The opening week of the Cleveland Indians 2017 campaign does not a year make, but sweeping the Texas Rangers, and getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks has given me that Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde feeling, twisting and turning in my gut. Fortunately, I don’t think the A.L. Central will present the Indians with too much of a hassle regardless of the early meanderings of the Tribe, so the worries are being kept at bay by the realities of the division. The season is still rooted in wet cement, so prophesizing the future based off of the beginning is akin to treading on insanity.
But it’s the Home Opener today, and I’d like to leave you with some things to ponder, as you take in what should be deemed a local Cleveland holiday.
- The starting rotation continues to feel special. Corey Kluber hasn’t really looked like himself yet, but we know he isn’t the final version of himself. Carlos Carrasco looked more like himself in his opening start, and we’ll get to see the second version of that today against the White Sox. But I can’t get my mind off of the bottom three of the rotation. I can’t help but think that the true emergence of Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, and the correct usage of Josh Tomlin, could take this Cleveland Indians’ team from really good, to 100-win good.
- Salazar struck out nine batters in less than six full innings. He also dealt with some jams throughout the game. But his two-seamer and split-change/slurve can be electric. When you combine it with that four-seamer, it should be trouble. But he’s still working on keeping the ball down early. He still can leave pitches up in the zone early, or he fails to climb the ladder high enough. He used that four-seamer less, but it’s hard to judge the future based on one start. All of that said, if Salazar keeps the ball down early in his match-ups, he could turn a massive corner. At least we can get away from the two-pitch fallacy that’s been elevated throughout his career. He has three plus pitches, and can mix in that curve on occasion. I think Salazar is trending up.
- Trevor Bauer’s stuff is always so tantalizing, isn’t it? His issues over his career are less about routine and being a head-case (I think), and more about location, just like Salazar. Also, like Salazar, a lot of what he needs to deal with has to do with pitches over the plate regarding his two- and four-seamers. If he can work inside on both lefties and righties, with his fastball, he’s devastating. Unfortunately, over the years, he grooves pitches, which allows hitters to lay off of his swing-and-miss offerings. If he can continue what he did early against Arizona, and he turns a corner, our rotation is elite, four deep. No, not using hyperbole. I can’t wait to see Salazar and Bauer in their second starts. I want the trends to continue.
- Should Josh Tomlin go past four innings? I’m just sorta thinking out loud here, but it seems to be that Tomlin could really be helped by a four-inning piggyback. I know that it would be outside the box, but I think the Indians could pull this off at the big league level, with a little bit of creativity. It’s more of a gut call, but just think Tomlin has to be dead on for him to go past that.
- For those that study Fangraphs, even a little, one can see that Yandy Diaz’s swing path has always been, at best, level-to-downward. Dan Farnsworth mentioned it prior to the 2016 season, and Eric Longenhagen mentioned it again in November. Kevin Dean has been absolutely all over it this spring,1 and our own Michael Bode discussed Yandy’s future today. The Fangraphs Yandy mentions are somewhat flawed in the realities of his play, both offensively and defensively, but the swing plane issues have been around, and have been noted. One thing to notate as you ponder Yandy’s future. He worked his ass off this winter, and I have to believe surprised management with the sheer bulk he added. This isn’t to say they weren’t aware of his workout regimen, or that he’s a workout fiend. It’s just to say that he really sized up. While the Indians may not have been concerned about his swing plane prior to this year based on contact skills and speed, the fact that he is now the size of The Incredible Hulk is likely going to be a factor going forward. Whether he does that in the minors, or at the big league level has yet to be told, but I think we’ll see some tinkering happening for sure. I’m just mostly impressed with the work that Diaz put in this offseason to change the landscape. His future is definitively interesting.
- Andrew Miller is awesome.
- I have somehow gone from mocking Austin Jackson, to truly rooting for him. I have no idea why. I mean, “good Austin Jackson” would be such a boon to this team going forward, but I have no reason to think that “good Austin Jackson” is sustainable. He’s been showcasing diminishing skill for three years, and for him to stop that downward slide, and have a good year, would be astonishing. But I sure am rooting for him, until he blocks one of the kids. Then…bye-bye…
- And I’m really starting to love Abraham Almonte in the outfield. There is a crew of fans that absolutely think he’s the dregs of the outfield discussion. They’re wrong. No, he’s not a star. No, he’s not a regular. But, if you use him right, as that flex-fourth outfielder, I think he could give you split numbers that are impressive. I also like his defense. He’s not a bad defender. Unfortunately for AA, he has an option, and I have to think they send him down, over a kid like Naquin.
- (I kinda like Naquin too, even though I think there’s much to his game that’s slightly overrated)
- Bradley Zimmer has two doubles and two triples in his first five games in Columbus. He’s struck out three times, and walked once. I only mention this because there is this small part of me that thinks these swing changes, which I’ll take a look at a little closer in a couple of weeks, could force the organization’s hand come June. If you are a contending team, and you have a Zimmer just demolishing the baseball at your highest level, it could be a match made in heaven. It could also give the Indians some chips to deal come July.
- While we’re talking prospects, Francisco Mejia is hitting .429 in Akron, and Greg Allen is hitting .313. In four games, Mejia has four doubles, and has only struck out once. He’s young, and he’s likely not going much further than Double A this year, but boy is he making mince-meat out of two really tough pitching leagues. And Allen? He’s a good season away from patrolling the Indians centerfield full-time. This is no offense to Zimmer, our future right fielder.
- The whole, “talking it over with Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis” thing should be coming to fruition soon. With Kipnis a week-or-less from returning, it’s going to be really interesting to see how things shake out. We know manager Terry Francona doesn’t want two lefties hitting in order, but we are talking about Brantley and Kipnis, right? I could see if we were talking about Travis Buck and Jack Hannahan, but it’s Brantley and Kipnis. Besides, with all those switch-hitters, I wouldn’t want to be a righty, get through the top of the order, then see Brantley and Kipnis sitting there at the five- and six-hole. I’m not saying they should be hitting fifth or sixth either, just saying that everything should be on the table. When you are dealing with a push to win a World Series, don’t leave any angle unturned. Of course, this is Tito Francona, and I’m just a guy that writes for WFNY. I’m sure they turn over more things than we do…right?
- The last time Edwin Encarnacion was in Cleveland playing baseball, he was getting booed for being a Toronto Blue Jay-whiner. Now, he can annoy everyone outside of Cleveland. He’s going yard today.
- I love Home Openers. I always have. it’s the day you get the mix of the “Die Hard” fans, and those one-timers that like to come and say they are diehard fans. The Die Hards are those folks that show up at every game they can afford, regardless of weather, and don’t miss a second of the game. They come garbed in their Indians’ gear, know the entire roster, and have a take rooted in some correct (or incorrect) knowledge. The “One Time” fans are those that actually may come more than once, but have the knowledge of the team that’s either antiquated, or just flat out idiotic. Let me put it to you this way. They likely still blame the Dolans for everything, rip on Mark Shapiro for the World Series loss, as though getting to the World Series wasn’t an awesome thing, and then whine about everything, because they are HUGE fans. They also have no clue what has happened to the team between 2001 and late 2016. I’m sure there’s some middle-ground there, but you know, why deal with nuance.
If you’re going to the game today, enjoy! I’ll be watching from the friendly confines of WFNY’s EHC outpost, while much of the WFNY crew will be perched somewhere at Progressive Field, drinking fine local ales, taking in Game 7 overall, and Game 1 in Cleveland. Through it all, strategy will be discussed, and remembering other Home Openers will swell throughout the day.
I’ll leave you with this memory. On April 12th, 1992, the Indians faced off against the Boston Red Sox in a 19-inning affair in front of 65,813 fans. To put that crowd into perspective, over their next ten home games, the Indians drew a tad over 63,000 (I just added them up).
The game took 6 hours and 30 minutes, and at the time, was the longest game in actual time, in Cleveland history. Carlos Baerga went 6-for-9, and the Indians had 20 hits, and lost, 7-5, on a Tim Naehring home run.
The next day was the only scheduled double-header in the big leagues that year, and the Indians won Game 1 of that double-header without getting a hit. Don’t worry, it didn’t count as a no-hitter because Matt Young’s 120-pitch complete game was only eight innings due to the Indians not needing to bat in the ninth. In 1991, MLB had changed the rules so that “nine-innings” were a no-hit requisite.
Only in Cleveland.
The (Home Opener Predictions) List
They will be all wrong, but alas, I shall pick them anyways
- First Walk–Carlos Santana–lead-off
- First Hit–Edwin Encarnacion
- First HR–Edwin Encarnacion
- First 1B–Jose Ramirez
- First 2B–Yandy Diaz
- First Annoyance–When I accidentally turn on the Chicago TV, and listen to even five seconds of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone.