The Indians’ time as the top dog in the AL Central may be over. They’re cutting payroll for the second straight year while the defending champion Twins and recharged White Sox are adding talent across the board.
The Twins ended the Indians’ three-year run as division champs in 2019 with 101 wins. The Tribe still managed to win 93 games, but their thread-the-needle-philosophy of staying competitive while continually trading veterans for young talent to control the payroll is hard to maintain.
The Indians will still be competitive in 2020 because of their strong starting rotation, but even that has been tested with the trades of Trevor Bauer and two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber since midseason last year. Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco provide a good base in the rotation, but the bullpen, which pitched well last year, was hurt by free-agent defections. The offense, which slipped from third to tied for seventh in runs in the American League last season, is expected to still be a sore spot because there have been no major additions with the exception of having power-hitting Franmil Reyes for a full season.
The Indians have posted seven straight winning seasons since manager Terry Francona took over the club in 2013. That streak could be in danger in 2020.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the Indians
“Their starters are their calling card: Every guy that comes up absolutely pounds the strike zone, so you feel like you’re behind in the count most of the time, and they can throw their secondary pitches in every count. It’s amazing how they’re able to put it where they want it with such high velocity, especially a guy like Mike Clevinger, who sustains it all game. Shane Bieber has that slider that creates east-west length in the strike zone, and hitters didn’t catch on to Aaron Civale’s cutter until the end of the season. The bullpen’s different; there’s not a lot of velo, but I’d expect that to change with Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak, and Brad Hand is still one of the game’s best closers. Jose Ramirez turned his season around when he finally started believing in himself, and Carlos Santana carried the team early. The outfield again doesn’t look too imposing, but Oscar Mercado is a good two-way guy, Franmil Reyes has ridiculous power, and I’d like to see what Jordan Luplow can do playing every day, because he mashes lefthanders.”
Beyond the Box Score
Bye Bye Bauer Trevor Bauer was having a tough fifth inning against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 28. When he allowed a two-run, bases-loaded single that broke a 5–5 tie, his day was over. As Terry Francona came out to replace him, Bauer turned and threw the ball over the center-field fence in frustration. After seven years and 180 games, it was his last throw as an Indian. He was traded to the Reds three days later. Said one observer, “As soon as he let that ball go, I knew he was gone.”
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Carlos Carrasco, after missing three months last season following his diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia, returned to the mound on Sept. 1 against the Rays at Tropicana Field in the seventh inning. The Indians and Rays came out of their dugouts to give Carrasco a standing ovation. They were joined by the crowd at Tropicana Field, which included Carrasco’s family and numerous friends.
MVP, MVP, MVP Righthander Shane Bieber was a late addition to the AL’s All-Star team. The game was played on July 9 at Progressive Field — Bieber’s home park — but he didn’t find out until July 5, as he filled into for an injured pitcher. Just being named to the AL All-Star team was thrilling enough, but Bieber actually got to pitch in the game, striking out the side in order in the fifth inning, with the hometown crowd shouting “Bieber, Bieber, Bieber.” Bieber was named MVP after the game and said, “I kind of lost all feeling in my body.”
Quick Return When Jose Ramirez had surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his right hand on Aug. 26, his season was supposed to be over. He returned to the lineup in 30 days and hit a grand slam and a three-run homer in his first two at-bats on Sept. 24 against the White Sox.
Power Surge Catcher Roberto Perez entered the 2019 season with 21 big-league homers to his credit. Pérez, getting a chance to start for the first time in his career, more than doubled his career total as he hit 24 homers last season.
Secret Weapon Zach Plesac wasn’t even on the Indians’ radar at the start of last season. But as injuries mounted, Plesac climbed the ladder through Double-A and Triple-A. When he arrived in Cleveland, his uncle Dan Plesac, a big league pitcher for 18 years, told Francona that his nephew “had the quickest right-handed pickoff move that he’d ever seen.” Francona took it with a grain of salt until he watched Plesac pick off six runners at first base to lead the big leagues in just 21 starts.
SS Francisco Lindor (S)
LF Oscar Mercado (R)
1B Carlos Santana (S)
DH Franmil Reyes (R)
3B Jose Ramirez (S)
RF Jordan Luplow (R)
2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
C Roberto Perez (R)
CF Delino DeShields (R)
C Sandy Leon (S)
INF Mike Freeman (L)
OF Greg Allen (S)
OF Jake Bauers (L)
RHP Shane Bieber
RHP Mike Clevinger*
RHP Carlos Carrasco
RHP Zach Plesac
RHP Aaron Civale
LHP Brad Hand (C)
RHP Emmanuel Clase
LHP Oliver Perez
RHP Adam Cimber
RHP Nick Wittgren
RHP Jefry Rodriguez
LHP Logan Allen
RHP Adam Plutko
*Note: Mike Clevinger suffered a partial tear to his left meniscus at the start of spring training and underwent surgery. The Indians are saying he may be able to return within eight weeks but there's a possibility he won't be ready to go by Opening Day.