The Cleveland Indians and their fans are coming off of one of the most gut-wrenching losses in World Series history. According to mlb.com, there have been four World Series Game 7’s that have gone to extra innings, and the Indians have been on the losing end both of the last two times. The Tribe have not won a World Series since 1948, but they made it to the championship round three times in my lifetime (1995,1997, and 2016).
They also made it excruciatingly close in 2007 when they lost to the Boston Red Sox after being up 3-1 in the ALCS. Ten they had to watch the Red Sox go on to sweep the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. There are a lot of reasons the Indians and their fans could feel depressed and defeated coming into the 2017 season, but instead, everyone is excited to see if this is the year the Tribe finally ends their title drought.
Opening Day always brings a new energy and life to Northeast Ohio. Spring is starting and people are coming outside to enjoy the warmer weather and sunshine, fire up their grills, pop open a few beers, and listen to Tom Hamilton call the Indians’ games. It’s definitely one of my favorite times of year, and this year I am looking forward to the season even more. Even though Jason Kipnis is going to start the season on the disabled list with an injured shoulder, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
One of the reasons is the fact that Michael Brantley has made the Opening Day roster and is showing no symptoms from the injuries to his right shoulder and biceps that caused him to miss nearly all of last season. If he can produce at a rate anywhere close to how he did in 2014 and 2015 when he was an MVP candidate, he will give the team an extra edge on offense and defense. He has been the Indians best all-around player when he’s healthy. Brantley hits for average and has pop, plus he has great range and arm strength defensively in left field.
In addition to having Brantley back, I am also excited to see how Yandy Diaz plays while Kipnis is recovering. Diaz is a great prospect with tremendous upside at the plate, and he plays a pretty solid third base. Diaz spent most of last season in AAA Columbus and put up some good numbers. He was considered to be a top prospect, especially as a hitter, but he was not expected to make the Opening Day roster. After a great showing as an invitee to spring training and the injury to Kipnis, it looks like he may get a shot at being the everyday third baseman while Jose Ramirez moves over to take Kipnis’ spot at second. I am really looking forward to seeing if he can produce at the big league level and make it difficult for the Indians to take him out of the lineup when Kipnis returns. I guess they could always try to relocate Ramirez to the outfield if Diaz performs well.
Another reason to be excited is that the pitching staff seems to be healthy again. Everyone is obviously amped up to see what Corey Kluber does as an encore after an all-time great postseason last year, but I think many people also want to see what Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar look like after having a whole offseason to heal from their injuries. One of the reasons the Indians are a favorite to win the World Series this year is due to the fact that they almost won it last year without two of their top three pitchers. Getting those guys back should be a huge lift. We also have seen that Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt can handle themselves against big league hitters if the injury bug happens to strike the staff during the season.
The team will also have a full season with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller in the bullpen. They are probably the best back end of the bullpen tandem in all of Major League Baseball. In addition to them and other solid relievers like Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero, the Tribe also added another solid lefty in Boone Logan. That should leave them with one of the best bullpens in the game.
Even though all of those things are reasons to be optimistic, perhaps the biggest cause for excitement should be the fact that the Indians finally have a true clean-up hitter that will be feared by every opponent they face. The Indians enjoyed having Mike Napoli in their clubhouse last year, and he put up some great numbers at the plate. However, even his best year is not as good as a normal year for new free agent signee, Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion has been averaging just under 40 home runs and more than 110 RBI a year for the past five seasons in Toronto. Imagine him in the lineup protecting guys like Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana. The Tribe have not had a guy like that in the middle of the order since the days of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez.
As Tribe fans, we can mope about missed opportunities or argue about how the Tribe will find a way to let us down again, or we can enjoy the ride for what promises to be an exciting season. I’m sure there will be bumps in the road like the injury to Jason Kipnis, and Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, or one of the other starters may go through a rough patch where they get bombed every time out for an extended period of time. I’m sure the team will go through a summer swoon, and Encarnacion may go into a slump for a few weeks. There are ups and downs to every baseball season. However, I am going to sit back, relax, and enjoy the season. I trust that Terry Francona knows what he is doing and will make the right moves at the right time. Maybe “next year” is finally here!