With the start of the new year, the Cleveland Indians still have plenty of questions that need resolution before the start of the 2018 campaign. Most should work themselves out by the end of spring training, but in the meantime, one can only ponder how things will be answered.
What if you were told the Cleveland Indians could add a pair of former two-time All-Stars to their lineup? Add to that statement that neither player had anything to do with the Tribe’s epic 22-game winning streak this past summer, one that helped launch the club to the best record in the American League. Also, add to that that neither player was much of a factor in a disappointing five-game ALDS defeat at the hands of the New York Yankees. Now what if you were told that the Indians would have to give up nothing to add the All-Star veterans to a lineup that neither was really much of a part of in the second half of 2017?
You would probably happily take this scenario, just before asking how the Indians could add two quality pieces to their everyday lineup without giving anything up. That part is simple. The two players are Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley.
With Carlos Santana now gone to Philadelphia, Brantley and Kipnis serve as the Indians’ longest-tenured players. They probably serve as two of the biggest keys to Cleveland’s hopes of winning a third straight American League Central Division title and, more importantly, getting back to the World Series for the first time in two years and winning it for the first time in 70 years.
Once the Cleveland Indians best everyday player and MVP candidate, Michael Brantley has become one of the team’s biggest question marks over the last couple of offseasons.
One question surrounding Brantley was answered this offseason already. That happened last week when the Tribe picked up his $11.5 million team option for 2018. In doing that, it put to bed the question of whether or not the two-time All-Star and a former top-three MVP vote-getter would be back for a tenth season in Cleveland.
There are so many more questions, however, clouding the winter and early spring when it comes to the superstar left fielder. As was the case the last two offseasons, they involve an injured body part and recent surgery. Unlike past offseasons, the concern is not with an ailing shoulder. Instead it is with a problematic ankle.
With some big questions looming over the Indians roster for the 2018 season, two of those were answered on Friday as Cleveland announced that team options on outfielder Michael Brantley and starting pitcher Josh Tomlin were picked up, giving the two long-time Tribe veterans at least one more season in town.
The decision on Tomlin’s option was much easier to make than Brantley’s, but both players were retained as Tomlin provided another consistent season for the Indians while Brantley lost a half season while dealing with significant injuries for a second straight year.
On Thursday morning, the Cleveland Indians announced that left fielder Michael Brantley had undergone surgery the day before to help stabilize the ligaments in his injured right ankle, an ailment that deprived him of much of the final two months of the regular season and left him as a bit contributor to the team during its brief postseason run.
In the minutes and hours after news of the procedure hit the press, Cleveland social media burned to the ground.
The Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams may have come to a crashing halt with the nightmare scenario of losing slugger Edwin Encarnacion in the first inning of Game 2 in the American League Division Series, one lost in five games to the New York Yankees.
They may have also started much sooner than that, despite the club winning the first two games of the ALDS.
The Cleveland bats went cold on Saturday night, just hours after the club received word that the Boston Red Sox had defeated the Houston Astros at Fenway Park, clinching home field advantage in the American League Championship Series for the Indians. The White Sox limited the Tribe to just three hits afterwards to earn a 2-1 victory.
The loss for the Indians (101-60) eliminated them from contention for the top record in Major League Baseball and a chance to claim home field in the World Series. As it stands, if the Tribe can reach the Fall Classic for a second consecutive season and for the seventh time in franchise history, the city would be host to any National League opponent with the exception of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
One of the biggest questions looming for the Cleveland Indians as the regular season concludes is the status of outfielder Michael Brantley.
The two-time All-Star has been shelved since landing on the disabled list on August 9 with a right ankle sprain. His return from the injury has been far slower than expected, as running on the injured ankle and dealing with the ligament issue has proven to be much more of an obstacle than initially hoped and anticipated.
While Brantley has been able to resume some “land-based” running over the course of the last week and by all reports is feeling good and is in much better spirits, he has been away from live action and real pitching for quite some time. How much rust the 30-year-old may have developed in that time remains to be seen.
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.
For 26 outs, the Cleveland Indians had just four hits to show against the Colorado Rockies and looked to be in severe jeopardy of wasting nine fantastic innings of one-run baseball by Corey Kluber. That 27th and final out would never come, as the Indians rallied for four runs, including a game-tying two-out bloop single by Austin Jackson and the game-winning three-run home run from Yan Gomes as Cleveland stunned Colorado and All-Star closer Greg Holland with the improbable comeback and a walk-off victory.
Trailing all night after a first inning, second pitch home run from center fielder Charlie Blackmon off of Kluber to start the game, the Indians headed to the ninth in an offensive funk after missing on the handful of opportunities that they had over the course of the evening. The odds looked stacked against them as the flat offense had to face Holland, who entered with a tiny 1.96 ERA on the season and plenty of previous experience against the Indians to call upon from his days as a Kansas City Royal.
Sometimes, one play can open the floodgates and drastically change the outcome of a sporting event. A misplayed fly ball with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning turned a just-tied game into a five-run inning for the Yankees as New York crushed the Cleveland Indians, 8-1, on Sunday afternoon.
The scuffling Yankees offense put up as many runs in their sixth inning assault as they have over the course of their previous four games. They got a little help from one of their former outfield prospects, Abraham Almonte, who could not track down the ball as it looked like he was bracing for impact with the wall well before reaching it.
Trevor Bauer made another big start for the Cleveland Indians on Friday night as he gave the club seven innings of one-run baseball in defeating the New York Yankees, 7-2.
The Indians may have solved the home woes that had plagued them this season. Playing in front of consistently larger crowds than earlier points in the season, the Indians have gone a perfect 9-0 since the All-Star break at Progressive Field and are now 30-24 on the shores of Lake Erie.