As the Indians season is about the begin, some of the Cleveland Sports Talk writers came together to discuss some important questions headed into Opening Day, including their season predictions.

Who will be the X-factor for the Indians this season?

Kyle Shuki: Michael Brantley would be a popular answer here, but last year’s offense showed they can perform without him. My X-Factor is the starting rotation. When they’re healthy, they are a top five rotation in the league. When they aren’t, they will struggle as a whole. Kluber and Bauer have been healthy in past years but Salazar, Carrasco and Tomlin are wild cards. Barring any unforeseen injuries for Salazar and Tomlin, they should be good to go this year, but Carrasco’s elbow injury concerns me.  If they can all average around 28 starts, this year should be another great one.

Meagan Berneaud: I believe the X-factor for this Indians this season will be Carlos Santana. Last season we heavily relied on Mike Napoli and with him being gone, I believe Santana is going to increase his talent and pick up where Napoli left off. He’ll bring strength and leadership to this team for the season.

Christian Hinton: The X-Factor in my mind would have to be Francisco Lindor. While Michael Brantley may be the most talented player on the team, Lindor is definitely the face of the franchise. It seems when he does well, the whole team does well. Look for Lindor to really make a case for best shortstop in not only the AL but the whole MLB.

Who is the Indians biggest competition for the World Series?

Chris Sladoje: It has to be the Red Sox, the only team in the AL that can match the Indians pitch for pitch. Just look at their top of the rotation of Chris Sale, Rich Porcello and David Price. All three of those guys have been or could be in the Cy Young discussion. Even without David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup, this is still a team that can out-slug you and Mookie Betts is going to be a perennial MVP-candidate from here on out. Their outfield is so good that Betts, one of the better fielders in the game, is being pushed to right field because they have all-world glove man, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center. Throw in top prospect Andrew Benintendi to that mix and the Sox will be loaded for years to come. I chose to avoid the Cubs here, just simply because the Red Sox are in the AL and represent a bigger roadblock to a Tribe World Series run.

Connor Kelley: The Indians biggest competition in the league this year is the Boston Red Sox With their acquisition of Chris Sale this offseason, it gives them another ace-caliber pitcher on the roster. This could have a devastating effect on them this season in a playoff series. This could give the Indians trouble on offense against them and make it hard to get into a rhythm for the rest of the series.

Jason Urbanija: The Boston Red Sox are the obvious answer. Following the Tribe’s ALDS sweep of them back in October, this team will be hungry. They made multiple key additions to their roster this offseason and figure to be one of the top teams in baseball, posing the biggest threat to the Indians’ bid at returning to the Fall Classic.

Whose injury concerns worry you the most: Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis or Carlos Carrasco?

CS: Despite all signs pointing to a healthy Brantley in the Opening Day lineup, there’s just something that has me worried. Maybe the way he was handled last year has jaded me some, but until I see Brantley stay in the lineup consistently and for more than 11 games, I just don’t believe he can stay healthy.

CK: The Jason Kipnis injury is by far the most concerning to me by far. These kinds of throwing shoulder injuries can linger and have a big impact on production throughout the year. He was a huge contributor on both offense and defense but his absence could rob us of a World Series this year.

JU: All three are concerning. However, Carlos Carrasco is a major key for the Tribe’s starting rotation. I firmly believe that if he was healthy for the World Series, we’re talking about a repeat right now. If he can stay as close to 100% as possible for the majority of this season, him and Kluber will deliver a nearly unbeatable one-two punch at the top of the rotation.

What will be better for the Indians this season, the pitching or the offense?

KS: This one was a close one, but for the first time in years, it goes to the offense.  Look at the lineup: Lindor, Ramirez, Kipnis, Encarnacion, Santana, Gomes, Chisenhall, Naquin and Brantley. Wow, who is the weak link there? Gomes is primed to bounce back, but if he doesn’t, Roberto Perez is serviceable as well. Don’t forget about the left-handed destroyer, Brandon Guyer. By year’s end, expect this lineup to rival the Cubs as one of the best in Major League Baseball.

MB: I think at the end of last season, especially during postseason, we relied on our offense as our pitching was beaten down to the point where we had fingers bleeding on the field, pitchers injured and one apparently shaking in his boots. (Clearly, he proved everyone wrong and got everything on his wedding registry bought.) I think this season it’s going to be a 50/50 teamwork deal. We will rely on our offense majority of the time but when it comes to games against better teams, our pen will come out and bring a better game than our offense.

CH: This is a hard question to answer, but I would argue the Indians have the strongest lineup in the league. Our pitching staff is great, but I would say our bullpen is the best in the AL, not our starting rotation. The Indians offense was good simply off of almost good luck and chemistry last season. However, this year it seems we have a chance to be the highest scoring offense not only in the AL but whole MLB.

Who will be the Indians MVP?

KS: Easy, it’s Francisco Lindor. Lindor is a Gold Glove winning shortstop who is a polished hitter this early in his career. He is a team leader and the leader of the infield. I predict Lindor to hit above .300 and come close to 20 home runs. He will get his fair share of RBI’s but he will have 25-30 stolen bases. His glove is nearly flawless and this makes him an all-around great player.

CS: Corey Kluber. In a rotation full of potential injury question marks, Kluber remains the rock that holds it all together. We’ve seen this team perform without top hitters in the lineup, and even if (God forbid) Francisco Lindor ended up on the DL, the Indians have capable replacements for him. But Kluber, if he were to go down for any amount of time would put the Indians in big trouble. It’s for that reason alone, he’s my Indians MVP.

MB: I bet we all want to say it, Edwin Encarnacion. His 2016 stats with the Blue Jays are straight through the roof with 42 home runs and 127 RBI. But, I think Santana is going to give him a run for his money for MVP. Both are incredible players and are nearly on the same level of stats so it will be interesting to see which one of these two will take the title.

CH: The Indians MVP will most certainly be Edwin Encarnacion. He will most likely be our biggest contributor on offense and may even be an MVP candidate by the time the year comes to an end.

CK: If Francisco Lindor has a year he is capable of producing then he will be the Indians MVP. He is one of the best if not the best all-around shortstops in the game. He is an excellent fielder on defense and can get on base consistently and can hit a homer now and then. He will be the X-factor this year and if he produces the way he should, he will be the best player on the roster.

JU: I could probably reel off eight names that could be the Tribe’s best player in 2017, but I’ll keep it to two. One pitcher and one position player. The pitcher, Corey “Klubot” Kluber. This guy is about as close you can get to automatic in terms of a starter in the MLB. With the addition of a true power hitter in Edwin Encarnacion, Kluber may have the best offense he has ever had providing him with quality run support. And that’s dangerous. I expect Kluber to not only to be our best pitcher but the best in the American League. A Cy Young season is in order. The position player, Frankie Lindor. You talk about a guy that can do it all in terms of hitting, fielding and baserunning, Francisco Lindor is that guy. He is perhaps the best all-around shortstop in all of baseball and he is only in his third season. Expect huge things from him this year.

Season Prediction

KS: Unlike years past, the Indians will come in firing in the early parts of the season. We could see a slip in performance a little after the All-Star break, but that will quickly change. 100 win is not out of the question, but 92-95 seems reasonable. The Indians will go into the playoffs with a healthy team and get to the World Series again. They will most likely face the Cubs there and this time the result will be different. This year, the Cubs will have the banged-up rotation and that will allow the Indians to win their first World Series since 1948 in six games. (Corey Kluber may even smile after they win it all.)

CS: I had this down in my Season Preview article, so I’ll keep it consistent here as well. 100 wins, a AL Central title and a return trip to the World Series. This time, however; the Indians beat the Cubs in seven.

MB: I can see us making it back to postseason but it’s not going to be easy.

CH: I have the Indians winning upwards of 95-100 games. They could honestly win 85 and lead the central, but I have a feeling they will be out for blood all year. As for the playoffs, I have them facing Boston in the ALCS. I will not make any predictions past that point, but let’s just say I have a feeling they will be competing for another World Series.

CK: This will be the year the Indians finally break the curse. They have all the tools, great pitching, great defense and a high-powered offense. This team is the best team in baseball and needs to show early in the season they are the team to beat. The Indians are more than capable this year and if they stay healthy, this could be the year.

JU: Plan for a parade in November, Cleveland. This team is poised and ready to get back to the World Series, and this time, finish the job. The only thing that can derail them, is themselves.

 

Thanks for reading our first roundtable of the season! More to come in the future!

 

Images via: ESPN and MLB.com

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