Posts By Craig Gifford
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.
Michael Brantley‘s recent story is one rarely seen in sports. That is mostly because many athletes may have already quit before working back from two serious injuries to get back to an All-Star level.
A 2014 All-Star and MVP candidate, Brantley has been with the Tribe organization since a 2008 trade-deadline deal sent former Tribe ace C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers in a deal that was initially met with great ire among Cleveland fans. The left fielder made his Indians debut in 2009 and was a part of some pretty lousy teams from 2009-2012. He finally got his first taste of postseason action in the one-game Wild Card loss to Tampa in 2013. Brantley blossomed into one of the team’s brightest stars in 2014 and 2015, only to see the second of those seasons end a little early with a shoulder injury suffered while diving to make a play on fly ball during the campaign’s final weekend.
There was a time, around this point last season, in which many people thought All-Star left-handed reliever Andrew Miller may be the most indispensable player on the Cleveland Indians roster. Indeed, he is extremely important to the ball club and its fortunes. The 2016 MVP of the American League Championship Series remains one of game’s best bullpen arms and is probably the best hurler out of Tribe manager Terry Francona‘s very talented bullpen. However, with injuries to their star relief ace last year, the Indians learned that their season does not need to be derailed without the big southpaw they added at the 2016 traded deadline.
What the Tribe, instead, learned a season ago is that it has another very good left-handed relief option in Tyler Olson. Olson is not in the class of Miller, though few are. Olson, however, may be coming into his own as a Major League pitcher in his late 20s.
Over the winter there was some gnashing of teeth as the Cleveland Indians waived good-bye to Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw and Jay Bruce. Santana and Shaw had been on the club for multiple years, while Bruce was an August trade addition last summer.
Most of the fret was focused around the offense and what losing power hitters the likes of Santana and Bruce would do to the every day lineup’s run-scoring potential. As for Shaw, some Tribe fans were all too eager to see him leave. He was the player, however, that manager Terry Francona seemed the most distraught over losing.