2017: 102-60 (first in the AL Central)
Last postseason appearance: 2017
Last World Series title: 1948
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Featured image by Bleacher Report
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