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Cleveland Indians 2018: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Expert Insight

Francisco Lindor

Francisco Lindor

The Indians are good enough to win their third straight AL Central title in a division in which their four rivals are in various stages of rebuilding. The question is, what happens then? The Indians have had five straight winning seasons under manager Terry Francona, but the postseason has offered a mixed bag. They were eliminated by Tampa Bay in the 2013 Wild Card Game, lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Cubs in 2016 after having a 3–1 lead and lost the ALDS to the Yankees last year in five games after having a 2–0 lead.

Pitching is why the Indians will once again be one of the best teams in the AL. Last season they led the league in rotation ERA and bullpen ERA. The rotation is back intact, led by two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. The bullpen took some hits in free agency — goodbye Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith — but still has Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

Offensively, all roads run through infielders Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Not to mention DH Edwin Encarnacion. The loss of first baseman Carlos Santana to free agency stung, but the Indians applied salve to the wound by signing Yonder Alonso to a two-year deal. Still, there are a lot of questions to be answered. Will Michael Brantley be able to play every day in left field after offseason surgery on his right ankle? Where is displaced second baseman Jason Kipnis going to play? How will Francona piece together an outfield of platoon players, and who will play third base?

Opposing Scouts Size Up the INDIANS

“They’re 10 games better than the next-best team in their division. That should give them the luxury of paring back their starters’ workloads a little, because they really suffered when Corey Kluber was dinged up during the playoffs. They have the depth in the rotation and bullpen to pull it off. A big division lead will also let them get an extended look at Bradley Zimmer — just give the kid 500 at-bats to figure it out. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but he’s the kind of player they’ll always need to build around. I’m curious to see what they do with Francisco Mejia. He’s a top-10 prospect in the game, but he’s a catcher, and they have Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez under control for a while. Mejia played third base in the Arizona Fall League, so that could be an option. Jose Ramirez is the real deal; he won’t be a top-three MVP contender again, but he’s a switch-hitter who makes great contact and has power. With him and Francisco Lindor up the middle, what’s not to love?”

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Beyond the Box Score

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Team Streak

In 2016, the Indians put the AL Central away with a 14-game winning streak from June 17 through July 1. They went from a half-game lead to a seven-game lead and never looked back. It was the longest winning streak in club history at the time. Last year the Indians won 22 straight games from Aug. 24 through Sept. 14. It was the longest winning streak in AL history and the longest in more than 100 years in the big leagues. The Indians went from a 5.5-game lead to a 13.5-game lead during the streak.

Extra Special

On Sept. 3, Jose Ramirez went 5-for-5 with three doubles, two homers and three RBIs against the Tigers. He was just the 13th player and the third Indian to have five extra-base hits in one game. Amazingly, both home runs Ramirez hit were assisted by misplays by Detroit outfielders. From June 14 through June 19, Ramirez became the only big leaguer in history to have 14 extra-base hits in a seven-game span.

Three's the Charm

Corey Kluber was named AL Pitcher of the Month last season not once, not twice, but three times. He won the award in June (4–0, 1.26, 64 strikeouts), August (5–1, 1.96, 54 strikeouts) and September (5–0, 0.84, 50 strikeouts). Houston’s Dallas Keuchel was the last pitcher to do that, in 2015. Kluber, after coming off the disabled list on June 1, went 15–2 with a 1.62 ERA in his final 23 starts of the season.

Reliable Power Source

 After a slow start, Edwin Encarnacion did what he usually does — hit at least 30 home runs. Encarnacion, who hit 38, is the only player in the majors with 30 or more home runs in each of the past six seasons. The last player to hit 30-plus in six straight years was Miguel Cabrera (2008-13).

Thou Shall Not Walk

 Josh Tomlin really, really doesn’t like to walk batters. Last season, Tomlin led big-league pitchers (min. 140 innings) with an average of 0.89 walks per nine innings (14 walks in 141 innings). He is the Tribe’s career leader in walks per nine innings at 1.315. 

Riding Shotgun

While the headlines went to Kluber, Carlos Carrasco was dealing as well, setting career highs in wins (18), innings (200) and strikeouts (226). Carrasco and Kluber were the first teammates since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling for Arizona in 2002 to win at least 18 games and strike out at least 220 batters.

Projected Lineup

SS    Francisco Lindor (S)
LF    Michael Brantley (L)
3B    Jose Ramirez (S)
DH    Edwin Encarnacion (R)
1B    Yonder Alonso (L)
2B    Jason Kipnis (L)
RF    Lonnie Chisenhall (L)
C    Roberto Perez (R)
CF    Bradley Zimmer (L)
C    Yan Gomes (R)
INF    Erik Gonzalez (R)
OF    Abraham Almonte (S)
OF    Melvin Upton (R)
RHP    Corey Kluber
RHP    Carlos Carrasco
RHP    Trevor Bauer
RHP    Danny Salazar
RHP    Josh Tomlin
RHP    Cody Allen 
LHP    Andrew Miller
RHP    Zach McAllister
RHP    Dan Otero
LHP    Tyler Olson
RHP    Mike Clevinger
RHP    Nick Goody