As we sit here on May 14, the Cleveland Indians are 20-19 with a 1.5 game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central Division.
There’s been some positives and negatives early on in the 2018 campaign but it’s still early and a lot can change between now and late September.
No doubt the offense is there averaging 4.87 runs per game which sits 7th in all of baseball and 4th in the American League.
Led by Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, the duo is hitting .321 and .287 respectively with a combined 24 home runs, 52 runs batted in and slugging over .600 respectively. They’re the leaders of this ball club and are doing their part to keep the Tribe in ball games.
Michael Brantley is off to another All-Star start for the left fielder. Many wondered what he’d be like coming off ankle surgery and he looks like the former MVP candidate from a few years ago. In 29 games, Brantley is hitting .336 with 5 home runs and 27 runs batted in. Hopefully he can stay healthy throughout the season because he’s a key part to this club.
Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso are also showing off their bats with 9 home runs each so far this season. While their batting averages are low, they’ve shown the power that they each possess and that’s why they’re in Cleveland.
A guy flying under the radar is Tyler Naquin early on. After a strong rookie campaign in 2016, Naquin struggled in 2017 and even went back to Triple-A Columbus because of his struggles. With Brantley starting on the disabled list this season, Naquin got another opportunity with the Indians and he’s made the most of that opportunity.
In 30 games and 79 plate appearances, Naquin is hitting .333 with 2 home runs and 11 runs batted in. He’s currently on the disabled list with a hamstring strain but I would expect Naquin so stick around with the major league club all season as he’s proving once again he can contribute at a high level.
The starting pitching has been what we expected it to be early on this season.
Corey Kluber is in his elite form with a 6-2 record and a 2.34 ERA in 9 starts, all of which are deemed quality starts (a game in which the starting pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs). The one eye raising stat is that Kluber has given up 10 home runs already this season but they don’t seem to affect him when you look at his numbers.
Mike Clevinger is showing that last season wasn’t a fluke and that he’s one of the promising young arms in the Indians rotation. With a 5-3 record and a 2.70 ERA so far this season, he’s giving Indians fans hope that he can perhaps lead the Indians rotation should Kluber start to decline as he gets older.
Another guy the Indians can hope to bank on is Trevor Bauer who is also showing early that 2017 wasn’t a fluke. Bauer has looked good with six quality starts this season although his record doesn’t show it with a 2-3 record. He does have a 3.00 ERA and is striking out 10.06 batters per nine innings and also a 1.22 WHIP (Walks/Hits per inning pitched) which are both better than Corey Kluber.
Carlos Carrasco is also off to a good start with a 5-1 record although the ERA is a little higher than people would want at 3.61 but he’s also striking out batters consistently with 53 in 52.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.03.
If these four arms can stay consistent, you’re going to like the Indians chances throughout the season and into October.
The arms you need to have some concern about is the bullpen.
Cody Allen and Andrew Miller have been their usual selves so far although they’ve had a couple hiccups at points but it’s early and no reliever is perfect. Miller had a stint on the disabled list but is back and he and Allen are hopefully determined to lead this bullpen through the early storms and aren’t focusing on the upcoming offseason where they’re both going to be free agents and should be in heavy demand.
It’s the rest of the bullpen that should be concerned. Dan Otero, Nick Goody, Zach McAllister, Matt Belisle have not been good early with each guy having an ERA over 5.00 and have given up a combined 14 of the 54 home runs the Indians pitchers have given up this season.
The front office has been trying to find guys in minor trades to try and fix the bullpen and it’s only May so there’s plenty of time to get it right but with the offense scoring runs and the starters doing their job, it’s up to this bullpen to finish games. It’s also up to first year bullpen coach Scott Atchison to try and help these guys fight through their troubling starts to the season and correct their mistakes.
It’s still really early and I know the Tribe will be contending in the second half of the year and while they’re in first place, you don’t want to dig yourselves into a hole against these powerhouses like New York and Houston and not even sniff home field in the postseason because that aspect is crucial for a team’s World Series chances.