In the immortal words of John Fogerty, it’s time to “beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun game out today. We’re born again, and there’s new grass on the field.” It’s Opening Day here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and while we’re still a week away from baseball at Progressive Field, the Indians begin the defense of their American League pennant in just a few hours in Arlington, Texas.1
That really sounds good, doesn’t it?
The Cleveland Indians are your American League Champions, and while other cities will likely mock the club for not winning the “whole damn thing,” sometimes the first step is the hardest. The Indians first step was one hit away from World Series Champions.
And while that could drive a normal person insane, in Cleveland, it clearly was a first step because this team is coming back whole and complete. Sure, there are injuries. Sure, there are question marks, but this team is so deep…
For once, it was an offseason without any sort of legitimate turmoil. The roster didn’t fluctuate, at least in a bad way. Instead, the Indians added to their World Series roster by signing one of the best hitters from one of their top American League contenders, when they signed former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman and DH, Edwin Encarnacion. It’s text book awesome. Weaken one of your top opponents and make your team stronger.
Most of the “news” this offseason was related to shoulders, and it turns out the shoulder we were most worried about may be the least of our worries. Seriously, if I gave you odds on healthy shoulders on March 1, and gave you the names of Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley, how many of you would have put your money of Michael Brantley being the one guy that started on Opening Day?
But, it has been that kind of Spring Training, hasn’t it. With the only legitimate spots available on the roster being the last spot in the bullpen, and the last spot on the 25-man roster,2 it turns out that the time spent from March through April 3 was basically 34 days of praying that nothing bad would happen. Every injury was magnified, and those last roster spots were magnified at an insane level.3
The insane depth of this roster was displayed on Sunday afternoon, when Terry Francona announced the top half of his non-Kipnis-and-Chisenhall roster:
Indians Opening Day lineup will be…
Francona still thinking about 6-7-8-9.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 2, 2017
Look at the top of that order. Jose Ramirez, he of the .312/.363/.462 slash last year, is hitting fifth. The hell with analyzing that. This lineup is so good, that the guy that essentially replaced Brantley’s statistics last year is likely stuck outside the top-end of the order.
Oh, and Brantley is back. Just thought I’d throw that in there.
If you want to really have some fun, fast-forward three weeks, and squint at that line-up once again. Jason Kipnis will likely be back and hopefully healthy, which means a guy that’s only had 248 plate appearances (out of 3,364) outside of the top four in the lineup will be trying to find a place to hit. Yeah, one of those guys will be hitting sixth.
The debate will likely begin regarding who should hit lead-off, and who shouldn’t hit outside the Top four, but the reality is simply the fact that the Indians have a group of six guys that can quite honestly be interchanged, based on the situation. There’s probably a fun piece to be written ranking those top six hitters, but that’s for another day.
What’s really fun about the roster is the upside of the guys supplementing the bottom end of the order, including Yandy Diaz, Yan Gomes, newly-signed Roberto Perez, Tyler Naquin, Brandon Guyer, and Abraham Almonte. Sure, there are offensive holes, but if Michael Martinez gets serious time on the roster, then something has seriously gone wrong. Or Tito is being Tito again.
We all know that a season is a marathon, not a sprint. We all know that often what’s on paper in April, isn’t what’s on paper in October.4 We all know that the hullabaloo of Opening Day, after an offseason of waiting, and predicting, and projecting, quickly melts into the fabric and the rhythm of the season.
With that said, here are some fun story lines to follow as the year progresses.
Who will end up the best hitter for the Indians?
Will Encarnacion step in and hit bombs as though he were a Dominican god? Will JRam continue to improve, with this new contract, and follow along the path of Jose Altuve? Will Francisco Lindor have the kind of season that forces the Indians to make a $100 million dollar decision, if they don’t make one prior? Will Michael Brantley be Michael Brantley, and force the Indians to pick up his option for next year? Will Jason Kipnis rebound from his shoulder woes in April, and return to 2016 form? Will Carlos Santana explode in his contract year? That’s the top six, and you still have to wonder about the catchers, Yandy Diaz, a Naquin improvement, and potential summer call-ups for Greg Allen and Bradley Zimmer. Oh, and that Guyer kid can hit. Don’t forget about Almonte either. Without pressure, who knows what he can do.
Yeah, this offense is going to be something special.
Winning a Cy Young?
I know, no pressure, right? Can Cy Kluber continue his dominance from last season, and while he didn’t match his Cy Young season, that Kluber is pretty special. Velocity isn’t all that important, when you are touching corners like he does. Carlos Carrasco probably has the best stuff, and the only thing keeping him from being the ace of the staff has been random injuries and, well, Kluber. If Carrasco is on, he’s in his prime, and likely has the best overall stuff because of his massive arsenal. But the dark horse here is Danny Salazar, whose four-seam/slurvey offspeed wonder duo is nearly unhittable. When he figures out usage, and if he stays healthy, his pure stuff is the best of the bunch. I think it’s possible that the Indians have two candidates for the Cy this year, health, of course, considered.
Gomes vs. Perez
In a perfect world, this would be a battle of gladiators. Thankfully, the Indians don’t need them killing each other, just making each other better. Gomes has been in an injury-riddled tail-spin for close to two years now. He’s healthy, and there have been soft signs that he could return to form this year, especially with a lighter load expected. Roberto Perez just signed a long-term deal, and almost feels like the starting catcher. By the end of this season, we could see an almost perfect split, with each catcher behind the plate for specific pitchers and situations. It’s a great problem to have, and one that the rest of the league will envy. it’s an interesting offensive mix as well, with Gomes more of a power-or-nothing guy, and Perez an on-base guy. It makes it hard for an opposing manager to set up for, and utilized correctly, keeps both catchers healthy, and successful (if it works). I sorta feel like this is Perez’s team going forward. It should be fun watching Gomes combat this, with hopefully good play behind the plate.
Yeah, an Indians article has Cy Young, and MVP at play here, but that’s because it’s possible the Indians could win both. It was only a couple of years ago in which Michael Brantley finished third in the MVP vote, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The obvious candidate here is Francisco Lindor, who really is the face of the team. He does it all, on offense, and defense, and has that panache after having that national audience for the World Series. If he was a legit threat to hit 20 homers, I think he could run away with the thing, especially if the Indians run away with the thing. But don’t count out these other two names: Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion. They are likely going to get set-up, or set-up the line-up5, and could put up the type of scary numbers that really stand out. Imagine Edwin Encarnacion, with some mix of JRam, Kip, Brantley, Lindor and Santana hitting in front of him. Five potential guys with .350ish or better OBP. Saying that out loud, I’m not even sure Encarnacion is a sleeper. And Carlos? He’s one of the 20 best hitters in baseball. That said, I still don’t think we’ve seen his best yet. He’s happy this year, and playing for dough. He loves Edwin on this team, and I think he could explode. What would that look like? That’s for another corner.
Okay, you weren’t getting a complete article without me mentioning Yandy. The guy can rake offensively, and while most were asleep on him, both offensively and defensively, he’s woken up not only the Terry Franconas of the world, but the media and the fans as well. I can’t wait for him to force an issue in a couple of weeks, because if he’s doing what I think he can do offensively, and if they send him down for “regular at-bats” in Columbus so that Michael Martinez can stay on this team, bad, bad columns and podcasts will commence. As for Michael Martinez, the Indians’ PR machine saying good things about him is ridiculous. He’s likely good in the clubhouse. Who cares. So is the rest of the roster.
There’s a group preaching JRam regression. Find them, and mock them. JRam hits. JRam plays hard. JRam has fun. JRam doesn’t care what other people thing. JRam can play everywhere. JRam is awesome. JRam has a big-time contract.
We know Miller is great.
We know Allen is great
We know about Bryan Shaw.
But the bulk of this bullpen is going to be Dan Otero and Boone Logan and Zach McAllister and Shawn Armstrong. We’ll see Perci Garner, and a bunch of others, but the bonus is that all are solid additions. There area always flaws in a bullpen, and it’s those flaws that drive me insane. While the lowest of leverage situations are high leverage in nature because of the short amount of time a bullpen pitcher is in the game, this bullpen will succeed more often than not. Watch Otero this year. He’s not Jeff Manship, and he’s not Matt Albers. He’s a guy that can be a high leverage arm.
I’m not sure which section of this pitching staff will be better, the rotation or the bullpen. If they’re used appropriately, both will be exceedingly successful, especially with the 10-day DL.
Greg Allen and Bradley Zimmer
I hope we don’t see them this year.
I know, I know, I love Greg Allen, and adore Bradley Zimmer’s new swing, but honestly, I hope they are stuck in the minors because the big league club is just raking. But here’s the think. Zimmer and Allen provide a plus skill-set to the bottom of that fantastic order that could take this team to the next planet offensively, and that’s really saying something. You also have to keep in mind that this is a veteran team, so when the PR machine starts pumping about “locker room guys,” remember that’s all it is: PR. Allen and Zimmer have been raved about in the locker room, for one, but they also will be protected in a veteran clubhouse. NOW is when you give them a chance, especially if they earn it.
But who knows, maybe the Indians won’t need them.
Either way, Zimmer has the new swing. Greg Allen defends like Kenny Lofton. One brings prodigious power, the other is a contact specialist. Both can play multiple outfield positions, and both will no doubt be stalwarts in the outfield for years to come.
Who knows, maybe this year.
Enjoy the season Indians’ fans, because the grass is a little greener, the sky is a little bluer, and the world is a little better. No, opening day isn’t the end-all and the be-all, but the World is our oyster, and the Series is our goal.
And while today, everybody’s record is equal6, the Indians chances at dancing in October is real.
It’s going to be a fun year.
- Home of future No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Browns, Myles Garrett. [↩]
- OK, injuries altered that a bit, but only slightly [↩]
- I had absolutely nothing to do with that, either—#goYANDY #goAWAYmichaelMARTINEZ [↩]
- Some of you may remember our starting rotation last April 1st, as compared to our starting rotation in the playoffs [↩]
- Carlos, you sexy-beast lead-off hitter you [↩]
- minus those idiotic, who-cares games from yesterday [↩]