2018 Cleveland Indians preview

2018 MLB Preview: Cleveland Indians

2017: 102-60 (first in the AL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 1948

2017 Recap

After falling one win shy of winning the 2016 World Series, the Indians were looking for revenge in 2017. Not only did they win 102 games, but Cleveland also won 22 games in a row, which is now the longest winning streak in American League history.

Unfortunately, their incredible regular season may have actually hurt them in the playoffs. After going up 2-0 in the ALDS against the underdog New York Yankees, Cleveland lost three straight games to end their season.

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

The Indians were feeling 22. (Photo from The Week)

Although the season did not end the way Cleveland had hoped it would, let’s not forget how good this team really was.

Let’s start with the pitching. As a staff, it finished first in ERA, strikeouts and walks. The rotation was led by Corey Kluber, who was the best pitcher in the MLB in 2017. He won the AL Cy Young and finished first in WAR for pitchers, ERA, wins, WHIP, complete games and shutouts. Kluber was unstoppable all year, but in the second half alone, the right hander posted a 1.79 ERA. His slider was the best pitch in baseball in terms of pitch value.

Not only did they have the best starter in baseball, but they also had a top-10 arm in Carlos Carrasco, who finished ninth in WAR for pitchers, eighth in WHIP and posted a 2.65 ERA on the road, which was top-10 in the MLB for starters. While Carrasco and Kluber tallied 18 wins apiece, the 27-year-old Trevor Bauer finished with 17.

While the rotation flourished all season, one could make a case that the Indians’ bullpen was even better than their starters. Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Nick Goody, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen all had sub 3.00 ERA’s while appearing in 50 or more games. As a unit, Cleveland’s bullpen finished first in ERA with a 2.89.

Pitching, of course, was only part of the reason Cleveland was able to win 102 games. Their offense finished second in the AL in batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS and walks. The ringleader in the lineup was Jose Ramirez, who was one of the 10 best players in baseball. Ramirez finished tied for first in extra-base hits, fifth in total bases, sixth in offensive WAR, seventh in slugging and ninth in batting average and runs scored.

The Dominican-born star hit .329 against lefties and .312 against righties, proving to be almost impossible to deal with. On 0-1 counts, Ramirez batted .301, which was top-10 in the MLB. Think about that, when already down a strike, he was able to hit over .300.

2018: Around the Diamond

After spending his first eight seasons with Cleveland, Carlos Santana was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies. Santana hit 23 home runs and finished ninth in walks in 2017. He has a career OBP of .365, so Cleveland will definitely miss the powerful switch hitter.

To replace him at first base, Cleveland signed Yonder Alonso, who was an All-Star last season. After not eclipsing nine home runs in his previous seven seasons, Alonso hit 28 home runs. If he can be anything close to what he was last season, the Indians will be happy.

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

Jose Ramirez was sensational in 2017. (Photo from NEO Sports Insiders)

Jason Kipnis looks to bounce back after he played in only 90 games because of injury in 2017. The two-time All-Star second baseman hit just .232 with an OBP of .291. Cleveland will need him to tear it up with his double-play partner, Francisco Lindor, one of the best shortstops in the game. Last year, playing in nearly every single game, Lindor finished sixth in extra-base hits and eighth in total bases. He also slugged a career high .505.

With a healthy Kipnis, Ramirez will be playing all his games at third base. Behind the dish will be Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes splitting some time. Michael Brantley, who was an All-Star in 2017 but missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, will be ready to go in left. In the first half, Brantley hit .304 with 17 doubles.

No more Austin Jackson means Bradley Zimmer will be the starting centerfielder. Zimmer stole 18 bases, but had an OBP of just .307. He fell apart in the second half, hitting just .196 with 56 strikeouts in 46 games. He is still only 25 years of age and could turn into something special.

Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been with Cleveland his whole career, will man right field. Guys like Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte should also get some reps in the outfield. Keep in mind Cleveland also brought in Melvin Upton Jr. as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.

Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 38 home runs last season, will remain at DH. Encarnacion finished fourth in walks and had the best walk rate of his career, while also posting his second-best OBP.

On the Bump

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

Klubot. (Photo from Cleveland.com)

Cleveland’s elite starting rotation will remain intact for 2018. Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer will be followed by Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar. Salazar has had a tough time staying off the DL his whole career, but could be a sleeper in fantasy baseball. Mike Clevinger and Cody Anderson, who is coming off Tommy John, should also get some starts.

McAllister, Otero, Miller and Allen are all returning, which is unfortunate for opponents. No reason to think this pitching staff won’t dominate again, especially if they can get something out of Salazar.

 

The Future

According to MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list, the Indians have two of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. At No. 11 is the No. 1 catching prospect, Francisco Mejia. Mejia is a switch-hitter, who has also spent the entire Arizona Fall League practicing at third base. In just 92 games at Double-A, Mejia hit 14 home runs and batted .297 in 2017. He also got 13 at-bats in the MLB. We will most likely see the 22-year-old at some point playing consistently for Cleveland in 2018.

Cleveland’s other top prospect is pitcher Triston McKenzie. McKenzie flourished in A-ball, going 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA and an opponent batting average of .203. He stands tall at 6-foot-5, and according to MLB.com, McKenzie has “all the ingredients to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter.” He has great command and has posted a .99 WHIP over three professional seasons.

2018 Prediction: 95-67

No reason to think that the Indians won’t win the AL Central for the third year in a row. Chicago and Detroit are rebuilding, the Royals will lose Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to free agency and Minnesota is not nearly as talented as the Indians. This team will again be in the chase for their first World Series title since 1948.

 

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2018 MLB sleeper teams

Sleeper teams for the 2018 MLB season

With the offseason wrapping up and Spring Training on the horizon, experts are beginning to make their picks on which teams are contenders and pretenders. Even with the plethora of big name free agents still available, most rosters are set.

Teams like the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees are considered the big favorites right now, and rightfully so. Other teams like the Cubs, Brewers and Red Sox still have their eyes set on October. The thing all these teams have in common is that they are hyped up as playoff teams. Ask any baseball fan who they think is going to win the World Series and those are the teams they’ll list.

Each year, one or two teams blow up on the baseball scene. Last year, it was Minnesota and Arizona. The year before, it was the Texas Rangers.

While I won’t build myself up as a flawless fortune teller, these are two teams baseball fans should keep an eye on.

National League: Philadelphia Phillies

While everyone in Philadelphia is currently focused on winning their first Super Bowl (good luck with that), the Phillies could make a lot of noise in the NL. The Nationals have the East locked up for now baring injury, but Philly could fly in under the radar and possibly sneak into a Wild Card spot.

2018 MLB sleeper teams

Carlos Santana looks to help the Phillies achieve success in his first year with the team. (Photo by Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

One thing the Phillies have in their favor is a weak division outside of Washington. Miami has had a fire sale to end all fire sales. Atlanta still has some rebuilding to do with their roster. The Mets can’t stay healthy past April.

 

Washington is head and shoulders the best team in the division. In the West and Central divisions, no team can truly make that claim. The Dodgers have the Diamondbacks, Rockies and the geriatric Giants to worry about. The Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers are going to fight to the death for that divisional crown. With all these teams beating each other, the Phillies could use their easy path to their advantage.

The Phillies have plenty of young talent. Pitcher Aaron Nola saw significant improvement in his wins and ERA and will continue to blossom into the ace they see him as.

If you are looking for future All-Stars, Rhys Hoskins is the real player to watch in Philly. In his first MLB action, Hoskins hit .259 with 18 homers and had a slugging percentage of .618. Those are great numbers for a young player starting out.

These young players coupled with veterans like first baseman Carlos Santana, who hit 23 homers and had a 3.4 WAR, and relief pitcher Pat Neshek, who had a sub-two ERA last season, have potential to make noise this season.

American League: Oakland Athletics  

After being bottom dwellers for the past three seasons, the Oakland Athletics have to be tired of losing.

The A’s are in a similar position as the Phillies, a losing team with young stars and a juggernaut in the lead of their division. One difference is the rest of the division. The Angels have made huge improvements and the Rangers and Mariners continue to be dangerous.

2018 MLB sleeper teams

Matt Olson looks to continue his offensive onslaught from last season. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports)

If the A’s are to have any success, it’ll be spearheaded by their two young Matts: Matt Olson and Matt Chapman.

 

In his first season with extended playing time, Chapman looked to be one of, if not the best defensive third baseman in baseball. In 84 games, Chapman put up a 3.6 WAR, just ahead of Manny Machado and behind former A Josh Donaldson. While he wasn’t great at the plate, he had a .785 OPS, which is above league average. For a 24-year-old, thats great.

When looking at Olson, the opposite could be said. While Olson’s glove is good, it’s his offensive firepower that makes him a superstar in the making. In just 189 at-bats, Olson hit 24 homers and had an insane OPS of 1.003, which is considered excellent. For reference, NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton had an 1.007 OPS.

These two players are stars in the making. They will be coupled with Khris Davis, who has had back-to-back 40 homer seasons.

The A’s will also have a much improved bullpen and a rotation full of potential. The A’s are set for the short-term and long-term future.

 

Featured image by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

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MLB Free Agents

When will the free agent market topple?

The hot stove has been a buzz this offseason. Much of the conversation has centered around trades and international signings. Giancarlo Stanton has moved on to the Yankees, and the young phenom, Shohei Ohtani is an Angel. However, we have yet to see many big names fall off of the free agent board this winter. Why is that?

Patience a free agent’s friend

MLB free agency

Relievers like Brandon Morrow are having a good offseason thus far (Photo from FanRag)

In this day of age, free agents are paid an exuberant amount of money, especially if they are on the right side of 30 and have shown great potential. That is why it is best to wait and see what the market does before signing onto any long-term deals.

This winter has been kind to relievers thus far. Although not a lot of closers have come off the board, middle relief pitchers have been doing quite well. What this means is Wade Davis, the top reliever on the market, is going to be in for a big payday. He should be coming off the board soon as many relievers have been flying off and there are plenty of teams looking for a new closer.

What we have yet to see is many offensive players get signed to new teams. We have seen Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria and Marcell Ozuna move to new ball clubs. However, the only big name hitting free agents to be signed thus far are Zack Cozart and Carlos Santana. Neither of these players signed deals that exceeded four years though, which is what some of the other free agents are looking for.

Has it always been like this?

MLB free agency

Bryce Harper will likely fetch the largest contract in baseball history next winter (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports wrote an article back in November about how slow the offseason was pre-thanksgiving. He stated that you are not imagining things, the hot stove is rather cool this year.

Some rumors were that teams were waiting for the Giancarlo Stanton trade to be finalized before any free agent hitters would be signed. Well, Stanton was traded two weeks ago and the winter meetings have come and gone. What is the hold up?

One theory is that next year’s free agent class is having a large influence. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will both be testing free agency, and they could be fetching figures in the $400 million range, so it would make sense that teams are saving up for those kinds of contracts to land a new franchise player.

Harper and Machado aren’t the only big names hitting the market though. Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out clause after 2018. Other big names are hitting the market such as Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier, and A.J. Pollock. Either way though, we should be getting close to some names coming off the board. Then again, who knows anything in this tumultuous offseason.

Who will be the next to come?

Unfortunately, we still may be a ways away from any hitters being swept off the market. As mentioned earlier, Wade Davis should be picked up by someone soon, even though there have not been many rumors surrounding him. Yu Darvish has met with the Cubs and stated that he thought the meeting went well.

Pitchers are the hot commodity at the moment, partially due to the fact that power hitters are a dime a dozen these days. Major league ballplayers hit more home runs last year than any other year in history.

Perhaps teams are not sure how to value someone like J.D. Martinez. Normally, a player who hit 45 home runs and over 100 RBIs with a .300 batting average would be signed by now, at least we should have heard more about him at the winter meetings. However, teams are not sure how much to give the slugger. It has been reported that Martinez is looking for something in the range of seven years, $200 million. He has been linked to Boston, but nothing seems imminent.

We still have a way to go before pitchers and catchers report in February, so there is still plenty of time for the dominoes to fall. Once some teams figure out that they won’t be able to trade for some of the names they would like to, then they will focus their attention onto some of the available free agents.

This free agent class does not offer some of the young superstars like next year’s class will. However, players like J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain both have the ability to make a difference on a contending team. Even with how things have been going, it is difficult to imagine them being available for much longer.

 

Featured image from Arizona Sports

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Cleveland Indians winning streak

A look at the Cleveland Indians’ historic winning streak

In case you have been living under a rock for the past three weeks, the Cleveland Indians have been the hottest team in baseball with a historic winning streak.

On Wednesday, the Indians won their 21st straight game, breaking the Oakland Athletics’ American League record of 20 straight wins and tying the Chicago Cubs record of 21. Last season the Tribe set a franchise record with 14 straight wins and are looking better than ever this year.

During the streak, the Indians have been putting up video game numbers. They have dominated their opponents with incredible pitching and hitting. They have made it a point to strike first and not look back.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers behind the Indians’ historic streak.

Lights out pitching

It all starts with pitching on the Indians. They lead all of baseball in ERA, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts, while also throwing the fewest walks.

The pitching has been even more dominant during these last 21 games. The Tribe have posted a 1.67 ERA (1.70 by starters), 193 strikeouts and just 36 walks.

The pitching staff has also posted seven shutouts, which is just as many or more than 18 teams have thrown all season. As stated before, the Indians lead the MLB with 19 shutouts. The Dodgers come in second at 14.

The starting rotation has been outstanding and are led by their ace and Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber. Kluber has pitched in four games during the streak and has gone 4-0 with 35 strikeouts and just two walks in 32 innings pitched. Kluber on the season has a record of 16-4 (tied for most wins in AL) with 243 strikeouts (second) and a 2.44 ERA (first).

Cleveland Indians winning streak

Carlos Carrasco has been one of the Indians’ dominant pitchers during this streak. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Carlos Carrasco has also been dominant during this stretch. Carrasco has gone 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched.

Trevor Bauer, who was on the mound when the Indians started this streak, has also been impressive, going 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched.

Mike Clevinger has also gotten in on the fun. In his four starts during the streak, he has gone 4-0 with a 0.38 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 23.2 innings pitched.

Cody Allen and the bullpen have also been fantastic closing games out. Allen has picked up six saves and a win in 10 appearances. He has also thrown 13 strikeouts and allowed zero runs off of five hits.

It all starts and ends with the Indians’ pitching. When you are allowing under two runs every nine innings, the bats don’t have to do too much damage. That hasn’t stopped the Indians from putting up runs on the scoreboard though.

Big bats

The Tribe has not been wasting the good pitching they have gotten. They have been contributing plenty on the offensive end as well with a team batting average of .305.

The Indians have been blowing out their opponents with a run differential over 100. The Tribe has outscored their opponents 139-35 over these 21. They have also only trailed in four of the 189 innings they have played. They have been taking the lead early in the game as they have scored first in 19 of the 21 wins. They have also outscored opponents 68-13 in the first three innings.

It all starts with Francisco Lindor. The switch-hitting shortstop and leadoff man has hit .370 and leads the Indians in hits (30), runs (19), home runs (nine) and RBIs (19). Lindor also hit his 30th home run of the season on Tuesday, which is the most by a shortstop 23 years or younger since Alex Rodriguez hit 42 during the 1999 season as a 23-year-old.

Cleveland Indians winning streak

Jose Ramirez has been proving his case for American League MVP. (Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Lindor made league and team history with the mark. He joined Hal Trosky and Manny Ramirez as the only players 23 years old or younger to hit 30-plus homers in Indians history. It also tied Jimmy Rollins and Jose Valentin for the most home runs by a switch-hitting shortstop in baseball history.

Speaking of home runs, the Indians have hit 41 home runs during this streak, opposed to 35 runs allowed by the pitching staff. You read that right. 41 home runs hit and 35 runs allowed in 21 games.

Lindor isn’t the only one hitting with fire power. Edwin Encarnacion has hit five homers in this stretch and 34 on the season. Carlos Santana has also hit five of his 23 homers during this streak. Jay Bruce has only hit two during the streak while missing eight games, but also has 34 on the year.

Jose Ramirez has hit eight during the streak and 26 total. Ramirez has been quietly putting up an MVP-caliber season with a .309 batting average, 73 RBIs, 48 doubles and 80 extra-base hits.

Comparison to the A’s and Cubs

How does the Tribe stack up against the last team to win 20-straight games?

Through 20, the Indians posted a 1.60 ERA, .942 OPS and a 102 run differential. The A’s posted a 2.65 ERA, .885 OPS and a 76 run differential.

The A’s went on to finish their season with a 103-59 record and won the AL West. However, they lost the division series to the Minnesota Twins 3-2.

The Chicago Cubs won 21 straight games back in 1935. They finished the year with a 100-54 record, but lost in the World Series to the Detroit Tigers 4-2.

The New York Giants have the record for most straight games without a loss. They won 26 games and had a tie after the 12th win back in 1916. They finished fourth place in the National League that year.

All these teams got hot during the regular season, but couldn’t translate it to a World Series trophy. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, who started this season off hot, have lost 16 of their last 18 games. They went from a 91-36 record to a 93-52 record. It is still impressive, but they have gone incredibly cold.

Cleveland Indians winning streak

Ryan Merritt has been one of the many Indians to step up and perform when needed. (Photo by Getty Images)

Another impressive thing to note about the Indians’ streak is that they have won all these games without stars like Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Andrew Miller and Danny Salazar. Brantley hasn’t played since Aug. 8 due to an ankle injury. Kipnis has been out since Aug. 23 after reaggrivating a hamstring injury. Miller hasn’t pitched since Aug. 21 due to a knee injury. Salazar returned last week after missing 17 games due to an elbow injury, but only for limited action. The team said he will be coming out of the bullpen the rest of the season.

Rookie center fielder Bradley Zimmer also went down this week with a hand injury and could miss the rest of the season.

Despite all these injuries, the Indians have had many young players step up. Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, Greg Allen, Erik Gonzalez and Ryan Merritt have all stepped up when needed and helped the Indians continue their elite play.

The Indians are also chasing home field advantage for the World Series as this is the first season in a while in which the winner of the All-Star Game does not get home field advantage. It will be determined by record, and the Indians are currently 3.5 games behind the Dodgers for home field advantage.

The Indians of course are playing for something bigger than a winning streak or even home field advantage. They are looking for redemption after losing the World Series to the Cubs last year after having a 3-1 lead.

It is a long season. A lot can happen in a 21-game stretch. Teams enjoy hot and cold spurts. Will the Indians continue to stay hot? Only time will tell.

 

Featured image by Getty Images

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History of the Game: Cleveland Indians

While the Cleveland Indians were within striking distance of winning the 2016 World Series, it was all for naught. The first entry into the History of the Game series covered the Chicago Cubs. And what better place to continue our series than with the Cleveland Indians. They put up a strong 2016 season and are off to a great start in 2017. But how did they get here? Let’s take an in-depth look at the history of the Indians, starting in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Cleveland Indians History

Nap Lajoie was a star for the Cleveland Indians (baseballhall.org).

From Humble Beginnings (1900-1920)

Baseball had long been a tradition in Cleveland since the mid 1850s. But the origins of the Cleveland Indians date much later, beginning at the turn of the century. After the Grand Rapids Rustlers moved to Cleveland in 1900, the changed their name to the Cleveland Lake Shores. Soon after their league changed it’s name from the Western League to the American League and established itself as a competing Major League, and the Lake Shores became the Cleveland Blue Birds. But baseball in Cleveland was in its infancy, and was already facing dire financial troubles.

But after acquiring Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie from the A’s in 1902, the Blue Birds began to see record crowds. Lajoie anchored some strong Blue Bird lineups until he was sold back to the A’s in 1915, signaling a major shift in the organization. Shoeless Joe Jackson was also shown the door in 1915, being traded halfway through the season to compensate for owner Charles Somers’ poor business ventures. But the moves never paid off for Somers, and he sold the team in 1916 to James C. Dunn. Under new ownership, manager Lee Fohl would make some moves that would drastically impact the Indians fortunes.

It was Fohl who acquired pitchers Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby to go along with outfielder Tris Speaker in 1915 to form the nucleus of Cleveland’s first championship roster. Speaker took the reigns as player-manager in 1919 and quickly led the Indians to glory. The 1920 season would be the banner year for the young ball club, reaching their first World Series. But to get there, the Indians had to rely on one of the most infamous scandals in baseball history.

With Cleveland and Chicago neck and neck for first place, the Chicago Black Sox scandal came to the forefront. With eight Black Sox players benched for the season, Cleveland cruised to the playoffs. They handled the Brooklyn Robins soundly in the World Series, claiming the title 5-2.

Valleys and a Mountain (1921-1949)

Cleveland Indians History

Larry Doby made history for the Indians as the first African American to play in the AL (letsgotribe.com)

Even with the Indians dominance in the 1920 World Series, it would be short lived. The Yankees were on the rise, led by slugger Babe Ruth. The Indians would fall to the bottom of the pack, and by the 1930s were a perennial bottom feeder. But 1936 brought new hope to a disheartened fan base. A 17 year old from Iowa would carry the hopes of a franchise on his shoulders. Bob Feller came to the Indians with a dominant fastball, and put it to good use. Feller would lead the league in strikeouts from 1938-1941, providing Cleveland with a true ace. He would combine with Ken Keltner, Mel Harder and Lou Boudreau to lead the Indians to one game of the pennant in 1940. But dissension in the clubhouse led to the Indians downfall.

Change would come under the ownership of Bill Veek. Veek headed an investment group that would purchase the Indians in 1946. He would quickly change the fortunes of the franchise, moving them to Cleveland Municipal Stadium to take advantage of a massive fan base. Veek would also make baseball history, signing the first African American player in the American League. Larry Doby was signed in 1947 amid much controversy. But Doby would be vital to the Indians in 1948, posting a .301 batting average that season. He would also be joined by another Negro League player that season, Satchel Paige.

The 42 year old Page dominated in his time with the Indians that season, going 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA. Doby and Page helped lead Cleveland back to the World Series, beating the Boston Red Sox in a one game playoff to reach the World Series. They would best the Boston Braves 4-2 in the series to win their first World Series title since 1920. But after Veek sold the team in 1949, the Indians would again find themselves out of the playoff picture for years to come.

Cleveland Indians History

Ricky Colavito is still remembered in Cleveland, but not for what he did on the field (wahoosonfirst.com)

Treading Water (1950-1993)

After several changes in ownership, the Indians would put it all together in 1954. Doby and Feller were still effective players in 1954, and were supported by players like Minnie Minoso, Bobby Avila and Earl Wynn. The talented core would make baseball history, posting a 111-43 record in 1954. Their .721 winning percentage is still the best ever in the American League. But a record season wasn’t enough to bring Cleveland its third championship. The New York Giants would make quick work of the Indians in the World Series, supported by Willie Mays’ over the shoulder catch in Game 1 of the series. The team would hold onto most of it’s talent until the 1960s, when time would eventually catch up to the Indians star players.

The 1960s-1990s were lean years for Indians fans, able to finish only fourth or better seven times in a span of over 30 years. The 1960s would be defined by one trade, a curse that would follow them for years. Skipper Frank Lane earned a reputation for pulling off numerous trades, but none so defining like his trade of Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers. The Curse of Rocky Colavito would haunt the Indians for years, long after both Lane and Colavito moved on from the Indians. But the 1960s did provide some bright spots for fans, with Indians pitchers setting new strikeout records in the decade.

The 1970s would prove to be about the same for the Indians. Poor trades continued, with future stars like Dennis Eckersley and Graig Nettles all making the trip out of Cleveland. But there were two moments that defined the 1970s for the Indians. Frank Robinson was brought on to be the first African American manager in Major League Baseball history in 1975, and Cleveland experienced a night unlike any other. In an attempt to drum up more fans, the Indians implemented the ill-fated 10 Cent Beer Night. The Indians had to forfeit their contest against the Texas Rangers that night, but gained one of the most memorable events in sports history.

The 1980s brought more hardships for Indians fans, but little did they know, brighter times were just ahead.

A Triumphant Return (1994-Present)

Cleveland Indians History

Francisco Lindor leads the Indians resurgence (Jason Miller, Getty Images North America)

The return to glory began in the early 1990s with, oddly enough, a series of trades. After numerous horrible trades, the Indians pulled of some excellent trades. Sandy Alomar Jr., Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga were brought in to Cleveland, and made an immediate impact. After not winning the AL Pennant since 1954, the Indians made it back to the World Series, but were bested by the Atlanta Braves. Their success continued for the remainder of the 1990s and into the 2000s. But after Mark Shapiro took over in 2001, the Indians began to rebuild.

After trading away aging veterans, the Indians moves began to pay off in 2005 as they bested everyone’s expectations and finished the season 93-69. They were lead by C.C. Sabathia and Grady Sizemore. But after competing in 2006 and 2007, the Indians began to fall out of contention in 2008. Shapiro would again begin to rebuild, landing the Indians future starters like Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco. But the Indians would have to wait until 2013 for their rebuild to start showing dividends. Terry Francona was named the manager for the 2013 season, and the Indians began to return to their dominant form.

The Indians made it to the 2013 AL Wild Card game, but were ousted by the Tampa Bay Rays. It wouldn’t be until 2016 when they would return to the playoffs. But as many Indians fans can tell you, it was worth the wait. The Indians lost the 2016 World Series to the Chicago Cubs, but are set for the foreseeable future. With young stars like Francisco Lindor supported by Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians will be in contention for years to come.

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Spring Training Spotlight

Spring Training Spotlight: Hot and Cold Starts

With Spring Training in full swing, players and fans are starting to get into the groove of things. Players are hitting their strides at the plate and on the mound. But there are some who are struggling in the early going. Even though Spring Training is just that, training in the spring, players still strive to succeed. Which players are reaching that goal and which need to put in a little more work?

Hot

1B/DH Chris Colabello- Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Spotlight

Chris Colabello is hoping a strong Spring Training will mean a return to his 2015 form (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo).

After a 2016 season that saw Colabello only play 10 major league games for the Blue Jays, he needs a strong showing in Spring Training to shake loose of his PED suspension. But luckily for him, he has made the most of Spring Training so far with the Cleveland Indians, flashing his 2015 form. Colabello slashed .321/.367/.520 good for a 138 OPS+ over 101 games in 2015. And he’s showing signs of resurgence in Spring Training, slashing .333/.474/.667. But even with a hot start, it may be all for naught.

The Cleveland Indians have two top performers at Colabello’s primary positions: first base and DH. And no matter how hot Colabello gets, there is no way he is unseating Carlos Santana at first base or Edwin Encarnacion at DH. The best he can hope for is a spot on the bench, and at worst starting in the minors if he wants to stay with the Indians. But if Colabello continues his torrid pace, don’t be surprised to see him latch onto a new club.

OF Keon Broxton- Milwaukee Brewers

Keon Broxton was somewhat of a surprise last year after coming over from division rival Pittsburgh. While batting .242/.354/.430, he was able to hit nine homers, drive in 19 RBIs and steal 23 bases in 75 games. And at only 26 years old, Broxton is trying to build off his solid 2016 to cement himself in Milwaukee’s rebuild. He’s off to a good start so far, showing off at the plate in Spring Training.

So far, Broxton is batting .412/.444/.941 in Spring Training action. Those are some absurd numbers, even in limited time. At this point in Spring Training, batters usually start catching up to pitchers in terms of preparation and performance, but Broxton is putting others to shame. Broxton certainly came to camp ready to hit the ground running, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He’s in line to start in center, and at this rate his Opening Day job is securely in the bag.

Cold

OF Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

Spring Training Spotlight

Giancarlo Stanton hopes a poor Spring Training start is just a fluke (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

With as much power as Giancarlo Stanton has, you would think he would never run out. But Stanton is currently experiencing a power outage. The slugging outfielder is currently batting .176/.300/.412 in Spring Training, having a difficult time getting into rhythm. But skipper Don Mattingly is hoping that the mammoth Stanton can get back on track.

Stanton has proven to be an offensive force for the Marlins in his seen years in Miami, sending 208 homers into orbit. But he has also been limited by injuries, only playing 145 games or more twice in his career. In those two seasons, he hit a combined 71 homers and drove in 192 RBIs. But at 27 years old when the season starts, Stanton needs to become a more dependable player. Hopefully he’s just scuffling at the plate, and not feeling the impact of years of multiple injuries on his body.

LF/3B Joey Gallo- Texas Rangers

Joey Gallo is a player in the same vein as Giancarlo Stanton; a massive slugger with tremendous power. Unfortunately for Gallo, he is also struggling at the plate. Gallo is batting .111/.304/.278 in Spring Training. But as bad as that sounds, it’s an improvement over his 2016 season when he slashed a horrendous .040/.200/.160 in 17 games for the Rangers. After spending years as the Rangers top prospect, Gallo finally exhausted his rookie status in 2016. It’s now or never for him to show his minor league production wasn’t his high water point.

Gallo entered the Rangers farm system with massive power, grading out on the 20-80 scale with 80 raw power. He has always been a pure slugger, never hitting over .272 in a minor league season, but also posting two seasons with at least 40 homers. It was thought with Adrian Beltre at third base that Gallo would take over left field, but he is not even listen in left field in the Rangers’ depth chart. If Gallo can turn his Spring Training performance around, he may be able to get his career back it’s former trajectory.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

The Game Haus presents our 2017 fantasy baseball first base rankings.

The first base position is among the deepest in fantasy baseball. Nine first basemen had at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs last season. 23 had at least 20 home runs, and 19 had at least 80 RBIs. First base continues to offer plenty of power and production for your fantasy team.

With the start of spring training games upon us, it is time to rank the top 25 first basemen for 2017. Players have been grouped into three tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions: Joe Mauer (MIN), Lucas Duda (NYM), Chris Carter (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), and Dan Vogelbach (SEA).

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Paul Goldschmidt ARI
  2. Miguel Cabrera DET
  3. Joey Votto CIN
  4. Anthony Rizzo CHC
  5. Freddie Freeman ATL
  6. Edwin Encarnacion CLE

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base in 2017. He has completed four consecutive All-Star seasons, finishing as runner up for MVP in 2013 and 2015. He offers five-category production and will bat third for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit for average and power, and will steal plenty of bases.

The addition of A.J. Pollock and David Peralta to the lineup should increase his value as well. Goldy was without both of them for the majority of 2016. Also, he has 99 career stolen bases with a success rate of 81 percent, which is outstanding. His floor of about 15 steals gives him an edge over other superstar first basemen.

Edwin Encarnacion will make the move from the hitter friendly Rogers Centre to one of the toughest for right handed hitters. However, he remains in the top tier of elite first basemen. He will bat clean-up for a hungry Cleveland Indians team featuring Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.

Encarnacion remains an elite fantasy option. He has hit at least 30 home runs with 98 or more RBIs. He also has batted at least .260 in his last five seasons. Expect more of the same out of the 34-year-old.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Wil Myers expects a 40/40 season from himself in 2017. (Courtesy of gaslampbell.com)

  1. Wil Myers SD
  2. Jose Abreu CWS
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Desmond COL
  5. Chris Davis BAL
  6. Hanley Ramirez BOS
  7. Matt Carpenter STL
  8. Carlos Santana CLE
  9. Eric Hosmer KC
  10. Adrian Gonzalez LAD

Wil Myers’ 2016 season resembled the likes of a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt. He finished with 28 home runs and 28 stolen bases. His atrocious second half led to his batting average dipping to an underwhelming .259, causing his value in 2017 to be fairly low. His 20/20 upside should not be overlooked, as he was among only nine players to accomplish this feat last season.

The former rookie of the year completed his first full campaign in 2016, amounting 155 hits in 676 plate appearances. Myers will continue to be a horse in the middle of the San Diego Padres lineup for many years to come.

Adrian Gonzalez has been a consistent fantasy contributor his entire career. He has amassed 600 plus plate appearances in his last 11 seasons, while sporting a career .290 average. His power numbers have dwindled, as he tied a career low of 18 home runs in 2016. However, his production has not faltered, as he has had at least 90 RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons.

The 34-year-old will bat clean-up for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, giving him ample RBI opportunities once again. Gonzalez looks to be a safe fantasy pick once again for the twelfth consecutive season.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Brandon Belt, under or over rated? (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Brandon Belt SF
  2. Mike Napoli TEX
  3. Tommy Joseph PHI
  4. C.J. Cron LAA
  5. Justin Bour MIA
  6. Greg Bird NYY
  7. Josh Bell PIT
  8. Mitch Moreland BOS
  9. Eric Thames MIL

Brandon Belt is another consistent fantasy performer. However, he has limited value as he has yet to surpass the 20-home run mark in his six-year career. The career .272 hitter did have a career high 82 RBIs in 2016, which was due to him batting primarily fifth.

The 28-year-old stole zero bases last season but has managed to steal 32 bases from 2011 to 2015. There is a chance that he adds some steals back to his stat line. Belt has a higher floor than most first basemen, although his ceiling is limited.

This Eric Thames is not the same guy we saw in 2011 or 2012. He returns to the U.S. after mashing 124 home runs in three seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Thames will have to re-adjust to life in the MLB, but was rewarded a three-year $15 million contract with a player option for a fourth. This shows that the Brewers are fully invested in Thames being their current and future first basemen.

The 30-year-old will bat clean-up in an aggressive and youthful Milwaukee Brewers lineup that looks to do damage in 2017. Thames will be a great value pick as his current average draft position according to fantasypros.com is 231.

 

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Why the Indians Will Be World Series Champions

The Indians have surprised many national MLB pundits due to them being national underdogs coming into the playoffs. Despite having the second best record in the American League, the Indians were not the favorites, according to Vegas, against either the Boston Red Sox or the Toronto Blue Jays. Once again, the Indians will assume the title of underdog, as the Chicago Cubs have been the best team in baseball all season. This may be the toughest challenge yet for the Tribe, but I am here to tell you why the Indians will be victors when the dust settles.

It starts with the manager. The Indians have Terry Francona, one of the best managers in the business. Francona has two World Series rings under his belt already from his time managing the Red Sox. He knows what it takes to succeed in the postseason, as seen by his bullpen management in the previous series. Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, may be one of the top managers as well, but Maddon has never had to manage a World Series game. Any sort of edge helps in the World Series, and Francona’s experience puts him at a higher level than Maddon.

coco-crisp

Coco Crisp has been hot for the Indians this postseason. Considered nothing more than a veteran addition at the waiver deadline, can he keep up the momentum going into the final series? Photo courtesy of cleveland.com

The Indians lineup has been so successful this postseason because the lineup is so balanced. Coco Crisp, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez all provide hitting from both sides of the plate. Switch hitting is important because that means these four hitters cannot be manipulated so the pitcher’s breaking balls break away from the hitter. These four hitters are match-up proof. The Indians have also received home runs from all parts of the lineup this postseason. Coco Crisp, who was picked up at the waiver deadline, had only 2 HR’s in 20 games with the Tribe during the regular season. He has already matched that this postseason, stepping up at key moments to put the Indians ahead in games.

Most important, however, may be the Indians bullpen this postseason. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen have combined this postseason to produce amazing results while being inserted into the game anywhere from the 5th inning to the 9th. Francona has shown that he is not afraid to lean on Miller at the first sign of trouble from one of his young starters. It is a move that is surprising, especially so early in games, but also proven effective this postseason. Miller and Allen have shown that if the Indians’ starter can get through five innings, the dynamic duo can get the Indians through the last four unscathed.

danny-salazar

Danny Salazar had the best k/9 ratio of any of the Indians starters this regular season. He could provide some valuable work in a tired bullpen or potentially start Game 4 for the Tribe. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

All the talk this Pre-World Series has been that the Cubs have added Kyle Schwarber (shoutout Middletown, Ohio) to the 25 man roster to be the designated hitter when at Progressive Field.  The media has not been discussing the return of Yan Gomes and Danny Salazar to the Indians 25 man roster. Yan Gomes will strengthen the weakest position in the lineup, as Roberto Perez has only amassed .174 avg this postseason. Even as just a pinch hit situation, Gomes could provide a lift much like Schwarber can for the Cubs. Salazar’s limit has been set at 60 or 70 pitches, but it could prove vital in either a long relief role or a potential game 4 start.

Finally, the Indians will have home field advantage during the series due to the American League winning the All-Star Game. This may be just something minor, but it gives the Indians the opportunity to establish momentum through the first two games, before being able to play the last two at home (if necessary). It may be just something small, but any edge helps come World Series time.

The Chicago Cubs may have the better team on paper, but the same could be said of the Red Sox and Blue Jays in prior series. The Indians have thrived in their underdog role this postseason and will rely on the experience Terry Francona provides to pull out another championship for Cleveland. The bullpen will be used early and often these upcoming games, so it will be interesting to see how Francona utilizes Miller and Allen as the series unfolds. Combine that bullpen with a lineup that does not rely on one single guy to carry the team, and we could see one last upset this season as the Indians beat the Cubs in six games.

AL Regular Season Award Predictions

As the season begins to wind down, all sorts of guesses as to who will win the MVP and Cy Young awards. So many factors are taken into consideration including team record, individual statistics, and how the player has been performing as of late. Inside this article, I make some predictions for who will be the winner of each American League award as the season concludes.

 

MVP Award

Early on I thought the award would go to Houston Astros second basemen, Jose Altuve. He was on a tear the first couple of months. However, as the season progressed, Altuve has cooled off, and the award has become a tossup. The award now belongs to one of three people; either, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts, or Mike Trout.*

*The Angels are not contending for the playoffs, which for better or worse, eliminates Trout from the close race.

Betts has been a true five-category player, hitting 31 home runs, a .318 average, 25 stolen bases, and triple digit rbi’s and runs. Despite Donaldson displaying more power, Betts gets the nod for his substantial lead in stolen bases and batting average (RBI’s are hard for me to argue as it is dependent on people getting on in front of you.) The Red Sox moving to first in the division with a five-game lead on the Blue Jays is just the icing on the cake for Betts getting the MVP award.

 

Cy Young

The Cy Young Award is always tough to predict because people all the pitching stats differently. Rick Porcello leads the American League in wins but has 50 less strikeouts than Corey Kluber. Masahiro Tanaka has the lowest ERA in the AL, but has only amassed 14 wins. Justin Verlander accumulated a 5.5 WAR and a 1.01 WHIP in a career rebounding season but his team is currently on the outside looking in for the wild card.

 

I do not even think Kluber thought he was going to have the season he is currently having back in spring training. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

I do not even think Kluber thought he was going to have the season he is currently having back in spring training. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

In the end, I think Corey Kluber is most deserving of the award. He had a rough first couple of starts to the season, but once he settled in, produced strong numbers for the rest of the season for the Cleveland Indians. Kluber leads the American League with 224 Ks, the Indians are on top of the Central Division and is third and fourth respectively in ERA and WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched). 18 wins, though dependent on the team, would rank him third in the AL and leads all AL pitchers in WAR. All these numbers, coupled with the Indians making the playoffs should be all the voters need to pick Kluber for the Cy Young.

 

Rookie of the Year

After the first month of the season, the award would have gone to Nomar Mazara. The MLB season is long, though, and a lot has changed. Mazara slumped, and Michael Fulmer started to rise to on the board. Fulmer has produced at an elite level for the Tigers, with a 3.03 ERA. Fulmer had the award locked up, well, until September rolled around and teams started calling up young prospects. Controversial, but the award belongs to Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez is sitting at forty-three games on the season but has hit 19 home runs and is producing a .337 batting average. He has spent half of those games at the catcher spot, a position usually devoid of strong hitters. His WAR is already 2.2 (an average an MLB starter will accumulate 2-3 over the whole season) and it is not crazy to think that even if Sanchez started slumping, he could have produced a WAR hovering near five, which would be top 20 in the American League. The only thing holding back Sanchez is his lack of playing time, but I think the production over a month and a half is more than enough for Sanchez to usurp Fulmer by season’s end.

 

Mariano Rivera/Rolaids Relief Award

This award is probably the easiest to decide as there is one closer who has been heads and shoulders above the rest of the American League. Zach Britton not only leads the American League in saves, but his WHIP and ERA are both below one. Britton has only given up four earned runs all season in 61 innings, meaning every 15 appearances he makes, he gives up one lone run. To put this in perspective, Mariano Rivera’s lowest ERA in a single season was 1.38 (He gave up 12 ER’s in 78 innings), and he is considered one of, if not the best, closer of all time.

Britton has done way more than his expected workload for the season as he has been the best closer in the American League. Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon of USA TODAY Sports

Britton has done way more than he was expected to this season as he has been the best closer in the American League. Photo Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon of USA TODAY Sports

Britton has not blown a save all season, and three of his runs came in the first month. This means that in 52 appearances since the beginning of May, he has only given up one earned run. Britton has never been a dominant strikeout guy like Aroldis Chapman, which makes the ERA even more impressive as Britton relies on inducing groundouts. Britton is the only answer to who should win the Mariano Rivera award, regardless if the Orioles snag the last wild card spot or not.

 

Manager of the Year

This answer is not as clear-cut as the Britton one, but I believe there is still only one clear answer for Manager of the Year. Terry Francona has had playoff success in the past with the Red Sox, but nowadays, he has the MLB world buzzing about the Cleveland Indians. The Indians were not expected to win the division by a majority of baseball experts at the beginning of the season, as the Royals were the reigning World Series champs. The Indians were not even expected to make the playoffs, as the AL East was projected to lock up at least one playoff wildcard spot and the Detroit Tigers would have too hot of an offense to be slowed down for the second spot. Buster Olney, Jerry Crasnick, Tim Kurkjian, and Jon Morosi are all experts who predicted that the Indians would not even be in a playoff spot by the end of September.

As of now, however, the Indians are sitting seven games ahead of the second-place team in the AL Central. Francona has a potential Cy Young winner on the staff complemented by more young pitching.  He messed around with a lineup that led to Carlos Santana, a 210 pound first basemen, leading off for the better part of a season. All this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this

Francona has a potential Cy Young winner on the staff complemented by more solid, young pitching.  He messed around with a lineup that led to Carlos Santana, a 210-pound first basemen, leading off for the better part of a season. All this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this

All of this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this year. However, they have the core pieces in place long-termterm success for the better part of the future. The Manager of the Year has the second best record in the MLB, despite rather lackluster preseason expectations for the team headed into the season.

 

All stats courtesy of baseball reference