With Monday being the first full squad workout for the Cleveland Indians, it’s as good a time as any to start previewing the upcoming season.
The Indians season ended in heartbreak and sorrow with the club blowing a 2-0 series lead to the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. Hard to believe it was four months ago when it still feels like only yesterday.
It seems as though the team has put that behind them and is focused on this new season that lies ahead and with the team still loaded to make another run into the postseason and perhaps a World Series championship that they haven’t tasted since 1948.
The backbone of the Cleveland Indians like it has been the last few seasons is the pitching. The starting rotation is among the best in baseball while the bullpen went through some changes in the offseason but still has it’s two big guns to close out ball games.
The pitchers have a new coach to lean on as Carl Willis takes the reigns of that role as Mickey Callaway is now the manager of the New York Mets. Willis is no stranger to Cleveland as he was the pitching coach for the Indians from 2003 to 2009 and produced two Cy Young Award winners in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee during that time.
He returns to Cleveland already loaded with a strong rotation that’s had some great success over the last few seasons.
It all starts with Corey Kluber who is coming off his second Cy Young Award in three seasons. Kluber was dominant going 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA along with 265 strikeouts.
In the postseason though he was awful going 0-1 in two starts against the Yankees with a 12.79 ERA. There was talk about a possible injury but Kluber wouldn’t use that excuse for his struggles.
Someone who got his first taste of the postseason was Carlos Carrasco who missed the 2016 postseason with a broken hand. He rebounded from that with an 18-6 record with a 3.29 ERA and 226 strikeouts in 2017.
His one start against the Yankees was magnificent despite the Indians losing that game. Carrasco went 5.2 innings giving up just three hits, three walks and striking out seven batters.
If the Indians are going to have another dominant regular season, Kluber and Carrasco will have to keep it up as the 1-2 punch in the rotation.
One question coming into the 2018 season is which Trevor Bauer are we going to get this year?
Are we getting the pitcher that wins 11-12 games a season with an ERA around 4.26-4.55?
Or are we getting the pitcher that went 17-9 in 2017 with an ERA of 4.19, a career high 196 strikeouts and walked a career low 60 batters?
Bauer is certinaly the enigma in the Indians rotation and if we can get another season like 2017 out of him, the Indians will be in good shape.
The rest of the rotation is the usual faces from the last several seasons.
Josh Tomlin had a down 2017 season after back to back solid seasons and this could end up being the last season in Cleveland for the 33 year old right hander unless he brings back some of that magic he had in the 2016 postseason.
This is a make or break season for Danny Salazar who once again had trouble staying healthy and with guys like Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt taking advantage of their opportunites, Salazar could very well be on the roster bubble at the end of March.
The bullpen went through some changes this offseason as Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw both departed to Houston and Colorado respectively in free agency.
Smith was a deadline acquisition who gave the Indians some quality appearances down the stretch as well as in the postseason. Shaw for as much criticism as he received by the fans was a solid reliever during his five year run with the Tribe.
The bullpen still has their two weapons in Cody Allen and Andrew Miller but is the final year under contract for both players with both expected to command a huge pay day next winter.
Miller has been a fantastic arm since the Indians acquired him from the Yankees at the 2016 trade deadline. In 83 appearances, Miller is 8-3 with a 1.47 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 91.2 innings pitched.
Allen has been with the Indians organization since they drafted him in the 23rd round of the 2011 Draft. He currently sits fourth in franchise history with 122 saves and is 17 behind Bob Wickman for the most in Indians history.
Much like the 1-2 punch of Carrasco and Kluber, the Indians success in close games will come down to the success of Miller and Allen as the bullpen’s 1-2 punch.
Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Nick Goody and Tyler Olson all return from last year’s bullpen and Cody Anderson is expected to join them as he’s recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
With Ryan Merritt out of options, he could ultimately join the bullpen as well but it’ll be interesting to see how the roster decisions shake out at the end of spring training because looking at the current depth chart, I see 13 pitchers on it and I’m not sure they’ll carry 13 pitchers on the opening day roster.