One of the keys to success for the Indians in 2016 might be how well they do in interleague play. The Tribe plays the worst division in the NL, the East, which contains two teams expected to compete for the number one overall pick. And, of course, the Tribe gets to play Cincinnati, another team that could lose 100 games.
Cincinnati Reds – 64-98 (Last in NL Central)
Projected 2016 Record: 72-90 (per Fangraphs)
Indians lead series, 50-45
The Reds are in rebuilding mode, a common theme among the Indians’ interleague opponents this year. They posted their worst record since 1982 and finished last for the first time since 1983. They traded away third baseman Frazier to the White Sox in December and closer Chapman to the Yankees. They even tried to trade second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Nationals, but the Nationals balked at the last minute.
The Reds offense is led by perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto. Last season, the first baseman hit .314 with 29 home runs and drove in 80. He also led the majors with 143 walks, leading to a .459 OBP. At the top of the Reds’ order is speedster Billy Hamilton, the fastest man in baseball. Now in his third full season, the center fielder is looking to increase his stolen base total again. In 2015 he swiped 57 bags in 114 games, one more than he did in 2014 when he played a full season. Hamilton does need to get on base to justify manager Bryan Price hitting him leadoff, as after 33 games in 2015 he was moved down for his poor performance.
The Ohio Cup will be decided between May 16 and 19 with the Tribe hosting the first two games and the Reds hosting the final two. Cleveland looks to retain the Cup after winning 5 of 6 games last year.
New York Mets – 90-72 (1st in NL East), Lost in WS
Mets lead series, 8-4
Departures: 2B Daniel Murphy
The Indians open interleague play in 2016 with the defending NL champion in town from April 15-17. Luckily, it only gets easier from there for the Tribe. The Mets and Indians have drawn a lot of comparisons in the offseason because both teams feature young, talented starting pitchers. The arms of Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard carried the Mets to the World Series last year. They lost second baseman Murphy in free agency, but replaced him when they traded starter Jon Niese to the Pirates for Walker.
The three-headed dragon of Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard combined for 559 strikeouts and only 106 walks and an ERA of 2.80. They also added 11.6 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Leading the charge was deGrom, striking out 205 and posting an ERA+ of 145 in his sophomore season. Harvey, coming off Tommy John surgery, contributed 188 strikeouts. And Syndergaard finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting after averaging ten strikeouts per nine innings and only allowing 1.9 walks per nine. With any luck, the Tribe will only have to face one of the three.
Pitching alone didn’t take the Mets to the World Series, though. They also happen to have two superstar outfielders in Granderson and Cespedes. Granderson isn’t crushing 40 home runs a year like he did with the Yankees, but he’s still terrifying pitchers. Last year, he only hit .259, but he added 5.1 wins above replacement because of his stellar defense. Cespedes, acquired in a mid-season trade, caught fire while in New York, hitting 17 home runs in just 57 games. After signing a new three-year contract in the off-season, look for him to continue crushing balls in 2016.
Philadelphia Phillies – 63-99 (Last)
Philadelphia leads series, 7-6.
Departures: OF Ben Revere
The Tribe travel to Philadelphia from April 29-May 1 to take on a Phillies team coming off of their worst season in 44 years. Things don’t look to be turning around in Philadelphia, though, as the team is still in rebuilding mode. They expect to start six players on Opening Day with less than five years experience, including center fielder Herrera and third baseman Franco.
Herrera batted .297 in his rookie campaign and he is expected to match that in 2016. He also impressed defensively, adding ten defensive runs saved. Franco was promoted on May 15 and hit .280 with 14 home runs in only 80 games.
The Phillies rotation is a mix of journeymen (Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton) and young arms looking to make an impression (Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez). They look to improve upon a staff that finished last in WAR and home runs and second to last in ERA, WHIP, and batting average against.
Atlanta Braves – 67-95 (4th)
Atlanta leads series, 6-3
At the end of June, the Tribe travels to Atlanta to face the Braves in Turner Field’s final season. The Braves, similar to the Reds and the Phillies, are rebuilding and competing for the number one pick in 2016. This is best evidenced by their trades of starter Miller to the Diamondbacks for prospects Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson and of shortstop Simmons to the Angels for Erick Aybar and prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis.
Leading the Braves offense are the veterans Freeman, Markakis and Pierzynski. Freeman hit .276 in 118 games, smashing 18 home runs and posting an OPS+ of 134. Markakis lacked his usual power in 2015, hitting only three home runs, but posted his highest average since 2012 (.296). Pierzynski, a familiar foe for the Tribe, hit .300 in 113 games last season.
Twenty-five-year-old starter Teheran is expected to spearhead the Braves rotation in 2016. He had a down year last season, posting a 4.04 ERA. His control was terrible as his walks per nine innings increased from 2.1 to 3.3. He still managed to strike out 171 batters in 200 2/3 innings.
Washington Nationals – 83-79 (2nd)
Series tied at 6-6
Additions: CF Ben Revere, 2B Daniel Murphy
The Tribe gets to play four games against Washington, two in late July in Cleveland and two in early August in the nation’s capital. The Nationals under-performed in 2015, failing to make the playoffs in a year many picked them to win the World Series. This led to the firing of manager Matt Williams and the hiring of Dusty Baker in the off-season.
The reason the Nationals are expected to contend again in 2016 is their starting pitching. Just like the Mets, they have three starters who could be the number one in any other rotation in the league. Scherzer led the rotation with 276 strikeouts and a 2.79 ERA. He led the league with an 8.12 strike out-to-walk ratio as well. Phenom Strasburg will be entering his fifth full season, but he’s coming off of his worst, though his worst season means he posted a 3.46 ERA and struck out 155 in 127 1/3 innings (11 K/9). His peripheral numbers indicated he got unlucky as he had a 2.81 FIP and a 1.11 WHIP. Gonzalez was the weak link on the staff last year with a 3.79 ERA, although he did strike out 169 batters in 175 2/3 innings.
The Nationals arguably have the best player in baseball in Harper. The NL MVP posted a career year in 2015, leading the league in runs (118), home runs (42), OBP (.460), SLG (.649), OPS+ (195) and WAR (9.9). The 42 home runs were unexpected for the right fielder, who hadn’t hit more than 22 in his three major league seasons. He also walked 124 times and hit for a .330 average.
Miami Marlins – 71-91 (3rd)
Miami leads series, 9-6
Additions: SP Wei-Yin Chen
To finish out interleague play, the Tribe hosts the Miami Marlins for three games on Labor Day weekend. It’s been six years since the Marlins have posted a winning season, though there is reason for optimism in South Beach. A young core of players will be leading the team for years to come. They might break .500 this year, but the playoffs are still two years away.
The two stars on the Marlins offense are Stanton and Gordon. Stanton hit 27 homers last year even though he missed 88 games due to injury. Stanton also got on base on a .346 clip. Gordon is the lightning to Stanton’s thunder. He swiped 58 bags to go along with a .333 average and a .359 OBP. Twenty-four-year-old left fielder Yelich hopes to build upon his breakout season in 2015, when he hit .300, stole 16 bases and hit seven homers in 126 games.
Young ace Fernandez came back from Tommy John surgery during 2015, pitching 64 2/3 innings in eleven starts. The Marlins expect him and new acquisition Chen to lead their pitching staff in 2016.
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