Posts By Craig Gifford
After several years of boasting one of the game’s best bullpens, including the 2016 version that nearly carried the club to a World Series championship, the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen took a major nose dive this past season.
The Tribe’s 2018 ‘pen was among the worst in the game. The unit’s 4.60 ERA was 25th out of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Among the five groups lower, only the Colorado Rockies were a playoff team. The Mets, Orioles, Royals, and Marlins had disastrous seasons.
Cleveland’s ‘pen was not able to submarine its regular season, though there were times it seemed it could. However, if the the Indians are to return to the 102-win level they were at in 2017 or the championship-caliber level they appeared to be at the past few years, they will need a return to prominence from the relief corps.
During the six-year tenure of manager Terry Francona, the Cleveland Indians outfield has been a work in progress, piecemealed together and full of platoons for much of that time. That has been especially true during the club’s three consecutive division championships seasons.
The quest to try and put together an outfield befitting a team with title aspirations is not going to end any time soon. In fact, the jobs of President Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff could be even harder this offseason than the past few.
The last couple of winters, the outfield buzz often centered around whether or not Michael Brantley would be healthy or not. However, at least when he was on the field, there was no doubt who would play left field on an everyday basis.
First, the bad news: the Cleveland Indians are in a 0-2 hole in their best-of-five ALDS with the Houston Astros. They face a win-or-go-home game on Monday afternoon.
As for the good news? Well, other than the biggest game of their season being at home, it may well be that the guy on the mound could be just the guy that the Indians need to kick-start what they hope will be three straight must-win games.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber is the unquestioned ace of the Cleveland Indians starting pitching rotation. Trevor Bauer was having a Cy-worthy season of his own before taking a line drive off his leg in August and missing five weeks. He is back and looking to get back to his pre-injury form in time for the playoffs, which start Friday.
Almost lost in the hysteria of one Cy Young winner and one who may have been is Carlos Carrasco. A top-of-the-rotation pitcher in his own right, Cookie was a Cy Young candidate last season, finishing fourth in the American League voting. He could be Top 5 again this season. Yet, he almost seems like a forgotten man in his own starting five.
Monday starts the final week of regular season baseball. For the Indians, it will be the final week in which the games have no importance, record-wise.
With a third straight American League Central Division title sewn up more than a week ago, the only thing that the Indians have had left to play for is pride and getting themselves set up for what they hope will be a long playoff run. That latter part has been big. The team, over the last week and over this coming week, will be looking to get players rested, get other players healthy, and get everyone geared up and ready to go for October baseball.
Is it possible that a starting pitcher with 18 wins in the first week of September could be an overlooked man? Add in that he has the game’s eighth-best ERA at 2.75 and incredible 0.95 WHIP, good for the game’s fourth lowest? Oh, and then there is the whole two Cy Young Awards thing.
Can this guy possibly be overlooked or taken for granted?
In the case of Cleveland Indians all-star and two-time Cy Young-winning Corey Kluber, that answer may just be yes.
The first half of this baseball season was a long, strange journey for veteran left-handed reliever Oliver Perez. The Cleveland Indians could not be any happier that the second half of this campaign has seen him settle in quite nicely to the Tribe’s bullpen.
Perez got caught up in last offseason’s winter freeze as many solid veteran players had trouble finding quality jobs and contracts. The journeyman, now in his 16th big league season, settled for a minor league contract with the New York Yankees on March 31 after being a camp casualty in Cincinnati. Spring training had just ended and Perez wanted an opportunity to prove that he could still pitch, even with his 37th birthday creeping up later in the playing schedule (this past August 15).
Realizing that the Bronx Bombers had arguably the best relief corp in the game, Perez wisely had an out clause in his contract. He could go back on the free agent market if not on the Yankees roster by June 1. New York never called him, as the Yankees bullpen was as good as advertised. Perez made 16 appearances at the Triple-A level, covering 14 innings, where he toted a solid 2.57 ERA. He opted into free agency on June 1.
It’s a lot easier to hit a baseball when swinging the bat with two hands rather than with one. Just ask Edwin Encarnacion, who returned from the 10-day disabled list on Wednesday night and proceeded to hit two home runs in his first three at bats, both sailing over Boston’s fabled and towering Green Monster.
Encarnacion suffered a bruised right hand on July 15 when he was struck by pitch against the Yankees. Between the All-Star break (immediately following that game) and with the injury deemed as minor, Encarnacion did not miss time with the hand issue. However, he was not pain-free and admitted to basically swinging the bat one-handed. Somehow, he hit three home runs that way and drove in 16 runs and his batting average even rose from .225 to .229 during his 18 starts as essentially the one-armed man.
Yandy Diaz deserves to be playing and suiting up every day in a Major League Baseball uniform. His bat could be very useful to the Indians, who have seen the bottom of their batting order struggle during many stretches this season.
The problem is, there is not much room for a player, even as talented as Diaz, when the player’s best position is third base.
This past winter, the Cleveland Indians decided to move on from free agent and long-time player Carlos Santana. He was set to break the bank on a mega contract that Cleveland’s management did not think was worth shelling out to a first baseman who could put up decent power numbers, but has been very inconsistent over the course of his career.
Santana, 32 years old, inked a lucrative deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that guaranteed him three years and at least $60 million. It ended Santana’s eight-year (seven full seasons) run with the Tribe. His journey with Cleveland was a roller coaster ride, watching him go from catcher, to third base, to finally settling in as a first baseman.
It was also a roller coaster in the sense that he could not put back-to-back great seasons together. He followed a 27-homer 2011 campaign with seasons of 18 and 20 bombs. He mashed 27 again in 2014, but fell back to 19 again in 2015, and then hammered a career-high 34 jacks in Cleveland’s 2016 World Series season. He finished his Tribe tenure dropping back down to 23 taters last season, putting him all over the map. His .249 batting average did not scream franchise player either, so why pay Santana like a franchise player – especially in a smaller market like Cleveland.
On June 16, Carlos Carrasco was both battered and bruised.
Slogging through one of his worst stretches since becoming a real fixture in the Cleveland Indians rotation at the end of the 2014 season, Carrasco left his start on June 16 after just an inning and a third innings when a line drive to the forearm ended his day. However, the four earned runs surrendered in the first frame seemed almost as likely to send the Tribe’s 2017 Cy Young candidate to the showers early regardless.
Around the middle of May, there were loud drum beats surrounding the Indians that it may be time for the team to move on from its two-time All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis. Kipnis looked completely lost at the plate and was becoming something of a liability in the field.
At 31, Kip was not looking like anything close to his former self, who was once considered one of the team’s most important players. It was an image that he still carried in 2016 as a key cog to the club’s surprising World Series appearance that summer.
The veteran suffered through an injury-plagued 2017 campaign that limited him to only 90 games, but he has been healthy this entire season. However, after an 0-for-3 game at the plate on May 14, Kipnis was batting a mere .170 and his power seemed greatly diminished. He had collected only one home run and driven in just 13 to that point. He had eight doubles. In short, the Indians were not getting much production out of the second baseman early in the season.