Posted on March 5, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
Despite getting knocked out in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year, the Cleveland Indians remain one of the favorites in the American League. Of course, as they learned last year, competition in the AL is stiff. Can the Indians once again rise to the top and return to the World Series in 2018?
The Indians had the best rotation in the American League last year, and the same cast of characters will be back this season. Corey Kluber leads the rotation as the reigning Cy Young winner, and there appears to be little chance of him slowing down in 2018. Carlos Carrasco was 1B to Kluber’s 1A last year, giving the Indians a strong 1-2 punch. Meanwhile, Trevor Bauer continued to be a steady presence and Mike Clevinger enjoyed a breakout season, ensuring Cleveland’s rotation has quality depth.
The wild card for the Indians is Danny Salazar, who has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. He proved in 2015 that he can be an elite pitcher, and if he returns to the form he had that season, Cleveland will have one of the top starting trios in the game alongside Kluber and Carrasco. But there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to stay healthy all season, making him the only real question mark in Cleveland’s rotation.
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Not surprisingly, the Indians also had the best bullpen in the American League last season. The dynamic duo of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller is back and ready to resume their dominance over the league. However, Bryan Shaw, who led the team in appearances last year, left the team in free agency, which disrupts their contingent of relievers and could affect their depth this season. Boone Logan also went elsewhere this winter, leaving the Indians light from the left side except for Miller.
The good news is that Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, and Nick Goody are all back to help set the table for Miller and Allen. All three had ERAs under 3 last season, which is why the Indians had the best bullpen in the American League last year. However, while the Indians should feel great about five of the arms coming out of the bullpen, there is uncertainty about who will hold the other spots in the bullpen. As a result, they may not have as much depth as they have had the past couple of years.
While their pitching staff gets most of the attention, the Indians were quietly one of the top offensive teams in the American League in 2017. While they retain most of the same lineup, they will move forward without a couple key pieces, most notably Carlos Santana, who signed with the Phillies this winter. The Indians also lost Austin Jackson, who was outstanding in a part-time role last year.
That being said, the Indians have a lot to like about their lineup. On the left side of the infield, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are both coming off breakout seasons. The two combined for 62 home runs last year and are just about to enter their prime. Edwin Encarnacion remains a run-producing force in the middle of the order, and he’ll likely be complemented by Yonder Alonso, who was signed to replace Santana after a 28-home run season in 2017.
Of course, there may be a few issues in the Cleveland outfield. There are still questions about Michael Brantley’s health, even if he’s an all-star caliber player when healthy. Lonnie Chisenhall is coming off a career-year, but his track record indicates he may not be able to replicate his .881 OPS from a season ago. Also, the Indians are still waiting for Bradley Zimmer to emerge offensively, nor did they get much out of Brandon Guyer in a part-time role last season.
Cleveland’s rotation alone is enough to make the Indians heavy favorites to win the AL Central for a third straight year. However, while the Indians have elite players in both their lineup and bullpen, they may not have as much depth in those spots as the past couple of seasons. Nevertheless, look for the Indians to finish 98-64 and win the AL Central, giving their rotation a chance to carry them in the postseason.