It’s finally here!
The opening day of the 2017 season for the Cleveland Indians. The defending American League champions are ready to get things rolling as they kick off the season against the Texas Rangers. The end of last season left a bitter taste for the players, manager Terry Francona and the fan base with giving up a 3-1 series lead in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs.
After a long offseason that included some major acquisitions to the ball club, I think the organization is ready to look forward towards this season and beyond to not only defend the American League pennant, but to also bring the city of Cleveland it’s first World Series championship since 1948.
Of course you can’t talk about the Indians offseason without the shocking acquisition of first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. The former Blue Jays slugger signed with the team around Christmas time and is arguably the biggest free agent signing in franchise history.
His big bat is going to fit in nicely with this lineup. Encarnacion has hit at least 34 home runs and drove in 98 runs in the last five seasons. Adding him to a lineup that already features Carlos Santana (34 home runs), Jason Kipnis (23), Francisco Lindor (15), Jose Ramirez (11) and Tyler Naquin (14) who can all hit the long. Should be a big scoring threat in the majors.
On the pitching side, the Indians added Boone Logan who’s coming from the Colorado Rockies. Adding to an already deep bullpen, Logan becomes the third of a potentially deadly trio of bullpen arms with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
Logan who’s been in the bigs for ten seasons was 2-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 66 appearances last season for Colorado. May not look like the best numbers but if you go in depth, you’ll see he was very effective. In facing 163 batters, he held hitters to a .166 batting average and struck out 57.
If Francona can figure out how to use the trio to his advantage, it’s going to be tough for opponents late in ball games against the Tribe.
The Return of Dr. Smooth
Tribe fans got the best news on Friday with the announcement that outfielder Michael Brantley would make the opening day roster. Brantley has been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury the last two seasons resulting in two surgeries.
It was unknown how long it would take for him to be 100% but on March 20, he made his spring debut and has been impressive since. In eight games, Brantley hit .385 with two home runs and five runs batted in.
Being able to play eight games in a ten day stretch is a very good sign but the team should still take their time with Brantley.
They have depth in the outfield with Abraham Almonte and Austin Jackson in reserve roles and also having the ability to play Encarnacion and Santana in the outfield as well.
You also have Lonnie Chisenhall once he returns from his minor injury as well as Tyler Naquin who is entering his second season in the majors.
And I almost forgot Brandon Guyer. Acquired from Tampa at the deadline last July, he provided some clutch hits down the stretch and in the postseason and is a nightmare against left handed pitching, hitting .336 against them last season.
Brantley has no limits now and is free to play both offensively and defensively and I trust the Indians coaches and medical staff to ensure he’s good to go for the season.
No Kipnis, no problem
With Brantley now back, you would think the Indians are completely healthy. Think again.
Jason Kipnis will be sidelined for at least the first month of the regular season as he’s recovering from shoulder inflammation that began during spring training.
Now don’t hit the panic button because the Indians have reinforcements ready to step in. Jose Ramirez will slide over to the second base position while Kipnis can heal up. Taking Ramirez’ spot at third will be rookie Yandy Diaz.
Diaz made a big impact during spring training hitting .458 with two home runs and fifteen runs batted in. They had to make the decision between Diaz and Giovanny Urshela. While Urshela is better defensively, I think the Indians are willing to go through the growing pains of Diaz and his rookie season because he’s got great potential with his bat.
We all seen how Tyler Naquin went through his ups and downs and he still managed to leave a major impact with his 2016 rookie campaign, hopefully Yandy can do the same for the 2017 season.
Pitching is still the X-Factor
The Indians pitching staff will make or break this 2017 season. Much like in 2016, it’ll carry the ball club as far as it wants to go.
Corey Kluber will lead the staff after another dominant 2016 season where he went 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA. He followed that up with a 4-1 record with a 1.83 ERA in the postseason.
Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco both were bit with the injury bug last season but still had a big factor in helping get the Indians to the postseason. I know people are worried about Carrasco’s astronomical ERA in the spring but he’s coming off a broken hand and I think will get into form as time progresses.
Trevor Bauer is the enigma of the rotation. He’s had his ups and downs throughout his young career but the kid is still only 25 years old. Many will point the finger at him for his finger injury that may or may not have cost us the World Series. I have confidence this kid can shake it off and go out and be a top pitcher. He knows how to strikeout hitters and that’s what matters.
Many don’t give Josh Tomlin the credit he deserves for last season. He started off red hot in the first half of the season, cooled off in the second half and then turned things back up in the postseason.
Stepping up when Carrasco and Salzar went down and having to pitch in some big games like the series clincher against Boston or shutting down the Blue Jays’ and Cubs hitters. At 32, he’s the old man of the rotation but don’t count him out just yet.
Then there’s the Indians bullpen which is arguably the best in baseball. They ranked third last year in the American League with a 3.45 ERA. I already talked about Logan, Miller and Allen but this is a very deep bullpen.
Bryan Shaw, Dan Ortero, Zach McAllister and newcomer Shawn Armstrong make up the rest and they have more arms down in the minors like Kyle Crockett and Mike Clevinger who can step in and help if needed.
If everyone can stay healthy, I don’t see why we can’t get back to the World Series. The hitters we got on paper can make up the best offensive lineup we’ve had since 2001 when guys like Jim Thome, Ellis Burks and Juan Gonzalez were blasting home runs out of then Jacobs Field.
Encarnacion and Santana have the ability to hit 35 or more home runs and you have a group of guys who can hit 15-25 per person.
Francisco Lindor is going to be an MVP candidate in my opinion. I expect Jose Ramirez to follow up last year’s breakout year with another solid performance.
If Brantley and Kipnis can have somewhat of a solid season after coming back from injuries, it’ll be a plus for this club.
The pitching should be dominant both from the starters and the bullpen. If everyone can stay healthy, they can all win 12+ games per starter and the bullpen will be lights out with Logan/Shaw/Miller/Allen.
With Terry Francona as the leader, they can go as far as they want and even have the fire power to beat the mighty Chicago Cubs if both teams end up back in the World Series.
AL Central Division Champs.
American League Champs.
World Series Champs.
Time for Redemption.
Let’s Go Tribe!