Indians poised for big runBy Matt Verderame
The Cleveland Indians are a very good team. Yes, Cleveland, the city that went without a major sports championship from Dec. 1964 to June 2016, suddenly is looking at another team in town and thinking title.
Coming out of the Major League Baseball All-Star break, the Indians are comfortably 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, while holding seven-game advantages on the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox.
Certainly, larger leads have been overcome and especially with more than two months remaining in MLB’s marathon slate. If Cleveland suddenly stops playing well and goes into a funk, or if one of the three aforementioned challenges gets hot, the race could be on in a real way.
All that said, the Indians are not only built to win the division for the first time since 2007, but are built to win and win big in October.
Cleveland has the kind of starting rotation that could dominate even the best lineups. Corey Kluber is a former Cy Young Award winner and somebody who could start for almost any team in Game 1 of a postseason series. Behind him stand the considerable duo of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, two guys with some of the nastiest stuff in the game. Mike Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are also having excellent campaigns, and will be in the battle for the fourth spot of the rotation come October.
Offensively, there are some true threats throughout the lineup. Youngster Francisco Lindor is already one of the best shortstops in baseball, leading the Indians with a .306 average, .363 on-base percentage and a 2.6 OWAR. There is speed in the order, with Rajai Davis swiping 24 bags and Lindor adding 13 and Jose Ramirez checking in with 10.
Then there is the power, headlined by Carlos Santana’s 20 home runs. Mike Napoli has also contributed 18 while second baseman Jason Kipnis is chipping in with 14 more. In addition, the best hitter on the team has been sidelined for almost the entire season in outfielder Michael Brantley, who is currently in a rehab assignment in his return from a shoulder injury. When Brantley comes back, the Indians are significantly better.
If the front office wants to do anything at this juncture, it might be adding a piece in the bullpen. The pen has been very good to this point, but the playoffs have shown time and again you can never have too many arms. Another option would be a third base. Juan Uribe finally appears to be done, and so perhaps Danny Valencia would be a nice fit. Valencia is on an expiring deal with the Oakland A’s and hitting over .300 with 12 home runs, making him a valuable commodity.
For Cleveland, this could be a year beyond its wildest dreams.