The next AL Central team in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season is the Cleveland Indians, who finished in third place in the division last season.
The Indians are going to be shorthanded for the first several weeks of the season, with two of their outfielders not expected to be available until at least May. LF Michael Brantley is likely out for the first month of the season with a shoulder injury while CF Abraham Almonte has been suspended for 80 games for PED use, meaning he’ll be out until July, which means OFs Rajai Davis and Collin Cowgill could see extended playing time early in the season. Davis was one of the Indians’ free-agent signings this winter, along with 3B Juan Uribe and 1B Mike Napoli, who will be manning the corner infield spots in Cleveland.
In 2015, the Indians’ .255 batting average was right around the American League average, while they ranked in the bottom five in the league in both home runs (141) and RBI (640). No one broke the 20-homer mark for the Indians last season, with DH Carlos Santana leading the way in that category with 19 as well as RBI with 85. Brantley was the best overall hitter on the roster, hitting .310 with 15 home runs and 84 RBI so his absence will be felt in April. The pitching was what helped the team finish a game above .500. The Indians’ 3.67 ERA was the second best in the AL, behind only the Astros. It was a team effort, as not any individual starter finished the season with a sub-3.00 ERA. Although he actually had regressed a bit from 2014, SP Corey Kluber had the best overall season among the pitchers in the rotation, with a 3.49 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 222 innings. Closer Cody Allen finished the year with a 2.99 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 69.1 innings while saving 34 games in 38 opportunities.
Pitching is likely going to be carrying the Indians again this season, as all five starters and Allen are returning from last season. If Kluber can get closer to his 2014 numbers, when he had a 2.44 ERA, rather than 2015 that would give the rotation an extra boost. If SP Trevor Bauer can take a step forward in his third full season in the majors, he would become a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy for the Indians. The offense looks a little different, with the addition of veterans Uribe and Napoli in the infield. There is some question about what kind of offensive production they’ll get out of the outfield, with the light-hitting Davis and Cowgill likely getting a lot of playing time in April. When Brantley returns, he should help the team’s offense, provided his shoulder injury doesn’t linger. As SS Francisco Lindor enters his first full season in the majors, he can provide an offensive boost to the team if he builds upon the production he had last year in 99 games after being called up from the minors, which would put him on pace for about a 20-homer season.
The Indians finished in the middle oft the AL Central last season, and that’s likely where they’ll finish again in 2016. They added a couple pieces to the offense this winter but nothing major. The pitching staff is still the highlight of the team, but the offense will have to improve if they want to compete for a playoff spot, which I’m not expecting to happen this season.