The Indians last year came as close as a team can get to winning the World Series without actually getting rings, losing to the Cubs in the 10th inning of Game 7. Getting back for another shot at the Fall Classic is certainly on the radar for the Indians, who are returning the core of their team from last season, minus 1B Mike Napoli. They added to the offense, inking DH Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year deal. It’s not all good news, though, as 2B Jason Kipnis is looking like he’ll start the season on the DL as he deals with a strained rotator cuff that is sidelining him for at least a couple of weeks. In other injury news, OF Michael Brantley is progressing in his recovery from biceps surgery but isn’t a lock to be ready for Opening Day. It’s looking better for SP Carlos Carrasco, who appears to be on-track to start the season in the rotation after missing a chunk of 2016 with injuries.
The Indians’ .262 average was the fifth-highest in Major League Baseball last season, but their 185 home runs put them near the middle of the pack. Their .759 OPS ranked seventh in the majors. 1B Carlos Santana led the team with 34 home runs, hitting .259 with a .865 OPS to go along with the dingers. Rookie OF Tyler Naquin showed some promising signs in 116 games, hitting .296 with 14 home runs while veteran OF Rajai Davis hit .249 with 12 home runs, but he really excelled on the bases, nabbing 43 steals, the most in the American League and fourth-most in the majors. Kipnis hit .275 with 23 home runs last season.
In his 25 starts in 2016, Carrasco posted a 3.32 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 146.1 innings. SP Corey Kluber had a 3.14 ERA with 227 strikeouts in 215 innings — eighth-most in the league in both stats — over 32 starts. SP Trevor Bauer put up a 4.26 ERA with 168 strikeouts in 190 innings, and SP Danny Salazar posted a 3.87 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 137.1 innings. RP Cody Allen went 32-for-35 in save opportunities to go along with a 2.51 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 68 innings, but perhaps the most important member of the bullpen is RP Andrew Miller, who was acquired in a trade with the Yankees at the deadline, who posted a 1.55 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 29 innings with the team (1.45 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 74.1 innings overall in 2016).
Adding Encarnacion — who hit 42 home runs with the Blue Jays last season — gives the Indians a viable replacement for Napoli and provides some depth to deal with the injuries if they start to linger into the season. They have SS Francisco Lindor who provides the team offense at a position that typically lacks it. The Indians also get back C Yan Gomes, whose 2016 was essentially lost to injury. If he’s healthy, he can provide some pop out of another position not knowing for its offense. If Carrasco returns to form coming off his injury, he’ll form a strong 1-2 punch at the top of the Indians’ rotation with Kluber. If someone like Salazar or Bauer can take the next step in their career, the Indians could have formidable starting pitching, with two good relievers in the bullpen to close out games.
Injury concerns aside, the Indians are definitely the class of the AL Central. The injuries to Kipnis and Brantley don’t look like they’ll keep them out for extended periods of time this year and the sooner they can come back, the more help they’ll give the Indians as they try to fend off the Tigers and Royals to repeat as the division champions. If they make it to the playoffs, they certainly have a better-than-average chance of advancing far again, possibly making it to the World Series for a second straight season — after waiting more than 50 years since their last appearance — perhaps for a rematch with the Cubs.