Posts By Craig Gifford
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.
It has been quite the week for Yan Gomes.
Last Saturday, the Cleveland Indians catcher learned he would be playing in his first All-Star Game. On Tuesday, the veteran backstop spent four innings catching some of the American League’s best pitchers and got to bat three times against some of the best that the National League has to offer. On Thursday, the Tribe traded away top prospect Francisco Mejia for much-needed relief pitching in the form of All-Star closer Brad Hand and rookie reliever Adam Cimber.
It was a vote of confidence in Gomes. His All-Star campaign was not an aberration and that he would be blocking Mejia’s path to the big leagues for a few more seasons, making the young switch-hitter an expendable piece for the trade with the San Diego Padres.
One year ago, Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was nowhere near the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Some wondered if he would survive the season as a starter. A move to the bullpen could have been in the offing. Some wondered if he would ever fulfill the promise of a young player selected third overall in the 2011 amateur draft.
On July 16, 2017, Bauer lost in Oakland in his first start after the All-Star break. It dropped his record to 7-8 and his ERA stood at 5.59. The Indians were on their way to a second straight American League Central Division crown. With the way Bauer was pitching, the prevailing thought in mid-July of last season was that he would perhaps be a reliever on the coming postseason roster if the team survived the rest of the regular season. It was a precipitous fall for a pitcher thrust into a high-profile role during the Tribe’s 2016 remarkable playoff run to the World Series.
A year ago, no one could have foreseen what was to come for the final two months of the season or that the late-season turnaround would serve as the coming of age for a pitcher who is now one of the game’s elite pitching talents.
With his clean-up hitter going through another epic April slump, Indians manager Terry Francona never fretted or showed concern over whether or not designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion could or would right the ship.
The crown jewel of Cleveland’s 2016/2017 offseason and post-World Series spending, the slugging Encarnacion was having yet another miserable first month to the season. The 35-year-old is actually known for slow starts, as April is historically his worst month, going back to his days with the Toronto Blue Jays. Yet some Tribe fans, even after seeing this in 2017 from the club’s No. 4 hitter, still wondered if the veteran was washed up. Some wondered if the Indians again struck out with a big-time free-agent signing if all they got was one productive season.
Just as quickly, suddenly, and surprising as Tyler Naquin burst onto the scene and the Cleveland Indians radar in 2016, he fell off of it almost more rapidly and shockingly a season ago. After one good season and one miserable campaign, the Indians had no idea what to expect for Naquin’s third go-round for the ball club.
Luckily, for Naquin and the team, the outfielder’s third big league season has him squarely back as a solid member of the big league roster. So far in 2018, he is resembling the good version of himself of two years ago rather than the one every member of the Tribe organization would just as soon forget from last summer.
When a pitcher shares a rotation with a two-time Cy Young winner, another Cy Young candidate, and an All-Star candidate who draws vast media attention for his tweets and sometimes atypical opinions, it can be very easy to get lost in the shuffle. Such is life for Mike Clevinger, who has steadily, yet quietly, carved out a long-term place for himself in a loaded and talented Cleveland starting five.
Ace Corey Kluber gets a lot of the well-deserved attention among his rotation mates, being the multiple-time Cy winner that he is. Carlos Carrasco finished fourth in the voting last season for the American League’s top pitching award. He is widely viewed as a would-be No. 1 pitcher on many other teams in Major League Baseball. Trevor Bauer is a dark-horse A.L. All-Star candidate, as he is sixth in the league with a 2.69 ERA and third with 121 strike outs. He gets more attention for his sometimes controversial tweets and opinions on topics regarding the sport and the world outside of it.
With all that attention and coverage being paid to the rest of the rotation, it is hard for the No. 4 guy to get a lot of notice. While he may fly under the radar a bit with the fans and media, Clevinger has certainly made the Indians management team take note of a pitcher who is every bit as good as his higher-profile teammates.
It is a tried and true fact that the best way to win a division, in any sport, is to take care of business against your own divisional foes. It is a double-whammy. You strengthen your own record while weakening that of a club you are trying to beat out for a division crown. Nowhere is this more true than in Major League Baseball.
In the MLB, there is a vastly higher rate and more chances to get ahead of divisional foes, really not seen in any of the other sports. In the 162-game schedule, teams see their division opponents 76 times, or nearly half of the season. Unlike any other year, the Cleveland Indians are certainly thankful for that fact this campaign. The Tribe may be playing this year in arguably the worst division the game has seen since going to the six-division format in 1994.
Adam Plutko has been granted a big opportunity that few people may have thought existed as recently as February.
The Cleveland Indians were thought to have a deep and talented rotation, with seven starters having a firm hold as big league caliber or better talents. The part about talented still hold very true for Tribe’s staff of starters. However, depth has become an issue of late.
Cleveland still has two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber heading what is still one of the game’s best rotations. Right behind him is 2017 Cy Young candidate Carlos Carrasco, an emerging All-Star candidate in Trevor Bauer, and improving Mike Clevinger. That foursome has pretty much been as advertised during the season’s first two months. What has plagued the Indians, in regards to the starting five, has been trying to find consistent and quality results out of a fifth starter. That is where many would never have expected the team to have an issue.
Erik Gonzalez worked his way to the Major Leagues and the Cleveland Indians thanks to his glove. His ability to play every position, other than catcher and pitcher, make him the perfect utility player for any baseball team. It is why the Indians chose to keep him over Gio Urshela when both were out of minor league options and Urshela returned from his spring training injury earlier this month. Gonzalez can play seven spots on the diamond, while Urshela specialized at third base. Neither was know as an exceptionally good hitter, though Gonzalez did alright at the plate in a brief sample size last season.
The Indians are probably pretty happy right that they chose to keep the 26-year-old Gonzalez. Not only has Gonzalez played all four infield spots this season, meaning that he can give almost any everyday player any given day or night off, but he seems to be adding a new flare at the plate to his repertoire.
Three years ago at this time, Jose Ramirez was a scuffling utility infielder who was struggling to make it at the big league level. Forget becoming an All-Star, some wondered if Ramirez would ever hit Major League pitching and he appeared to have the career trajectory of Giovanny Urshela, a strong defender who could not hit a lick.
It is hard to believe that was only three years ago as Ramirez has terrorized MLB pitching the last two seasons and is back at it again this year. Ramirez has found a home at third base, no longer a utility player. Instead, J-Ram is now one of the Tribe’s most important player and arguably the team’s best hitter. He has sure come a long way.