Welcome. The Cleveland Indians are about to partake in the 2017 MLB postseason and you may feel unprepared. Hey, we get it. The Cavaliers took your attention April through June. After a depressing NBA Finals, you needed to spend some quality time with the kids to explain how the stars prove the world is not flat and how Dwyane Wade joining the Cavs wasn’t the same as Kevin Durant joining the Warriors. Throw in some summer fun, and, before you knew it, school and work filled up September. Maybe you even allowed yourself to get excited about the newest potential franchise quarterback donning an orange helmet- you know, before games began.1
You missed an incredible journey. The Indians held onto first place in the AL Central division from June 26 onward, went on a 22-game winning streak, and employ two finalists for both the AL MVP Award and AL Cy Young Award. There were still moments that gave fans pause. Just take a gander at the early season pitching and defensive issues or the late-season injuries to Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, and Andrew Miller. The season ended well though, because if the Los Angeles Dodgers lose before the World Series, then the Indians will have home field advantage throughout the postseason. Oh yeah, the Indians won 100 or more games for just the third time in the 117-season franchise history.
Lucky for you the Indians are resurrecting the Rally Together theme. The Tribe can also always use as many fans as possible to shout down the loud, obnoxious fans from New York or Minnesota in the ALDS and to help continue to pay for that $139 million payroll that Paul “Moneybags” Dolan has decided to shell out. Of course, a whole bunch more fans have been showing up this season as the team surpassed two million in attendance for the first time in a decade and have been enjoying the best television ratings since the end of the 90s dynasty teams. Considering Edwin Encarnacion had a 150 thousand dollar contract bet on it happening; he thanks everyone who helped make that happen.
With that, WFNY felt it would be best to give y’all a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the Indians to help yourself sound like one of the cool kids that watched all 162 regular season games. Or, at the very least, enough crib notes to fake it.
Be forewarned: since you can look up the stats, we’re going to stick to the narratives.
The rotation was expected to be one of domination, and it was. Fangraphs made a cogent proclamation that the 2017 Indians rotation might be the greatest ever. EVER! Mike Clevinger didn’t make the rotation coming out of Spring Training and has been pushed to the bullpen for October because it is so stacked. Trevor Bauer made the mini-leap everyone was waiting on, Danny Salazar battled injuries (again) before starting to look dominant late in the season, and Josh Tomlin continued being Josh Tomlin- for better and for worse. None of those starters are going to be up for the Cy Young Award in 2017, but either Bauer or Clevinger might in future seasons.
Carlos Carrasco will be up for the AL Cy Young Award. There are arguments to be made that he has been the third best starter in the American League. In his final regular season start, he struck out 14 batters, while walking just one and allowing zero runs- earned or not- to cross home plate. Yeah, Cookie has been a monster for the Tribe.
Here’s the thing. Corey Kluber is just as effective and dominant as you remember. He did miss a month early in the season, but he has been the best pitcher in MLB since returning. Let me repeat. Corey Kluber has been hands down, no arguments to even pretend to make, the most dominant starter in Major League Baseball since the beginning of June.2
AL MVP Award
Y’all probably heard the Indians signed feared slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the biggest free agent deal in team history this past offseason. You might have even taken note of his cold start when some crazy people ignored his past history and were making demands for him to be benched. Yeah, well he heated up over the summer as he has always done and racked up a whole slew of counting statistics. His bat is as potent as ever and the Tribe doesn’t need to put him onto the dirt until the World Series. The slow start though took away any chance he might have had at placing in the AL MVP race.
Carlos Santana is another player who did what he does with the bat. He remained a feared hitter for opposing teams and is an absolute luxury for the Indians to be able to slot him into the No. 5 or 6 spot in the lineup. Yeah, that is how deep this Indians hitting goes as they only trail the Yankees and Astros in runs per game. Where Santana went crazy though is that he decided- Hey, why not become a legitimate AL Gold Glover at first base? Uh, no. I’m not kidding. Still, it would be a bit of a surprise to see him get any votes on the AL MVP vote; unlike two of his teammates.
Everyone expected Encarnacion to lead the Indians in home runs, and he did. So, who had Francisco Lindor as coming in second? Lindor led the Indians who embraced the Elevation Revelation as he decided- seemingly on a whim to those only watching games- that he was going to be a power hitter. Lindor knocked on the door of a Top 10 place on the AL home run list all season and finished tied with Mike Trout, Jose Abreu, Manny Machado, and Gary Sanchez. The jaw-dropping defense the Tribe has become accustomed to see from their shortstop reappeared in the second half of the season, which makes Lindor one of the most complete players in baseball. Heck, if you add his fun-loving personality and wide smile, then you can make an argument for most complete player.3
Then, there is Jose Ramirez. J-Ram took a leap in 2016, decided it was more of a baby step, and took a grown man leap in 2017. He is among the best hitters in baseball now. Cracking 50 doubles, knocking on the doorstep of 30 home runs, and having a batting average over 300 will do that for a guy. He is ridiculous at the plate. If there is a high leverage AB, then you want J-Ram there. Period. Now, add in that he can slot in at third base (like he did to start the season) or second base (as he has since Kipnis got hurt with amazing double play ability with Lindor) and you have the Indians best position player. Amazing to say out loud. Try it out.
AL ROY Award
Yeah, so Aaron Judge is sort of good and will win this award going away. Heck, he might win the AL MVP Award too, which will just make it all the more satisfying when the best pitching staff ever assembled strikes him out continually in the playoffs. There was still quite a bit of help from the young players though. As injuries constantly hit the Indians throughout the season, players were called upon to fill in the gaps. They continued to deliver.
Bradley Zimmer arrived in the middle of the year, just in time for Statcast to release sprint speed numbers- which he finished near the top in all of MLB. Having a fast gazelle in center field willing and capable of slamming into turf and walls was quite fun. The unfortunate part is that flashbacks to Grady Sizemore being unable to stay healthy were also worried about and Zimmer might miss the entirety of the postseason due to diving into first base.
Yandy Diaz was another early entrant on the team. He broke Spring Training with the team and hit the ball as hard as any in MLB. The problem was he hit the balls directly into the ground- in MLB the defenses are smarter and better, so these turned into out. After spending most of the summer in Columbus, Diaz returned and the angle the ball launched off his bat increased. He has started to hit the ball over the infield- though usually to the opposite field. His gigantic stature would suggest a power hitter, which may eventually come. For now, having a great contact hitter who can poke doubles to right field is something the team needs.
Giovanny Urshela and Greg Allen may or may not make the postseason roster. Each player makes defensive plays in the field that will have you jumping out of your seat. Allen does so at a crucial defensive position in center field. Yes, the same position Kipnis has attempted- poorly- to force fit a way to get his bat into the lineup. Now, the question is if their near-elite defense is enough to give them a spot for the ALDS. Just don’t expect too much when they walk up to the plate.
AL COY Award
The AL Coach of the Year Award will someday be named for Terry Francona. His run of fielding competitive teams for two different franchises and ability to disarm the media hordes by regaling them with epic tales of falling off his scooter in front of Tyronn Lue and such is without parallel. Francona also should have coached the AL in the All Star Game but needed to recover from heart surgery. He missed a week.
Somehow despite everything Tito does, Paul Molitor is the favorite for the award because the Twins were supposed to be terrible and they wound up being the least terrible of the teams vying for the last AL Wild Card spot.
AL EOY Award
Having Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti run circles around their MLB counterparts almost feels unfair at this point. Near every move they make proves out to be the correct one as they continue to sign and trade for players who have become important cogs in the Tribe machine.
Here’s a rundown of some of the new players on the team for 2017 brought in by this group:
- Edwin Encarnacion: The man with an imaginary parrot on his shoulder when he isn’t swinging a powerful bat. Did everything expected from him this season.
- Jay Bruce: Out-spending the Yankees is how the Indians were able to nab an important bat- and defender- to the team in August.
- Austin Jackson: The injury-risk signing pay-off player for the Tribe in 2017. His bat has been huge as Kipnis and Chisenhall and Brantley spent significant time on the DL.
- Joe Smith: Not quite Andrew Miller at the trade deadline, but the Bullpen Mafia alum returning has been a key addition.
- Boone Logan: Before his season ended, he was a valuable LOOGY.
- Tyler Olson: ERA = 0.00
- Nick Goody: Yet another positive (WAR) guy in the Tribe bullpen.
Roberto Clemente Award
As noted, Carlos Carrasco is the Cleveland Indians nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award- for the third straight year. Not just a good player, but a good man as well.
Answering the Important Questions
Can any other team match up with the Tribe’s rotation?
By the numbers, no. Not just in 2017, but ever if you consider how deep the Indians rotation goes. The problem- as the Tribe demonstrated in 2016- is that teams can shorten up that rotation to three or four starters. Even still, having both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco is without parallel in the AL. The Yankees have Luis Severino, the Red Sox Chris Sale, the Astros Lance McCullers. Each of these teams has other starters with the capability of having excellent game, they just have not with the same consistency the Indians have had with Carrasco. As AL teams go further into their rotations, the Indians advantage increases.
What is going on with Michael Brantley?
Brantley injured his ankle in August and was expected to miss a couple weeks. A couple turned into seven after he was incapable of land-based running (the best kind!), and he still is limping. The thing is, Brantley has such a great swing, the Indians still value him as a bench bat in the playoffs. He could well make the postseason roster just for the chance of using him for one plate appearance and pinch-running him if he gets on base.
Oh, there’s a $12 million option the team will have to decide whether or not to pick up once the season ends too. No pressure.
(Squinting) Hey, who is that bearded man in center field? He looks like Jason Kipnis.
Three trips to the DL this season have held Kipnis back at the plate, but they also allowed the Indians to put Ramirez at second base more and realize the potential benefits of a J-Ram-Lindor double play combination. With Diaz and Urshela finishing off the infield defense at third base, the Tribe wanted to push that advantage forward. So, when Kipnis had his bat come around late in the year, the only place in the lineup for him has been as a center fielder.
No, Kipnis is not a center fielder and any fears you have about a repeat of World Series Game 6 Tyler Naquin-esque issues are justified. The routes have been interesting and runners have taken the extra base with no fear of Kipnis’ arm. Whether or not his bat makes up for the deficiency there is the question.
Can I have a quick-hitter on the other main lineup contributors you haven’t mentioned much in case someone asks me?
- Yan Gomes / Roberto Perez: The catching duo could not hit at all until mid-August and now both are hitting well. Expect Gomes to catch for Kluber and Perez might well catch for the rest.
- Erik Gonzalez: He has been a valuable bench player all season for the Indians, but there is a good chance he will not find room on the postseason roster.
- Lonnie Chisenhall: Three trips to the DL for Chisenhall as well. He has made a later return than Kipnis, and is still ramping back up at the plate. It will be important that he is ready.
- Abraham Almonte: Hey, remember him? Almonte is likely to find himself off the postseason roster in a numbers game, but he can be quite capable as a corner outfield bat should the Indians need deeper in the playoffs.
- Brandon Guyer: It is unknown if Guyer will be healthy enough to play for the Indians in the postseason. An ALDS return appears unlikely.
What about the other bullpen guys?
- Andrew Miller: Miller was injured and scared everyone for a couple months, but he appears to be back to being Miller now.
- Cody Allen: The backend of the Tribe’s bullpen is a weapon. Allen a big reason why.
- Bryan Shaw: Yes, he has had a couple blips in 2017- like he does every year- but he is still an amazing asset to have as a third reliever.
- Dan Otero: A good chance that the next two guys in the bullpen push him off the roster.
- Mike Clevinger: Francona wants to use him as a weapon. He has been used directly after the starter since going to relief and he might be used as a quick hook on Bauer or Salazar in their starts.
- Danny Salazar: He could be the fourth starter- it could be Josh Tomlin. But, since returning, Salazar has his electric stuff back and the Purveryor of Filth is ready to unleash it.
- Shawn Armstrong: The Indians relievers were so good, Armstrong wound up the only member who had a negative WAR. He will not be seen on the postseason roster.
What were the best outside the chalk stories of the season?
- World Baseball Classic: Spring Training started off with guys like Francisco Lindor (Puerto Rico) and Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic) showing off their wonderful personality and skill for the World to see as they wore their home country’s uniforms.
- Party at Napoli’s moves to Texas: The Indians upgraded to Encarnacion, but Napoli kept collecting money for kids. Good on him.
- Mini Baseball family: Carrasco and Bauer made the most of their off days with arts and crafts time. They created a full collection of Indian players as depicted by mini-baseball figurines. Yeah, this is a great team for which to root.
- Player’s weekend fun: Some nicknames were dumb, but the overall idea and uniforms gave a festive atmosphere to a random August weekend. Well done by MLB on the idea and execution.
Where can I get more detailed information about some of these topics? And who are all these other guys writing for WFNY about the Indians?
WFNY has become a one-stop place to follow the Cleveland Indians postseason as there is just a wealth of information and a ton of content. For what could be a special run, Mike Hattery, Gage Will, Jim Pete, and myself will guide you along the way- perhaps with some guest authors as well. We hope to have a wide range with our style of coverage so that we can fit any need or desire you might have for following the Tribe’s October.
Go, Tribe, Go!
Here’s a quick sample of what you can expect (along with some more in-depth info):
- OK, so WFNY did this last year and many people took it seriously. This is meant to be fun- not serious. We truly do understand that adult life means making choices about how you spend your time- particularly about entertainment options. Heck, the author of this article only watched the Cavs in the NBA Finals. So, sit back and enjoy the read. Thanks. [↩]
- Chris Sale- he’s in Boston now- will make the Cy Young voting close, but only because of how good he was at the start of the season. [↩]
- Sorry, Mike Trout is the best baseball player alive, but he is incredibly dry and boring when he talks. [↩]