After a long winter of cost-cutting and public relations nightmares in Cleveland, there is finally some baseball to talk about as the Indians meet up with their chief division rivals, the Minnesota Twins, in their first official games without their Chief Wahoo on their caps and sleeves.
The latter would not be such an issue if Tribe players took the Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn approach to pitching, but players still wear caps and sleeves at this level, son.
As the Indians’ window of opportunity slowly closes (despite efforts to jam that window open), the Twins (78-84 in 2018) hope that they can get all of the pieces in order to strike through and grab their first claim of the American League Central since 2010. In order to do so, they are going to need some quality pitching from a rotation and bullpen that is not as strong as others around the league. Their lineup, to their credit, added a Boom Stick in the winter and brought in several other pieces that should make it one of the better starting nines in the league.
The Indians played addition by subtraction this offseason. While they slashed budget to help offset salary increases and arbitration-related raises to the stars on the roster, the team did little else, losing in the court of public opinion. They made one notable free agent signing to bring back a relief arm for the bullpen and snagged the 25th man on the roster as a non-roster minor league signing with Spring Training already under way. The biggest move by the club was trading for Carlos Santana for the second time, adding the familiar face back into the middle of the lineup after the switch-hitting slugger spent one year out of town in the City of Brotherly Love.
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Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network; Treasure Island Baseball Network
The Indians own a 1,149-1,006 record all-time against the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins in the long history between the two clubs. This includes a 520-555 mark when playing as the visitor. The series has been a little less lopsided since the Twins began their time in Minnesota in 1961, as the Indians hold a slight 440-412 advantage overall and trail on the road, 223-203.
Cleveland has won the season series in each of the last three seasons and five times out of the last six. Last season’s matchup came down to the final game, when the Indians defeated the Twins, 5-3, to take the series ten games to nine. The Indians were hurt in the overall matchup by a five-game losing skid against their chief division rival in June.
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Tyler Clippard (RP) – assigned to minor league camp (3/28)
Carlos Gonzalez (RF) – assigned to minor league camp (3/28)
Jason Kipnis (2B) – 10-day injured list (3/28); right calf strain
Francisco Lindor (SS) – 10-day injured list (3/28); right calf strain, sprained left ankle
Dioner Navarro (C) – assigned to minor league camp (3/28)
Hanley Ramirez (DH) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (3/28)
Danny Salazar (P) – 60-day injured list (3/24); right shoulder rehab
Ben Taylor (RP) – designated for assignment (3/28)
Bradley Zimmer (OF) – 10-day injured list (3/28); right shoulder rehab
Ryne Harper (RP) – contract purchased from Triple-A Rochester (3/27)
Matt Magill (RP) – 10-day injured list (3/27); right shoulder tendinitis
Gabriel Moya (RP) – 10-day injured list (3/27); left shoulder tendinitis
Addison Reed (RP) – 10-day injured list (3/27); left thumb sprain
Miguel Sano (3B) – 10-day injured list (3/27); right heal laceration
Ronald Torreyes (2B) – optioned to Triple-A Rochester (3/27)
BUILDING FOR THE PRESENT
TWINS’ KEY SUBTRACTIONS: RP Matt Belisle, P Alan Busenitz, RP Oliver Drake, OF Johnny Field, 2B Logan Forsythe, C Chris Gimenez, OF Zack Granite, OF Robbie Grossman, OF Jeremy Hazelbaker, 1B Joe Mauer (retired), 1B Logan Morrison, IF Gregorio Petit, OF Michael Reed, SP Ervin Santana, P Aaron Slegers, 1B Kennys Vargas
Cruz brings his Boom Stick to Target Field while hoping to remain as productive as possible. The 38-year-old slugger has hit 37 homers or more in each of the last five seasons, including the last four in Seattle with the Mariners. Gonzalez will provide rookie manager Rocco Baldelli with a versatile weapon and significant lineup flexibility. Cron was a big bopper for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018, but he was curiously cut loose by the club and picked up by the Twins in a waiver claim in the offseason. Schoop will play for his third club in the last nine months after splitting time with Baltimore and Milwaukee last year. An early oblique injury tapped into his efforts at the plate throughout the year, and he will hope to return to his 2017 All-Star form now fully recovered from the pesky ailment.
The Twins’ outfield is their biggest strength, where the club will run Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler from left to right. Rosario put up a second straight strong season for the Twins in 2018, nearly replicating his exact numbers from the season before. Buxton bulked up over the winter, adding on pounds that appeared to show this spring, when he was tied for the team lead in homers with four while leading the club in runs batted in. Kepler was rewarded for his performance last year with a five-year contract extension in February.
QUEST FOR ANOTHER CENTRAL CROWN
INDIANS’ KEY SUBTRACTIONS: CL Cody Allen, 1B Yonder Alonso, LF Michael Brantley, OF Melky Cabrera, OF Lonnie Chisenhall, OF Rajai Davis, 3B Yandy Diaz, 3B Josh Donaldson, DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion, C Yan Gomes, UTL Erik Gonzalez, OF Brandon Guyer, RP Andrew Miller, P Josh Tomlin
The Indians were heavily criticized by many over the winter for the lack of moves to improve the club. Instead, the front office sought to shred money from the payroll books, making money moves to help out in the future. The organization has spent big bucks in recent seasons, but two quick ousters in the American League Division Series in 2017 and 2018 may have hurt the team’s willingness to spend big.
As it stands, the Indians remain a favorite to win the AL Central again, even with so few beneficial moves being made to improve the club. The Tribe still boasts one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, with three different starters with Cy Young votes returning to the mound at the top of the rotation. Mike Clevinger is a sleeper pick to garner votes this season, with big things still expected from Shane Bieber out of the fifth spot. The bullpen is rebuilt around last season’s trade deadline addition Brad Hand, who will serve as the team’s closer after making back-to-back All-Star teams with the San Diego Padres the last two years. The relief corps around him, however, is not as established and may see plenty of moving parts as the year goes on.
The Indians will have to absorb the early losses of Kipnis and Lindor from the lineup and will be looking for Jose Ramirez to bounce back from a disappointing second half. Even with the down numbers as pitchers appeared to take a different approach to him in the batter’s box, Ramirez finished third in the AL MVP voting for the second straight year. He finished 2018 with a .270/.387/.552 slash in 157 games with 38 doubles, four triples, 39 homers, and 105 RBI. He set new career highs in games played, plate appearances, runs scored, homers, RBI, stolen bases, OBP, hit by pitches, sacrifice flies, and intentional walks, and he more than doubled his previous career best in walks.
Eric Stamets, the 27-year-old Dublin, Ohio, product, will get the start for the Indians at shortstop in Lindor’s absence. It will mark his Major League debut.
The Indians will return home after their season opening road trip to the Twin Cities to host the Chicago White Sox in a pair of afternoon games on Monday and Wednesday. Right-handers Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber are expected to start the two contests. The Toronto Blue Jays will follow the Twins into town, playing four straight with the Tribe beginning Thursday night.
The Twins will take Monday off before starting a two-game trip to Kansas City where they will face the Royals. Their schedule, which includes an abundance of early off days, will continue on Friday when they play their first two interleague series of the season against the new look Philadelphia Phillies and a two-game set in New York with the Mets beginning Tuesday, April 9.
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