To a lot of Indians fans, the pain of losing the 2016 World Series is still fresh. Knowing the team was so close to winning and ending what was then the second-longest championship drought in the majors was such a big deal to Clevelanders. Combine that with the loss in the 1995 and 1997 World Series and the disappointment of last year’s ALDS, fans are sick of coming up short in the end.
Fast forward to the 2018 season and this Indians team has the makings of being a World Series winner. Don’t shoot the messenger, but this team just might be better than last year’s team that featured three pitchers to win at least 17 games each, an MVP candidate in the lineup and just so happened to set the longest uninterrupted win streak in MLB history with 22 consecutive wins.
Just last week, the only weakness the team had, arguably, was solved when top prospect C/OF Francisco Mejia was traded to the San Diego Padres for RHP Adam Cimber and a 2018 All-Star closer in Brad Hand. With this trade, the Indians virtually have no excuse to win right now. If you include the addition of Hand to the bullpen, Cleveland has seven players that appeared in the All-Star game just last Tuesday. That total jumps to a whopping 13 players if you include players currently on the roster that have appeared in the Midsummer Classic in any previous year.
Among those former All-Stars includes LHP Andrew Miller who is currently battling a recurring injury and making his way back into the bullpen. Despite his shaky rehab appearance this week with the Akron Rubberducks in Double-A, Miller is determined to get back as soon as next week.
“It’s as good as I’ve felt in a long time,” Miller said. “Yeah, the results weren’t good, but I think, honestly, I threw the ball pretty well at the start of it. I gave up two really weak infield singles. The wheels really fell off after that.”
When healthy, Miller (14.4 K/9), along with Hand (25 saves, 3.02 ERA) and incumbent closer Cody Allen (20 saves in 22 opportunities), will make one of the deadliest bullpens in the majors and will be a major factor once the playoffs come around when dominant bullpens are a must in today’s game, just look at the Yankees and the Red Sox.
While Hand is under team control until 2021, Miller, Allen and OF Michael Brantley will be free agents after the season is over. All three have enjoyed successful stints in an Indians uniform and will look to end what could be their final year in Cleveland with a championship ring.
After team management committed to Brantley for the 2018 season, he has not let them down by hitting .300/.347/.477 through the first 90 games and appearing in his third career All-Star game. In a way, Brantley’s return to offensive prominence has almost acted as an addition since he was not healthy for the team’s run to the World Series in 2016. Over Brantley’s past 180 games (Brantley played in only 90 games in 2017), his triple slash line is .300/.352/.462 with 21 home runs and 109 RBI. Brantley is certainly a key to the team’s overall success.
Of course, this team’s offense is lead by offensive juggernauts in 3B Jose Ramirez and SS Francisco Lindor. Through 100 games each, the pair combine for a .296/.386/.592 triple slash line with 55 homers, 133 RBI and 64 extra base hits. After a disappointing ALDS last season, these two have raised the stakes in a succeeding attempt to right their wrongs from last October.
Offense shouldn’t be a problem down the stretch for this team. The 2018 Indians currently rank first in the AL in stolen bases, third in doubles and batting average and fourth in runs scored, home runs and on-base percentage. As mentioned earlier, the only glaring problem was the bullpen and the additions of Hand and Cimber for only one prospect should prove to be the difference.
Should the team want to get better, there have been talks around the league that the Indians, along with the Phillies, are in the lead to land the services of Orioles OF Adam Jones. A five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner in center field, Jones would instantly be an offensive and defensive upgrade over the current outfielders on the roster. If you take away Lonnie Chisenhall‘s .321 AVG in 84 at-bats, Jones’ .277 AVG and .304 OBP is what the Indians need to stabilize the outfield.
One downgrade of note is that Jones is in his age-32 season and hasn’t had the offensive production he is used to having but, currently in a contract year, Jones will be a free agent in the offseason and the team can let him walk if he does not pan out. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Orioles haven’t yet approached Jones about waiving his no-trade clause, but that doesn’t mean a trade won’t happen, so keep an eye on how the Indians approach the fast-approaching trade deadline (July 31).
Anchored by the talents of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer in the rotation and Lindor, Ramirez and Brantley in the lineup, this team is poised to win its third World Series title this year and the excuses as why they won’t need to go out of the window. The Indians are only one game behind of the record they held through the first 101 games last year but must get better on the road as a 23-25 record will not go over well when the games really matter.
Looking ahead to potential playoff matchups, the team is 2-2 against the Yankees, 3-4 against the Houston Astros and will have two series against the Boston Red Sox later this year. These upcoming games will be the true test as to how good this team really is. Despite lackluster records, these teams can be beat.
It’s only a matter of time until a new champion is crowned and I don’t know about you, but my money is on the team with Chief Wahoo on their caps. Enough waiting for next year and making excuses, 2018 is the year the Indians need to put it all together because Cleveland is tired of anything less than first place.