Posts By Eddie Kerekes
Michael Brantley is supposed to be ready in the first two months of the season, but his timetable is not at all set. His replacements include a mix of veterans and inconsistent younger players who can’t play defense. A top prospect waits unready in the minors, while a converted infielder with basically zero Major League experience is hoping that he gets his first full taste of the Majors in the outfield.
Does this situation sound familiar? It’s the exact same one the Tribe was facing a year ago at this time. There are just as many questions as there are possible candidates for playing time. There’s hit-by-pitch machine Brandon Guyer, righty-killer Lonnie Chisenhall, Rookie of the Year finalist Tyler Naquin, switch-hitter Abraham Almonte, utility guy Michael Martinez, prospects Bradley Zimmer and Yandy Diaz, and, of course, Brantley. Each player has his own question marks, but the Tribe will carry at least three of them on the roster next season.
A general manager’s job is never done. After the final out of Game 7 was recorded, Indians GM Mike Chernoff had to go back to work. He had no time to celebrate the Tribe’s amazing postseason run that saw them come one run short of a championship. He could not rest because of two simple words: qualifying offer.
For five days after the World Series, and probably a few months before, teams must debate whether or not they should extend a qualifying offer to their players who will become free agents. It’s a contract offer for one year worth the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players in the majors, which is $17.2 million this off-season. If the player declines the offer and signs elsewhere, his former team gets draft pick compensation after the first round and his new team loses their first round pick.
Mike Napoli was the only player on the Tribe roster who management probably thought about extending the offer to (Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis were also eligible). When the 5 p.m. deadline passed yesterday and the Tribe declined to submit the offer, Napoli became a free agent with no strings attached.
Did Tribe management make the right choice? No doubt they did.
The World Series gives baseball fans across the country the opportunity to watch teams they never see. This is particularly true for the Indians, a team that rarely gets games on national television. The Fall Classic teaches fans of other teams the stories behind the two league champions’ players. Tribe fans watch in wonder as the rest of the country finally figures out why there is always a party at Napoli’s and how many times Jose Ramirez’s helmet falls off.
There’s one story that if the casual fan didn’t know already, they do know now. And that is the story of current superstar Francisco Lindor. Notice I didn’t say future superstar. The promising future of the former top prospect is right now, and he’s been showcasing that on the national stage.
The Chicago Cubs, the Tribe’s opponent in the 2016 World Series, are a very good team. In the regular season, they won 103 games, the most of any team since 2009, and they had a run differential of +252, more than double what the Tribe put up this season. Very good teams like the Cubs excel in all facets of the game: hitting, pitching, and, most importantly for the Cubs, defense. However, it’s the Cubs offense that we’re going to be taking a look at. Though Indians hitters struggled in the ALCS, it’s the Tribe’s depleted rotation and outstanding bullpen that will determine the outcome of the series.
During the regular season, the Cubs scored the second-most runs in the NL (808), amounting to 5.02 runs per game. In the playoffs, they’ve been just as good, but they have also been inconsistent. After getting shutout in two straight games, the Cubs put up ten runs in Game 4, eight runs in Game 5, and five runs against Clayton Kershaw in Game 6. So, the question is: have the Cubs solved their offensive woes or will their bats go cold again?
The healthy Tribe pitchers looking to freeze those bats will have to rely on film and not experience. And the data tells an interesting story. Each Cubs hitter has a weak spot. It’ll be up to the pitchers to take advantage of them. Here’s a look at the weaknesses of the top five hitters in the Cubs’ lineup.
If you’ve read anything about the Tribe’s postseason run, you’ve probably read about the absolute dominance of relief pitcher Andrew Miller. You’ve read about how many batters he strikes out (60% of total batters faced) and how silly he’s made them all look (very). You’ve probably also read about how manager Terry Francona is embracing the new era of bullpen usage by not limiting Miller to a specific role. The left-hander has entered games in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, always coming on to face the opponent’s toughest hitters.
Understandably, Miller has been a very important part of why the Indians have not yet lost in October. There’s no denying that without him, it’s questionable whether the team would have even beat Boston in the ALDS, let alone be standing a mere one win away from the World Series. Yet, there’s another man in the Tribe’s bullpen who deserves some credit too.
That man’s name is Cody Allen.
Among the main contributors for the Tribe this season, a few are missing from the postseason roster. Carlos Carrasco is out for the entirety of the playoffs with a broken finger, while Danny Salazar may return in a limited role, possibly in the upcoming ALCS, after suffering a forearm strain last month.
One player who isn’t missing time because of injury is outfielder Abraham Almonte. He was a part of the team’s second half run last year after being acquired in a deadline deal. However, after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug at the start of spring training, he was suspended for the first 80 games of this season. Per a new MLB rule, that meant he could not be a part of the team’s post-season roster.
For the first time in nine years, the Cleveland Indians will be playing in the American League Division Series after winning the AL Central. The last time such a feat occurred, the Tribe beat the New York Yankees three games to one before falling to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. After that, the Tribe has only once reached the postseason, losing the Wild Card Game in 2013 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Those are postseason facts you probably already knew. They are ones that would be included in a normal playoff series preview. Other facts that would be probably be included in a regular preview are: the Tribe went 2-4 against the Red Sox this season, all-time the Indians hold an 11-8 advantage over Boston in the postseason, David Ortiz had a spectacular year, and the Indians are missing two of their three best starters.
However, this is not a regular series preview. It will not mention those things. If you would like to read a regular preview, our own Bob Toth will have one out on Thursday before Game 1. What follows is a unique look at the ALDS, featuring stats, splits, and trends you might not have thought about concerning the Tribe’s matchup versus the Red Sox.
When the Indians brought back Coco Crisp at the August 31 waiver trading deadline, it was difficult to see what kind of impact he would have on the team.
To start off, the thinking goes, it would be hard for the 36-year-old veteran to get at bats. The outfield was already crowded enough, with Abraham Almonte, Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin, and Brandon Guyer all splitting time. The switch-hitter had no clear platoon splits, so that was not an automatic way for him to get at bats.
There was also the whole matter of actually hitting well. It was hard to tell how much he would produce. Age has caught up to the former star. He put up a .234/.299/.399 slash line in Oakland before the trade and hit .175/.252/.222 in an injury-shortened 2015.
All it takes is one pitch to change a season. Just ask the recently injured Carlos Carrasco. A 95 mile per hour fastball to Ian Kinsler became a 101 mile per hour missile heading straight for his hand. And when it connected, the bones in the hand did not survive the attack.
It was discovered after testing that Carrasco suffered a non-displaced break of his fifth metacarpal (broken finger), and the Indians have no idea when he will be able to return. That means his hotel reservations for October need to be cancelled and replaced with reservations for physical therapy.
Just add it to the list of unexpected occurrences for the Tribe’s number two starter.
With one out in the first inning on August 4, Jason Kipnis crushed a long line drive into the bullpens of Progressive Field. MLB’s Statcast said the ball was traveling at 103.9 mph when it left Kipnis’s bat at a 30-degree launch angle and flew 444 feet. It was the fifth longest homer by an Indians player not named Mike Napoli and Kipnis’s second longest of the season.
It also just so happened to be his 18th dinger of the year, a new career high. Since then, he’s belted four more homers, pushing his season total to 22. And his power surge has been a big part of his stellar year at the plate, one that’s been overshadowed by the seasons of Napoli, Carlos Santana, and Francisco Lindor.
The American League Cy Young Award race is very crowded. Seven starters have been worth between 4.0 and 4.6 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, with the top four separated by 0.2 wins. There’s also the top reliever, Baltimore’s Zach Britton, to consider. And the pitchers with the three lowest ERAs should probably also be included in the discussion as well. So perhaps very crowded is an understatement.
A familiar face is one of the leaders in the award’s discussion. Tribe ace Corey Kluber (15-8, 3.09 ERA) is tied for the league lead in fWAR while also ranking sixth in ERA. Only eleven strikeouts away from 200, Kluber resides in fourth place in the league in that stat. He does not allow much traffic on the base paths either, ranking fourth in the league with a 1.05 WHIP.
When the Indians traded for Andrew Miller, fans knew the team would be aggressive until the deadline passed. With a trade for Jonathan Lucroy reportedly agreed to the same day, the Indians were likely to be done wheeling and dealing. However, after Lucroy nixed the proposed trade, Tribe fans expected the front office to make another major move to compensate for the loss.
What they did not expect was outfielder Brandon Guyer, a player known more for being hit by baseballs than for hitting them. Guyer was not on anyone’s potential trade lists. There was speculation the Tribe would try to acquire his teammate on the Tampa Bay Rays, Steve Pearce. No one had heard anything about Guyer. When he was traded for two non-prospect minor leaguers, it came as a great surprise.