The Tribe has started off the year a little slow just like they did last season, but they have definitely started to round into form on this road trip. The defense has been pretty solid during this first month of the season, but it has been taking the pitching and the bats a little while to warm up. The team came into the road trip as losers of 7 of its last 9 games. As it currently sits, the Indians are 5-0 on their road trip with a chance to go 6-0 later this afternoon.
First, let’s take a look at the pitching. In the first game of the opening series of the road trip, Danny Salazar gave up 1 run and struck out 7 in 6 innings of work for the win. In the second game, Josh Tomlin gave up 3 runs in 6 innings for the win. He didn’t exactly look dominant, but he was much improved from his first two starts where he gave up 13 runs in a total of 6 ⅓ innings. The third game of the series was rained out and rescheduled for June, so Trevor Bauer had to wait a day to face the Twins. He got the win by giving up 2 runs in 6 ⅓ innings while striking out 7.
The Indians then looked to the top of their rotation to completely shut down the White Sox in the first two games of their series. Corey Kluber looked like he was starting to regain his form from last year’s postseason by pitching a complete game shutout in the opening matchup. He gave up only 3 hits in the game and struck out 9. The Tribe then turned to Carlos Carrasco in the second game, and he has been the most consistent starting pitcher of the young season so far. There was some concern about him coming back from a broken hand that prematurely ended his season last year before the playoffs started. He lowered his season ERA to 1.65 by striking out 8 White Sox batters in 8 innings of shutout baseball. I’d say he is feeling fine.
All of this means that the Indians’ starters have combined for 5 wins and a 1.53 ERA in 35 ⅓ innings pitched during their last run through the rotation. Obviously this type of effort from an entire starting staff is not sustainable for an entire season, but if the rotation can keep turning out solid efforts, this team should not have a problem running away with the Central Division again and setting themselves up for another deep playoff run. It just so happens that the offense is starting to come together for the Indians too, and the beginning of the White Sox series also marked the return their second baseman, Jason Kipnis to the lineup.
After starting out hot in an opening series sweep of the Texas Rangers, the Tribe’s bats cooled off during their next nine games with an occasional outburst here and there. However, during the recent five-game winning streak, the offense has started to round into form. They’ve scored a total of 30 runs in the last 5 games which is good for 6 per contest. That’s not a bad average, especially when the starting staff is only giving up about 1 ½ runs per 9 innings. In addition to scoring well as a team, a lot of the guys have started to increase their personal numbers.
Francisco Lindor has been solid all season and has provided a surprising amount of pop with 4 home runs already. Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Brantley have now joined him as everyday hitters batting above .300. Ramirez has also shown a lot of power as he has 5 home runs and 17 RBI already. Carlos Santana has proven to hit in a timely fashion with his 14 RBI on the season. Edwin Encarnacion, who has started very slowly, is finally showing signs of pulling out of his slump by homering twice on this road trip and bringing his average up to .222.
If Encarnacion can continue to improve to get near his normal stat line from the last few years and Kipnis can get readjusted to the major league lineup, the offense should really be able to get going. It’s kind of scary to think the team could have their old everyday lineup from last year back plus a healthy Brantley and one of the best power hitters in the game with the addition of Encarnacion. Even Yan Gomes has started to look better by having 5 hits in 10 at-bats on the road trip.
This five-game stretch has been a great glimpse at the potential this team has. You can see why many experts picked this team to make a return trip to the World Series. If the Indians can pull out another win in Chicago today with Salazar on the hill, they will complete a 6-0 road trip against two divisional opponents. The Indians really built their record up last year by beating up on their Central Division foes, and if this road trip is any indication of what the rest of the season looks like, then the rest of the division better watch out because they’re in for another long year.