The Indians and realistic expectations

The 2016-2017 Cleveland Indians is afoot, and your Tribe has leapt out of the starting gate with a 2-0 record against a pretty tough opponent in the Texas Rangers. If you’ve been an Indians’ fan for a long time, this is always a surprise for a club that hasn’t won a World Series in nearly 70 years. If you’re a fan of this particular team over the past two seasons, this is exactly the start that you expected.

The Indians are a really good baseball team, and while two games is a small sample size to predicate anything, it’s possible that a healthy Tribe will be even better come September.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

After the first two games of the season, the Cleveland Indians have been…predictable. The starting rotation has been solid. There were bumps, but it’s April. Corey Kluber struggled a bit, with blisters and Rougned Odor, then retired 11 of his final 12 batters he faced. Carlos Carrasco struggled a bit lest, with Joey Gallo’s moon shot into the Arlington sky, then retired the final nine hitters he faced.

They both battled, and just happen to be two of the most talented pitchers in the American League… and it’s April 5th. When healthy, the rotation is quite literally in good hands. I firmly believe in the domino effect of a good rotation that says, “A great starting rotation becomes competitive. Each pitcher builds off the next, trying to outdo the other.” Corey Kluber is the ace of the staff, and you can bet that Carrasco and Salazar, and probably Bauer, and most likely even Tomlin1 want to take that mantle over.

But, especially Carrasco. He’s the former 16 year old that blew away the Phillies and became the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal. He seemed to come unhinged by just about everything until he moved to the bullpen… then came back somehow fixed.

But I’m moving away from the point. This is what we expect with this rotation, right? Kluber is relentless, and icy cold on the mound. Carlos Carrasco is talented, and always seems to rubber-band back when something bad happens. I know I’m a reticent, doubting Cleveland fan, but this is what this rotation is supposed to do, and it will only get better.

Then, there’s this bullpen. If you’ve followed me for any stretch of time over the past 17 years, you’ve likely caught a whiff or two of how much I hate bullpens. This has nothing to do with talent. This has nothing to do with any specific bullpen. I just hate the volatility. One let down feels magnified by millions, and I hate that feeling.

Obviously, Andrew Miller allays a lot of that fear. He’s pretty good, if you haven’t noticed. But, Cody Allen showcased exactly what I was talking about in Game 2. He gave up two doubles, and one of those doubles, hit by our old friend Mike Napoli, looked like it was going to knock down the outfield wall. I wanted to knockdown the outfield wall.

Then, Cody Allen “flipped the switch.” He struck out Odor on an eight-pitch affair that was leading me down the path of insanity. Learning from his Odor outing, and channelling my inner disgust at the length of the last at bat, Allen struck out Jurickson Profar on five pitches. Then understanding that making me feel happy is the way to go, he wiped out Joey Gallo on three pitches, ending the game.

No harm, no foul, and while that appearance maybe left some doubt to Indians’ fans, the switch actually calmed my nerves. That’s what you want in a closer, isn’t it? Sure, you’d like to avoid back-to-back doubles on most occasions, but in the end, you’re most volatile positioned pitchers need to be forgetful.

In the end, the bullpen has gone 6 1/3 innings so far in two games, and given up five hits, striking out nine, and hasn’t yet given up a walk. Boone Logan is clearly a LOOGY with panache. Dan Otero is a guy that is every freakin’ bit as good as anyone in this pen not named Miller, and Bryan Shaw keeps Bryan Shaw-ing. He will implode two or three times a year, but in between, he’s just pretty damn good. Yes folks, it’s possible to be reviled for the implosions, and loved for the rest. There is nuance in life, even if people who like to be right won’t admit it.

If the rotation is humming, and the bullpen is bullpen-ing… it’s going to be a fun season. Now about those blisters…

But what about this offense?

Carlos Santana is 4-for-8, with two doubles and a home run. Oh yeah, he’s even walked twice. I tweeted last night that he legitimately could revolutionize the lead-off position. While anyone with sense understands that getting on base is super important when you are setting up your middle-of-the-order hitters, most search for the “Kenny Lofton types.” This isn’t flawed thinking, but it’s a fairly rare type. But Santana’s power potential is an intriguing match with this pitching staff. How many times have you thought, “if we get a lead, this game is over.”

Hello Carlos Santana.

This is an offense build on relentless aggression. The top of the line-up, and when I say “top,” I mean the first five, are all legitimate potential silver slugger winners. When you add Kipnis to the fray, you could say the top six. But where this team gets a bit fun, is when you start looking at the 7-8-9 positions and realize that there’s just all kinds of sneaky potential there. Jackson is not longer THE guy, and while I don’t buy into his mystique as a returning threat, maybe we can kick the tires a bit with him in the nine hole on occasion. I don’t love Almonte like WFNY’s Jeff Nomina does, but man does he look awesome as a bottom-of-the-order guy.2

Naquin looks different too. He’s a cocky kid to begin with, but this year, he just looks like he belongs. Yandy Diaz has been hitting the hell out of the baseball early. So far, he’s hitting them where they are, instead of where they ain’t, but he’s hitting them.

Hell, Francisco Lindor hasn’t even hit the baseball yet, and all is still right in the world.

But don’t chalk this piece up as one of unrealistic expectations. Instead, base this on a few things:

  1. The Indians were in the World Series in 2016.
  2. The Indians are back near complete in 2017.
  3. The Indians look really good in their super small two-game sample size so far.
  4. The Indians have added Edwin Encarnacion and perhaps Michael Brantley.
  5. The eye test, and the saber-test actually match.

So for once, trust the start, and trust your gut. While the 2017 story is in the infancy of chapter one, it’s one in which the ended is obvious, and that’s a good thing.

The (Hate) List

  1. Yan Gomes (I don’t hate Yan, but I hate Roberto Perez on the bench)
  2. The Rangers (now that Edwin is on the Indians, perhaps some of the Blue Jay-Rangers hate has seeped in)
  3. Pitch Limits (As an unadulterated hater of bullpens… let Cookie GO)
  4. Rob Gronkowski (I know, a weird placement, but he seems to be everywhere, and shouldn’t be. I can’t wait until he goes away)
  5. Joey Gallo moon shots (at least his shot down the line went foul. You don’t upper deck Cookie. Old Carrasco would have beaned him in the head)
  1. Does anyone doubt that Tomlin doesn’t believe in his heart-of-hearts that he can be the ace, and why wouldn’t we want him thinking that? []
  2. no, that’s not hyperbole either. He can play defense, plays hard, and can fill in the order []