This time last season, the Indians were 6.5 games ahead of second-place Detroit, with 52 wins at the All-Star break. This season is far different from the AL Champions of a year ago.
The party at Napoli’s is over, and in his place is a better bat in the lineup, Edwin Encarnacion. Jose Ramirez has come forth as a legitimate MVP-caliber player. Michael Brantley is healthy for the first time in a long time. The pitching staff, well, is not the same.
This season, Encarnacion signed a huge deal to be the big bat in the Tribe lineup. He has delivered with 18 dingers and driving in 48. However, he is overshadowed by the All-Stars that bat before and after him in the order.
Jose Ramirez is starting in the All-Star Game this year and may be the best third baseman in the American League this season. He leads all third basemen in average this season (by 48 points!) and is the only man at the hot corner with a slugging percentage over .661. He is having an unbelievable year batting behind the newcomer from Toronto.
Michael Brantley is coming back to form this season, making up for slow starts from Frankie Lindor and Jason Kipnis. A healthy Yan Gomes is doing what he does best behind the plate, and leading a lot of people to think that it may come down to the Tribe and the ‘Stros in late October.
A host of Indians can lay claim to this spot. Defensively, Bradley Zimmer is turning in highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis. Gomes is the best defensive catcher in baseball. Carlos Santana is turning into a Gold Glove caliber man at first, and Frankie Lindor leads a star-studded shortstop position when it comes to fielding.
Offensively, it is Jose Ramirez. There is not much question here. He is the catalyst in this lineup. Whatever Brantley and Encarnacion cannot bring in, Ramirez normally does. That being said, some love has to go to Lonnie Chisenhall. Chinsenhall leads the Tribe with 51 RBIs batting in the sixth spot (or below). He should have deserved some All-Star consideration this season, but a host of big names kept him from being named to Miami.
As good as the offense and defense have been, the Indians’ best player is Cory Kluber. In the Month of June, he went 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 64 strikeouts. That includes a June 9th complete game, three-hitter he threw in Baltimore. Kluber would have started the All-Star Game this season for the American League, and will be right there with Chris Sale for Al Cy Young consideration at season’s end.
Three guys should be considered for this, but it is really only down between two. Jason Kipnis missed all of Spring Training with injuries. After an extremely slow start, he is beginning to come around and has taken his name off of this list. While he looks to be having a low point in his career statistically, I have faith he will turn it around.
The worst may be a tie between two pitchers, but injuries have determined it is Josh Tomlin. Tomlin has not been good this season. In his 17 starts, he is 5-9 with an ERA of almost six (5.90). However, he is the fifth starter for this club, who was put into a higher leverage situation when Salazar was hurt. Tomlin has given up a team-high 121 hits in just 93 innings pitched. He has also been bitten by the long ball a team-high 17 times.
Danny Salazar is the other who deserves consideration for his work. Although injuries have seen him struggle, in his 10 starts, he is 3-5 with an ERA at 5.40. He is on pace for his worst year to date. He, or Tomlin, may be the odd men out if Cleveland deals for a hurler before the deadline.
Needs at the Deadline
The Indians, like so many others at the deadline, will be in the market for a pitcher. They are pretty much set everywhere else. They might look at some insurance in the corner infield in the event of an injury, but with Encarnacion being able to play at first, and super utility man Lonnie Chisenhall having the ability to move all over the place, it would be a depth move.
The Tribe need to shore up the back half of their rotation. While Kluber and Carrasco make one of the best 1-2 punches at the top of the rotation, there is no guarantee Salazar can return to the form he had last season. Tomlin and Trevor Bauer do not look like they are going to be around very long in the rotation unless they improve. Mike Clevinger is a good young pitcher, who if he can put all of it together with the help of Tribe pitching coach Mickey Calloway, could fill one of those spots.
They might jettison a reliever to get an innings eater before the end of July. The Indians have the best bullpen in the majors, and a team may be willing to acquire one of the guys in the Cleveland bullpen.
Second half prediction
The Indians are 2.5 games up on the second place Twins. It is unknown if Minnesota will be hanging around the top of the division when the days get shorter this season. They are young and hungry ball club, but are not built for a run at the postseason. The White Sox have fallen off of the map this season after starting hot. The Tigers look to be sellers this deadline. That leaves Kansas City. They will be the team that will stand in the way of the Indians repeating at Al Central champs. However, unless KC can turn a bunch of things around, this is Cleveland’s division to lose.
By the time the 162nd game is played, you will have two Indians pitchers in the hunt for a Cy Young, Bradley Zimmer will be a finalist for a Gold Glove, and Jose Ramirez will get votes for MVP.
As far as the playoffs go, The Indians will probably be the division winner with the worst record. The Astros have all but clinched the West and the Yankees and Red Sox are running away with the East. I like the way the Tribe match up against New York. You will see the Astros and Indians in the ALCS. Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess. This team has as good a chance as any to bring a World Series victory to Cleveland. Let’s just hope there isn’t an Edgar Renteria or a rain delay this time.
Think I'm wrong? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments.