CANTON, Ohio- Today’s date is February 10, 2017. I’m currently taking a peek outside of my door. The wind is blowing pretty good, and there’s about 3 or 4 inches of snow on the ground. Doesn’t look like baseball should be starting anytime soon. Well, I’ll let you know now, I have a large tree in my backyard, and it’s already showing the buds. The same for the trees in front of my house. But, believe it or not, baseball is right around the corner. Pitchers and catchers for both the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues will report this weekend to Florida and Arizona. The first workout for all the teams are starting between the 14th and the 16th. That has to give all you Spring weather fans some glimmer of hope that the nice weather isn’t too far away.
If you’re a Cubs or Indians fan, you were lucky to have the longest baseball season out of all the teams. Having to only get through November, December, January and half of February without baseball isn’t too difficult. Unfortunately, if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, you may still be suffering from the extra inning game 7 loss to the Cubs. But, it’s a new season now, and the Cleveland Indians are just about back, and, on paper, look to be even better than last year. But, that’s on paper. They’ll have to prove on the field, that they are ready to deal with being the hunted. They won’t be able to surprise anyone this year. I know, last year when I made my predictions on the divisions, I said that Cleveland would win the A.L. Central. But, I will admit, I wouldn’t have bet any money on that prediction. Why? Last time I checked, Detroit and Kansas City are still in the Central and the White Sox and Twins have always played Cleveland tough, for the most part. As I told my friend’s Jess and Andy, who are better with baseball then I am, on paper, I just really liked what I seen on paper with the Indians. It just so happened that the Tribe offense did just enough to compliment the defense. Will that happen again this year? I’m going to say yes. But, can the pitching staff as a whole, meaning both the starting rotation and bullpen, repeat what they did last year? I’m going to say yes to that as well.
There is one huge question surrounding the Cleveland Indians this year. Will outfielder Michael Brantley be healthy enough to return to his All-Star caliber form?
Let’s go on two different routes here. If Brantley isn’t able to return to form and has to miss any significant time, Cleveland will need Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte to step up. Jose Ramirez can play left field as well, but Cleveland would love to keep Ramirez at third base mainly. I personally think Almonte is going to have a solid year. Not an All-star type year, but a solid year. Guyer has done nothing but impress me for a guy that doesn’t play every day. I particularly love his short swing at the plate. What a great acquisition that was last year by Cleveland.
Michael Brantley is such a great player. Imagine adding a healthy Brantley into a lineup that already has Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez (who was our best hitter with RISP), Jason Kipnis, Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana (if he can come close to duplicating last year’s season), Yan Gomes (I predict will return to his 2014 self) and Tyler Naquin (his 2016 regular season performance). I didn’t forget about Lonnie Chisenhall. I have mixed feelings on Chisenhall.
If you look down that lineup, 1-6 is pretty impressive. The bottom third isn’t too bad either.
If I were the manager of the Indians, I’d start Brantley out in the bottom third of the order. Give him a chance to get his swing back. Once he gets his swing back, you can stick him back near the top of the order.
THE STARTING ROTATION-
Cleveland Indians fans are expecting Corey Kluber to be Corey Kluber. He won’t over power you, but he has excellent command of his pitches. Danny Salazar will be back. Salazar, who was injured September 9th against Minnesota after suffering a right forearm injury, was named to the 2016 All-Star game. Carlos Carrasco can be downright dominate. Carrasco suffered a fractured finger on his pitching hand in a game against Detroit on the second pitch of the game. Now, here’s where it gets interesting. As of now, the Cleveland Indians have Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin listed as the fourth and fifth starters respectively. You still have Mike Clevinger, Cody Anderson and Ryan Merritt on that list.
I have a problem with Trevor Bauer being in the starting rotation. When he’s on and his head is screwed on right, he’s definitely starting pitcher material. So, what’s my biggest problem with Bauer? He folds after he gives up one or two hits early in a game, in my eyes. He feels like he has to be perfect. He takes the game a little too seriously. I love his competitiveness, but you can’t let a few hits bring you down so easily. That’s my only problem with Bauer. I feel that Trevor is better off as a bullpen guy. That way, he can throw the ball as fast as he wants and he’s only in the game for an inning or two.
I love Josh Tomlins demeanor on the hill. What I love most about Tomlin is his attack the strike zone attitude. His only problem? If you said giving up the long ball, you would be correct. Sometimes Tomlin doesn’t throw a bad pitch to try and get the hitter to chase the ball out of the strike zone.
That brings me to this. Ryan Merritt. Cleveland started Merritt in game 5 of the American League Championship Series in Toronto against a quality Blue Jays lineup. Merritt went 4.1 innings and struck out 3 and in 49 pitches, he threw 33 strikes and only gave up two hits. Cleveland has all right-handed pitchers currently. I would recommend having at least one lefty in the starting rotation. As I’ve already wrote, I’d stick Bauer in the bullpen to start the year and fill his spot with Merritt and see how he does. I have no problem with Tomlin in the starting rotation.
Andrew Miller is unbelievable. Because I don’t get a chance to watch a lot of out of market games, I didn’t realize just how great of a pitcher Andrew Miller is. He has some of the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen in a relief pitcher. Watching him come in during the postseason, I expected strikeout after strikeout. I was shocked anytime he walked or allowed a hit, let alone a home run. What a trade for Cleveland.
Bryan Shaw is pretty solid for the most part. It’s a very long season and like any other pitcher, he’ll have his bad times. People want Shaw benched or traded once he has a few bad nights. But, relief pitchers are magnified even more so because they’re only pitching an inning or two.
Cody Allen. Now, I’ll admit, my heart rate does go up a little when Allen comes in to close. I don’t know what it is about Cody, but I get a little nervous, regardless of who he’s pitching to. Am I the only one that feels that way? Probably not. Would I feel better with Miller as the closer? Absolutely! But, at the same time, I’d also prefer Miller to be used to get out the team’s best hitters. It can become a very complex situation.
I love the addition of Boone Logan. This gives Cleveland another lefty handed reliever in the bullpen. Now, they don’t always have to use Miller when they want to bring in a left handed pitcher in relief.
Most of you, if not all of you, have heard by now about the strike zone and the extra innings rule. I don’t have much to say about the strike zone. I’ve always said that every umpire has his own strike zone. Can the hitters adjust and will the umpire be consistent for both teams? I still say the strike zone should be the same for every umpire.
How about putting a runner on second base to start extra innings? MLB wants to speed up the game and add intrigue to the game. First off, if the game is heading to extras, I’m already having sweaty palms if it’s my team. If it’s not, I’m still intrigued. I just don’t think this is a solution to speeding up the game.
People have to remember, baseball was never meant to be a fast-paced game. The home plate umpire needs to enforce the pitch clock and keep the batters inside the batter’s box. That alone would help.
I’m also fine with the manager giving a signal to the umpire that they want to intentionally walk a batter without having to throw 4 pitches. But, I also understand that that takes away the possibility of the pitcher accidentally throwing the ball away from the catcher by accident or the catcher simple not catching the ball. I can understand both sides when it comes to that.
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Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Nick Broulis