series run, it is clear the Tribe needs something to shake them out of this.

Maybe they need a walk off win, or a series of solid outings by their starting pitcher, but they definitely need something to get them going in a winning direction.

We know Terry Francona is a patient manager and part of the reason players love to play for him is they know their role and what they will be doing when they come to the ballpark each day.

On the other hand, the Indians have played 59 games and the same team that ranked 2nd in the American League in runs scored now ranks second from the bottom.

In looking at some of the numbers for the Cleveland hitters, we thought a lineup change might be what the doctor ordered.

For example, Michael Brantley has been the #3 hitter for Francona since 2013 for the most part.  Brantley has been very good after basically missing the 2016 season with a shoulder injury, hitting .294 with a 783 OPS.

However, what hasn’t returned for Brantley is his pop, and that could return as he gets more reps and his timing at the plate returns.

Right now, Brantley has only 16 extra base hits for the season, matching the total of Lonnie Chisenhall, who has almost 100 fewer at bats, and just one more than Jason Kipnis, who missed the first month of the season.

He is getting on base, with a .356 on base percentage, so perhaps he should be hitting in the lead off or #2 hole.

In fact, the two highest on base percentages on the team belong to Brantley and Jose Ramirez (.350), so let’s start with the premise that they should hit at the top of the order.

The highest slugging percentages on the squad belong to Chisenhall (.590) who platoons and Francisco Lindor (.496).  Edwin Encarnacion has been hot lately, with his slugging mark up to .446.

Carlos Santana, who has spent most of the year hitting in the anchor spots of the batting order (1st and 4th) is off to a slow start (319/404/724).  Let’s take some pressure off of him to see if he can get going.

So the top of our order would look like this–

Ramirez                3B
Brantley                LF
Lindor                   SS
Encarnacion        DH

For the 5th spot, we consider Jason Kipnis, who has a 740 OPS since the beginning of May, which would push Santana down to the 6th slot, ahead of Chisenhall, because he is only in the lineup vs. right-handers.

The catcher would bat eighth, except vs. southpaws because that would have Chisenhall out of the lineup, and so as to have the “second leadoff man”, either Bradley Zimmer or Austin Jackson hitting ninth.

So we have this–

Ramirez              3B
Brantley              LF
Lindor                 SS
Encarnacion      DH
Kipnis                 2B
Santana              1B
Chisenhall          RF
Gomes                   C
Zimmer               CF

Too often lately, the Indians start games off with two quick outs and Brantley coming up.  Putting the top two on base percentage guys at the top of the order makes perfect sense, and it also makes the opposing pitcher work harder at the beginning of the game.

With the offense struggling, it’s worth a try.  If it doesn’t work, then try a different combination.  The pieces and parts for a good offense are there, it’s a matter of putting them in the right spots.

MW

 

 

 

 

Tribe Seems Stuck In Mud Thus Far.

The Cleveland Indians reached the 1/3rd point of the season yesterday, and they continue to be spinning their wheels to this point.

The Tribe went 15-12 during the first 27 games (1/6th of the campaign), and slipped to 13-14 over the last 27.

That isn’t what anyone was thinking when the Indians broke spring training with a road sweep of the Texas Rangers.

You could blame the below .500 record on the absence of Corey Kluber who basically missed the entire month of May with a bad back.  Not having one of the game’s best pitchers doesn’t help any team.

However, Terry Francona’s team just hasn’t been able to put everything together.  The only consistent part of the ballclub is the back of the bullpen, which has been spectacular.

Other than the trio of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw, there isn’t one thing for Tito to hang his hat on a regular basis.

The offense has been up and down more than an elevator in a high rise.  After winding up 2nd in the AL in runs scored last year, Cleveland ranks third from the bottom in 2017.

In 26 of the 54 games played to date, the Indians have scored three runs or less, and they are 7-19 in those games.  When you are scoring three or less in basically half the time you take the field, it is difficult to put together a sustained period of winning.

On the other hand, the Tribe has scored 8+ runs a dozen times.  So, as you can plainly see, it really is feast or famine for the Cleveland bats.

This team also doesn’t have a come from behind victory that fuels a winning streak from time to time.  The only walk-off win this year came in the home opener, way back in early April.

Last year, once the Indians got the first walk off, they followed it with a bunch of them, so there is hope in that regard.

The loss of Kluber hurt because of his reliability and high level of consistency.  Carlos Carrasco has been good, but he had issue with a chest muscle over the last month.

Danny Salazar has been moved to the bullpen for the time being, mostly because he’s has a problem giving Francona at least five innings.

Without Kluber, the most consistent starters have been the two youngest in the rotation–Mike Clevinger and the much maligned Trevor Bauer.

That can’t give Tito and the front office a warm and fuzzy feeling.

On the other hand, perhaps Kluber’s return will steady the rotation, and things will improve greatly over the next 27 contests.

The defense and baserunning also seem to have gone backwards to date.  We talked about improving on the bases last week, but the defense, particularly in the outfield has been a concern.

It has improved since Bradley Zimmer was called up, but one thing to keep an eye on is Michael Brantley’s defense, which seems to have declined greatly over the past three seasons.

Francona spoke about a lack of veteran leadership with this group, that they missed a Jason Giambi or Mike Napoli in the clubhouse.

If true, then it’s time for Jason Kipnis and Brantley to be assertive with this group.  There is too much talent to be just two games over .500 at this time of the year.

It isn’t panic, but it is fine to be a little concerned with the 2017 Cleveland Indians.  It’s time to start establishing that they are the team to beat in the AL Central Division.

MW

 

 

On Tribe’s Hitting And Base Stealing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe something like this–

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

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

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

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

MW

 

Tribe’s Starters Need To Step Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each of the struggling pitchers seem to have different issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MW

 

 

 

The Bauer Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MW

 

 

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