Brantley Proving 2014 Was No Fluke

Michael Brantley‘s season ended yesterday due to an injured shoulder. His season began with an ailing back. Despite the injuries that book-ended his 2015 campaign, Brantley proved that his breakout 2014 season was absolutely no fluke.

Last year, Brantley put up numbers that were, by far, career highs. He hit a blistering .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBI. Despite the fact that he had gradually improved throughout his career, some wondered if a year ago was a career season. He finished in the top three of the American League Most Valuable Player voting, but had he peaked?

Thanks to injuries, Brantley’s numbers this year are not as great as last season’s. However, it is safe to say he has not peaked. At least, he has not dropped off from last season.

The Indians entered this week, the final seven days of the season, still mathematically alive for a postseason berth. That is largely because their left fielder has been every bit as good this year as he was in 2014. The 2015 campaign, injuries aside, saw Brantley hit .310, with 15 bombs and 84 runs driven in. The power numbers are not all that far off a year ago, despite 82 less at bats and 19 less games played.

That it was only a difference of 19 games is a testament to Brantley’s toughness. His back was, reportedly, in agony when this season began. His shoulder was tweaked last week on an all-out defensive play. Most players would have called it a season then. However, Brantley came back to the starting lineup when his team still had a faint postseason pulse at the start of this week.

In two seasons, Brantley has proven himself to be a star and a team leader for the Indians. He has come a long way from being the player to be named later in the trade that saw C.C. Sabathia leave Cleveland for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008. Matt LaPorta was the big name coming back in that trade; Brantley was little known.

These days, LaPorta is out of baseball and Brantley is now an MVP candidate. The only reasons Brantley will not be up for the MVP this season are the 20-plus games he will have missed and the fact that he was not all alone in the Tribe lineup as he sometimes seemed a year ago.

Last season, Brantley appeared to be on an island of his own. He was the only offensive spark on a pitching-dominated team.

This year, Brantley, Cleveland’s number three hitter, has had some help. Leadoff hitter Jason Kipnis was an All-Star this year. Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ number two hitter, is up for A.L. Rookie of the Year. The top of the Tribe’s lineup is actually more ferocious now, rather than a one-man show.

Still, Cleveland would not be anywhere near .500, much less in Wild Card contention, without its star player.

Ever since 2008, Brantley has gradually gotten better. In 2010, he showed he could hold his own in the Majors with a .246 batting average. In 2011, he showed he belonged with a .266 average. In 2012 and 2013, Brantley proved he was a Major League starter, batting .288 and .284, respectively.

Still, entering 2014, he had never hit higher than that .288 and had never belted more than 10 jacks or driven in more than 73 base runners. He had improved each year, yet it was acceptable to wonder if a season ago was a career year.

Now, injuries this year aside, Brantley has proven he not only belongs but that he may truly be a perennial all-star. For a second straight year, Brantley has performed at an all-star level and for a second straight year, he is a major reason the Indians are still alive for a Wild Card spot as September comes to its end.

If there were any questions about Brantley in April, they should be erased by now. The player, whom the Indians gave a good-faith extension to before 2014, has rewarded the club richly.

Fans were angered when Sabathia was traded away more than seven years ago. Looking at the superstar outfielder now here in his place, Cleveland management seems to have made the perfect move.

Brantley is only 28 and will be under team control into his 30s. The Indians have a guy in Brantley who will be their team leader for several seasons at the very least. He is now a proven commodity. He is a player that could lift most Major League Baseball lineups to great heights. He eventually deserves a chance to shine in October. Hopefully, that chance will come with the Indians.

At any rate, Brantley has proven 2014 was not fluke. He is here to stay and is as good, if not better, than he was in his breakout season of one year ago. Indians fans should enjoy watching him as he is as good as they come right now.

Photo: Aaron Josefczyk/Associated Press

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