Posted on March 6, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
In 2016, the Cleveland Indians emerged from mediocrity to win the AL Central and the American League pennant, coming within a game of winning the World Series. Now team ownership is all-in on going for a championship and the club has great expectations heading into 2017. Can the Indians live up to those expectations this year or will there be a hangover following a World Series loss?
On paper, Cleveland has one of the best rotations in baseball. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin were huge in the postseason last year, but if everyone’s healthy, they’re only the no. 4 and no. 5 starters in the rotation, which speaks to the team’s incredible depth in that department. Had Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar been healthy enough to start for the Indians during the postseason, the World Series could have ended differently.
Carrasco, Salazar, and Corey Kluber will form quite the triumvirate at the top of the rotation, and having Bauer and Tomlin at the back end won’t hurt either. The Indians also have some rotation depth if they need it with Ryan Merritt and Mike Clevinger. But if the top five starters stay healthy, it’s hard to find a better rotation in baseball, and it’s hard to envision the Indians not being favorites in the AL Central.
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The Cleveland bullpen played a huge role in the team’s postseason success last year, and it may be even better this year. Cody Allen remains the closer, freeing up Andrew Miller to pitch in any spot the Indians need him. Allen and Miller are a great duo at the back end of the bullpen, and the presence of Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Boone Logan gives the Indians considerable depth. Expect the Indians to once again have one of the better bullpens in baseball.
Most years, there would be huge questions about how the Indians would make up for the absence of Mike Napoli, but not after the team went out and signed Edwin Encarnacion. The addition of Encarnacion gives the Indians one of the most reliable power hitters in the game anchoring their lineup. Surrounding him with veterans like Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis will ensure a strong heart of the order for Cleveland.
The Indians should also be excited about the development of young players like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Tyler Naquin. All three had breakout seasons last year, and yet all three are young enough to show improvement in 2017. It’s possible for the Indians to receive even more production from all three of them in 2017, which is a frightening prospect for the rest of the AL Central.
Cleveland also has a pair of huge x-factors in catcher Yan Gomes and outfielder Michael Brantley, who were both held back by injury last season. If Gomes can regain the form he had in 2013 and 2014, he could be one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. Brantley, meanwhile, was one of the best outfielders in the game just a couple of years ago before a serious shoulder injury. There’s no guarantee he’ll be able to return to the player he once was, but if the player he was a few years ago shows up in the lineup next to Encarnacion and Santana, look out!
Even after winning 94 games and the pennant a year ago, the Indians may be even better heading into 2017. There are always questions about a let down after losing a World Series, but the addition of Encarnacion and the presence of a veteran manager in Terry Francona should help to mitigate those concerns.
Ultimately, it all comes down to health. If their rotation stays healthy, the Indians will be tough to beat this year. Expect the Indians to finish the regular season 90-72, which is slightly worse than last season, as the AL Central will be a little better from top to bottom. Nevertheless, it’ll be enough to get the Indians back to the postseason, where their pitching will make them a dangerous team.