Tag Archives: Indians

2016 Season Preview: Division Winners

Ah, Spring. There’s something special in the air this time of year. It’s that deceivingly warm April sunshine—pleasant for now, but you know better than to not pack a jacket. It’s the freshly-mowed grass that just smells like hope. Hope for a new baseball season, a fresh start, and for the 29 teams that aren’t defending World Series champions, hope that maybe, just maybe, this could be the year.

But the most beautiful thing about this time of year are the picks. It’s preseason prediction week, and this is when the claws come out. Everyone’s got an opinion about which teams will over- or under-perform this year, and thanks to the wonder of the internet, we get to read every last one of them.

As you read about the teams which I expect to excel in 2016, please note that my picks are probably wrong—just like yours, as well as the rest of the predictions out there. Let’s face it: no one can ever predict this sport. An unexpected contender will emerge from obscurity and make the playoffs. Expected 100-win teams will plummet, and start eyeing next year’s early draft picks. The real beauty is in the unknown, and that’s why we watch.

National League Wildcard: Diamondbacks over Cardinals

The Diamondbacks are the tailgating drivers in the rearview mirrors of the usual NL West contenders—obnoxious, and closer than they appear.

A somewhat under-the-radar breakout season by A.J. Pollock last year should’ve removed any doubts about these guys being for real, as he and perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt look to terrorize the league all the way to a playoff spot. New additions Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller give them a very formidable rotation—don’t be surprised if the D’backs hang around for a while this Postseason.

The Cardinals find a way every year. They’ll withstand the departures of Jason Heyward and John Lackey with the help of a new infusion of youth—Kolten Wong, Carlos Martínez and Randal Grichuk are now the core of this team, and will be for several years to come.

With the veteran guidance of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, count on the Redbirds to be around come October, but they’ll need some luck if they want to advance.

American League Wildcard: Rays over Royals

The Rays finished a distant fourth in the AL East last year, but in a division that is pretty much up for grabs, they have a good shot.

They’re built on the defensive wizardry of Kevin Kiermaier, and a very strong pitching staff whose 3.74 ERA ranked fourth in the AL last year. Keep an eye out for the long-awaited return of pitcher Matt Moore, and a potential breakout season for fellow lefty Drew “seriously, that’s all we got for David Price?” Smyly, who since joining the Rays in Mid-2014 has quietly posted a sub-1.00 WHIP in 114.1 innings.

The defending champion Royals will be tough to oust in the Postseason, but I’ll take Rays ace Chris Archer any day in a winner-take-all Wildcard match.

National League Division Series: Nationals over Diamondbacks

There’s no reason to think the Nationals, who were NL East favorites across the board a year ago, should be any less so in 2016.

When ace Max Scherzer is on his game, he’s the most unhittable pitcher in baseball. Anthony Rendon will be looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2015, and his .412 spring batting average is an indication that he’s planning on starting the new season strong.

New manager Dusty Baker is a proven winner in October, and he should be able to guide his new club to a first-round Postseason series victory.

National League Division Series: Giants over Cubs

The Giants’ mix of established veterans, boosted by the signing of free agent pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, will make them a very well-balanced team.

People know about Buster Posey, but the real MVP of this ball club might be Joe Panik. With only 42 strikeouts last season, his ability to put the ball in play is the key to the Giants’ offense.

The Cubs put the nation on notice last year that these kids are truly ready for the big stage, with an NLCS appearance that capped a very successful season. Despite the playoff run being cut short, that experience will only make them more of a force.

Expect Kris Bryant to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign, and for Jake Arrieta to silence the critics by showing that last year’s Cy Young season was no fluke.

The Giants are the favorites in this series, because the Cubs’ youth has been shown to be volatile in the Postseason. But a Bumgarner/Arrieta matchup in Game 1 will be one for the ages.

American League Division Series: Indians over Rays

The Indians finished 2015 just a game above .500, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: they ended the season on a 32-21 run, much of which was keyed by the performance of rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor, who was called up midseason. Now, with Lindor leading the charge, the Indians are one of the strongest teams in the league, both offensively and defensively. Jason Kipnis, who also started to find his groove in the middle of last season, will also be a major contributor, along with Michael Brantley, who will be on the Disabled List to start the season, but should return in early May.

On the pitching side, don’t count out Carlos Carrasco for Cy Young consideration, whose 10.6 K/9 last year ranked third in the American League.

This will be an excellent series if you like good defense, but the Indians are just a bit more of a well-rounded ball club.

American League Division Series: Rangers over Yankees

The Rangers won the AL West last year thanks in part to the midseason acquisition of Cole Hamels, who solidified the rotation, the main weak spot of the team. Now he’s back for another year, and Yu Darvish, who should still be considered one of the best strikeout pitchers in the game, will rejoin the rotation this summer.

If their offense, which was never a problem, can hold up, the Rangers will have a very formidable Postseason squad.

The Yankees squeezed a lot of value out of aging veterans last year, and you have to wonder how much they realistically have left.

But what they’re expected to lose from the old guys, they’ll make up for with young talent. 22-year-old Luis Severino will be one of the kids on whom the Yankees pin their playoff hopes. 27-year-old Michael Pineda should be hitting his prime years, and, one would hope, his full potential. And maybe, just maybe, a change of scenery is all Starlin Castro (still just 26!) needed to regain his All-Star form.

National League Championship Series: Giants over Nationals

The Giants get to face their old manager, and the Nats get to face their old center fielder. I foresee a well-fought series in a rematch of the 2014 NLDS, but the Giants have been here before, and will prevail.

American League Championship Series: Indians over Rangers

The Indians have the edge in terms of pitching and defense, which is what wins in October.

World Series: Indians over Giants

A rematch of the 1954 Series, which the Indians are probably still sore about losing?

Juan Uribe trying to win his third ring with as many different teams?

Carlos Santana playing the National Anthem AND playing in the game? (Okay, it’s two different guys, but still)

This series will have it all, and will probably go the full seven games. I’m giving it to the Indians, who deserve to see an end to that nagging championship drought.

My only question is whether they’ll bring back Coach Lou Brown for an on-field ceremony—or hell, even let him manage the series. It’s what the world needs.

Cleveland Indians 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Indians. For several years Terry Francona’s boys have been striving to bring relevance back to Cleveland. Could this be the season they finally do it?

Projected Lineup: CF Michael Bourn, SS Jose Ramirez, LF Michael Brantley, 1B Carlos Santana, RF Brandon Moss*, C Yan Gomes, 2B Jason Kipnis, DH Nick Swisher, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall

Projected Rotation: RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Danny Salazar, LHP T.J. House

* new additions

The Indians achieved great individual success in 2014, with Corey Kluber winning the AL Cy Young award, and Michael Brantley finishing 3rd in MVP voting. However, it didn’t translate to team success, as the Indians stumbled to a third-place finish in the AL Central.

This season, they hope to improve on last year’s performance with more or less the same exact team. Sounds a bit like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, but the Indians believe they have some cause for optimism.

It starts with the emergence of Brantley, the Indians’ rising star. He enjoyed a breakout year last year in which he put up 20 homers and 45 doubles. The doubles are important, because they indicate there might be even more untapped power in Brantley’s bat. Watch out for when some of those gap shots turn into over-the-fence shots this season.

In addition, the Indians need more production from Jason Kipnis. This is a guy who got MVP votes two seasons ago, when he swatted 17 homers to go with an .818 OPS. But last year he took a major step backward—he managed only six homers for the year, and his OPS dropped to .640.

A dream scenario for the Tribe is for Kipnis to return to his 2013 form, and be consistent enough that they can slot him at the top of the batting order. Currently, the top two spots in the lineup are occupied by Michael Bourn and Jose Ramirez, who have tons of speed, but neither of whom walk enough to be a real on-base threat. The pair combined for just 48 total walks last season, whereas when Kipnis is good, he can easily put up 70-plus.

Another guy the Indians are hoping lands on the right side of the hot-cold spectrum this year is Carlos Santana. If you look at his stats last year as a whole, they’re underwhelming: an MLB-leading 113 walks, but just a .231 batting average to go with it.

But this is where splits make things interesting. Let’s divide the season into thirds:

April/May: .159/.327/.301, 6 HR

June/July: .310/.415/.603, 14 HR

August/September: .225/.356/.382, 7 HR

As you can see, last summer Santana was pretty much the best player in the game. What’s more—his two-month hot streak was accompanied by a very reasonable .336 BABIP, indicating that it wasn’t due to an inordinate amount of luck. To put it very simply, he just started hitting the ball more effectively.

So who knows what the cause might’ve been for Santana’s huge swing in performance—the warmer weather, the end of the Indians’ experimenting with him playing third base, LeBron announcing his return to Cleveland—all we know is it happened, and the fact is that Santana can play at that level. That means there’s a very real possibility of him staying that hot for an entire season.

On the pitching side of things, the Tribe saw inspiring performances from Corey Kluber, who was exceptional the whole year but especially after the All-Star Break, when he posted a 1.73 ERA, and Carlos Carrasco, who finished the year with a 1.30 ERA in his final ten starts. Needless to say, the Indians’ rotation is constructed far better than that last sentence was.

However, the rotation did take a blow when it was announced that the newly-signed Gavin Floyd will be out indefinitely due to a stress fracture in his elbow. Now it’ll be up to the in-house guys to fill the void. T.J. House, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer certainly have the talent, but it’ll be up to them to put it together and be consistent for a full season, something none of them have been able to do yet at the major league level.

The Indians have some young talent that will surprise many people this season. However, without any major upgrades from last year’s team, don’t expect any surprises when it comes to them contending. A middle-of-the-pack finish in the strong AL Central is pretty much a guarantee.

Projected Finish: 80-82, Fourth place in AL Central