The doctor is in for the Cleveland Indians and, this time, this diagnosis appears good.
Michael Brantley returned to Cactus League action on Monday afternoon with an encouraging performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers from Goodyear, Arizona. He followed it up with another appearance on Wednesday as the Indians dropped a 10-2 decision to Colorado at the Rockies’ spring home at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
There has not been a lot of good news for Michael Brantley and his injured right shoulder since a fateful, late-season attempt to dive for a ball at Target Field on September 22, 2015. Since then, he has undergone two surgeries, multiple setbacks and appeared in just 13 games. Things seem to be headed in a better direction for Brantley these days, however.
Two of those 13 contests he has played in since the initial shoulder woes began came at the end of the 2015 campaign. He missed 10 of the final 12 games that season. Last year, a comeback attempt lasted but 11 games as the one-time All-Star and MVP candidate could not get his ailing shoulder to a point where there was not pain when he swung the bat.
His 2016 numbers – 43 plate appearances, nine hits, two doubles and seven RBI – were more a tease for Tribe fans than anything else. It was a window view of the player the Indians missed during an otherwise unforgettable year that saw the club get so agonizingly close to its first World Series title since 1948.
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Countdown to Opening Day – 23
How stacked would the Cleveland Indians lineup look with a healthy and productive Michael Brantley back patrolling the grass in left field?
Once again one of the biggest question marks coming in to the season, the Indians and their fans wait with eager anticipation for the return to form of their one-time All-Star outfielder and former third place finisher in the American League Most Valuable Player voting in 2014.
With more than a full week of spring training action now under their belts, baseball season is in full go in Arizona and Florida as Major League squads look to prepare for the pending 2017 regular season grind.
In addition to watching the handful of camp battles resolve themselves over the rest of March, the focus around baseball will be on the returns to health of a handful of rehabbing players and an emphasis on not adding too many additional new names to the injury report.
The Cleveland Indians have been able to avoid anything significant in the early going, but eyes have been trained on a handful of veterans who had yet to make their spring debuts.
Rajai Davis and his 43 stolen bases have gone off to Oakland. Superstar left fielder Michael Brantley is not a 100 percent guarantee to rebound from multiple shoulder surgeries to regain his form that made him an MVP candidate in 2014.
Cleveland, looking to bolster its outfield depth, could end up with a major steal – pardon the pun – in this free agency class. Veteran outfielder Austin Jackson was inked to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training on Wednesday. If he can rebound from a knee injury that cost him the second half of the 2016 campaign with the White Sox, he will be a fine replacement for the 36-year-old Davis.
Jackson, who will turn 30 on Wednesday, does not steal quite as many bases as Davis, but has proven to be good for 20 or so per season throughout his seven-year career. He has exhibited a little more power and ability to get on base than the elder Davis. An ability to play all three outfield spots, as he showed in 2015, makes him a great fit in an outfield that will see a lot of platoon play, regardless of whether or not Brantley is fully healthy all year.
The Indians are saying “goodbye” to a pair of popular veterans who played integral roles in helping the Tribe reach Game 7 of the the 2016 World Series. It was the first Fall Classic for the Tribe in 19 years. Gone are the power-hitting Mike Napoli and base-stealing Rajai Davis. Both veterans were signed to one-year deals before last season and both proved there was still a little something in the tank.
Napoli has yet to sign on the dotted line with another team. However, Cleveland’s big free-agent addition of first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion means there is no room for Napoli. Encarnacion, who is a more consistent hitter over his career, is an upgrade there. The middle of the Tribe’s batting order got better on Thursday with the official announcement of the contract agreement.
Davis and his 43 stolen bases are also gone. The Indians did not sign an upgrade or a similar player as they did for the first base/DH job. Instead, the speedy 36-year-old shortstop inked a one-year, $6 million pact with the Oakland Athletics last week. Unlike Napoli and his power, it is unlikely the Tribe will reach outside the organization for a replacement to Davis’ feet.
All things considered, it is amazing to think that the Cleveland Indians accomplished so much in 2016 and did so without the services of their one-time All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley.
The 29-year-old outfielder had been a key driving force in the middle of the Indians lineup over the last several seasons, working his way around the lineup to a spot as the table setter for the heart of the order. His importance to the club was no more obvious in 2014, when he played in 156 games, hit a career-best .327 with a .385 on-base percentage and .506 slugging mark, became the first Indians player to reach 200 hits since Kenny Lofton in 1996 (210), was an All-Star and Silver Slugger for the first times in his career, and finished third in the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting.
Heading into this past season, the Indians knew that they had a void to fill in the batting order while Brantley was still working to recover from a late 2015 right shoulder injury that led to repair work on his right labrum in the offseason. The team had some internal options to consider with the likes of Jason Kipnis or Francisco Lindor, with the team ultimately settling on their second-year shortstop to plug in as the three hitter. The positional hole in left was a little more complicated to fill. While there was plenty of speculation regarding how the lineup would stack up when Brantley returned, that became a moot point as the year rolled on and the potent left-handed hitter was still missing in action from the batting order.
A pair of future contributors to the Indians roster acquired in big trades make their Major League debut, as Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco play in their first big league games as Cleveland is dealt an 8-5 loss by the Detroit Tigers.
It’s out with the old Red Sox and in with some new White Sox as the Cleveland Indians host Chicago for the second of three times this season and the first time at Progressive Field since the middle of June.
The Indians (66-49) dropped a close one on Monday to the Boston Red Sox, with the tying and go-ahead runs on base with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, but the lineup was unable to drive the runs across the plate. The loss came on the heels of a four-game sweep of the scuffling Los Angeles Angels, who left town on a ten-game losing streak and made it eleven with a loss at home to Seattle on Monday. Cleveland is fighting to keep pace with the Texas Rangers (70-50) for the top record in the American League as the penultimate month of the regular season is already halfway gone.
Chicago (56-61) has slipped into fourth place with their recent play. They are 27-35 on the season on the road and just 19-27 within the AL Central. The Indians, for comparison’s sake because it is fun, are 31-16 against the Central with 29 more games left in the division.
Anything can happen in baseball and Tuesday night, those watching the Cleveland Indians defeat the Washington Nationals 3-1 were reminded that no matter the results early on, a game is not over until the final out is retired.
For the first four and two-thirds innings, Washington starter and former Indians nemesis Max Scherzer was throwing a perfect game. He brought a no-hitter into the seventh while keeping Cleveland off of the bases all but one time. Yet at the end of the day, he was the losing pitcher, Indians starter Trevor Bauer made one of his bigger starts in his Major League career, unusual cleanup hitter Jose Ramirez played the hero, and the Tribe got a big win in a game with a postseason feel to it.
There may not have been any Major League games played on Wednesday, but a pair of Cleveland Indians suited up and played in meaningful professional games.
Fans of the Cleveland Indians got some good news as two of their own took the field at Classic Park in their ongoing efforts to return from the disabled list as left fielder Michael Brantley and catcher Roberto Perez donned Lake County jerseys and participated in their rehab assignments in Eastlake as the Captains fell 8-4 to the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
There is no team in baseball hotter than the Indians and possibly no city more locked in from a professional sports standpoint right now than Cleveland, Ohio. They will take on their Great Lakes neighbor, the defending American League East champion Toronto Blue Jays, in a four-game series from Rogers Centre beginning Thursday night.
The Indians (47-30) are simply on fire. Twelve straight victories, including a perfect 6-0 start to their ten-game road trip, have built their lead in the AL Central Division to six games. They were untouched at home in June, posting an 11-0 record, and the better play on the road this stretch has improved their record away from home to 24-18, the second-best mark in the AL. They are tied with Baltimore for the second-best record in the league.
The Jays (43-37) are hanging around in the AL East, but still trail the hot Orioles by five and a half games. They concluded their six-game road trip with a 3-3 record, including a pair of wins in the final two games of their series in Colorado against the Rockies during the week. They fell twice in Chicago in three games at the start of their trip.