This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Indians. For several years Terry Francona’s boys have been striving to bring relevance back to Cleveland. Could this be the season they finally do it?
Projected Lineup: CF Michael Bourn, SS Jose Ramirez, LF Michael Brantley, 1B Carlos Santana, RF Brandon Moss*, C Yan Gomes, 2B Jason Kipnis, DH Nick Swisher, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Projected Rotation: RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Danny Salazar, LHP T.J. House
* new additions
The Indians achieved great individual success in 2014, with Corey Kluber winning the AL Cy Young award, and Michael Brantley finishing 3rd in MVP voting. However, it didn’t translate to team success, as the Indians stumbled to a third-place finish in the AL Central.
This season, they hope to improve on last year’s performance with more or less the same exact team. Sounds a bit like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, but the Indians believe they have some cause for optimism.
It starts with the emergence of Brantley, the Indians’ rising star. He enjoyed a breakout year last year in which he put up 20 homers and 45 doubles. The doubles are important, because they indicate there might be even more untapped power in Brantley’s bat. Watch out for when some of those gap shots turn into over-the-fence shots this season.
In addition, the Indians need more production from Jason Kipnis. This is a guy who got MVP votes two seasons ago, when he swatted 17 homers to go with an .818 OPS. But last year he took a major step backward—he managed only six homers for the year, and his OPS dropped to .640.
A dream scenario for the Tribe is for Kipnis to return to his 2013 form, and be consistent enough that they can slot him at the top of the batting order. Currently, the top two spots in the lineup are occupied by Michael Bourn and Jose Ramirez, who have tons of speed, but neither of whom walk enough to be a real on-base threat. The pair combined for just 48 total walks last season, whereas when Kipnis is good, he can easily put up 70-plus.
Another guy the Indians are hoping lands on the right side of the hot-cold spectrum this year is Carlos Santana. If you look at his stats last year as a whole, they’re underwhelming: an MLB-leading 113 walks, but just a .231 batting average to go with it.
But this is where splits make things interesting. Let’s divide the season into thirds:
April/May: .159/.327/.301, 6 HR
June/July: .310/.415/.603, 14 HR
August/September: .225/.356/.382, 7 HR
As you can see, last summer Santana was pretty much the best player in the game. What’s more—his two-month hot streak was accompanied by a very reasonable .336 BABIP, indicating that it wasn’t due to an inordinate amount of luck. To put it very simply, he just started hitting the ball more effectively.
So who knows what the cause might’ve been for Santana’s huge swing in performance—the warmer weather, the end of the Indians’ experimenting with him playing third base, LeBron announcing his return to Cleveland—all we know is it happened, and the fact is that Santana can play at that level. That means there’s a very real possibility of him staying that hot for an entire season.
On the pitching side of things, the Tribe saw inspiring performances from Corey Kluber, who was exceptional the whole year but especially after the All-Star Break, when he posted a 1.73 ERA, and Carlos Carrasco, who finished the year with a 1.30 ERA in his final ten starts. Needless to say, the Indians’ rotation is constructed far better than that last sentence was.
However, the rotation did take a blow when it was announced that the newly-signed Gavin Floyd will be out indefinitely due to a stress fracture in his elbow. Now it’ll be up to the in-house guys to fill the void. T.J. House, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer certainly have the talent, but it’ll be up to them to put it together and be consistent for a full season, something none of them have been able to do yet at the major league level.
The Indians have some young talent that will surprise many people this season. However, without any major upgrades from last year’s team, don’t expect any surprises when it comes to them contending. A middle-of-the-pack finish in the strong AL Central is pretty much a guarantee.
Projected Finish: 80-82, Fourth place in AL Central