Well, this was unexpected. Heading into the postseason, the Cleveland Indians were heavily favored to win the World Series and redeem themselves after blowing a 3-1 series lead in last year’s Fall Classic. Alas, history repeated itself after the Indians blew a commanding 2-0 series lead over the New York Yankees. After breaking the American League win-streak record, perhaps the Indians couldn’t get any better. But there’s always room for improvement when you don’t win it all. Here are five things the Cleveland Indians can do to advance to the ALCS next year.
1 Add depth in the bullpen
It sounds crazy to try an improve a bullpen comprised of Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith, and the ever-dangerous Andrew Miller but after watching their series against the Yankees, it's become clear the Indians need to add more to their formidable bullpen if they wish to take their season one step further.
Following Trevor Bauer's fantastic start in Game One, the Indians starters in the next four games combined for only 13.2 IP with a 4.26 ERA, and that's including Carlos Carrasco's performance in Game 3 in which he threw 5.2 scoreless innings. This resulted in Indians manager Terry Francona having to turn to his overworked relievers time after time, which resulted in tired arms and ultimately a series loss.
A problem like this can be solved by adding another reliever to bolster their bullpen. With Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith heading for free agency and Andrew Miller only having one more year on his contract, the Indians could lose three of their four impact arms. The free agent market for pitchers this year doesn't open a lot of eyes as far as relievers go, but there are still a few names that can still get the job done for the Indians such as Addison Reed, Francisco Liriano, and Luke Gregerson
2 Bring in Lorenzo Cain
The Indians' starting outfield in the postseason was rather unspectacular as Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, and a recently re-located Jason Kipnis combined for a .225 batting average with two home runs and five runs batted in. With Bruce and Jackson headed for free agency and Michael Brantley's constant injury concerns, it's important for the Indians to add an impact bat to their lineup.
While Lorenzo Cain may not be as outstanding as fellow free agent outfielder J. D. Martinez, he presents incredible production from a defensive standpoint. Cain has a career fielding percentage of .985 with over 100 defensive runs saved.
3 A consistent and healthy Danny Salazar
Danny Salazar has shown that he can be one of the better pitchers in the American League, yet has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency all throughout his career. He missed much of the 2017 season, only starting 19 games and appearing in four as a reliever while posting a 5-6 record with a career-worst 4.28 ERA. This forced the Indians to use an abundance of starters including Mike Clevinger, Ryan Merritt, and Josh Tomlin. Salazar's best season came in 2015 when he put together an impressive 14-10 record and a 3.45 ERA on an Indians squad that won 81 games, showing he can become a deadly weapon for Cleveland next season.
4 Extend Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is arguably the best reliever in baseball, his combination of velocity and movement can leave the best of hitters looking foolish. The Indians acquired Miller from the New York Yankees at the 2016 trade deadline and he is due for a big payday when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. He will definitely gain interest from a lot of teams so it's important for the Indians to extend his contract and lock him up for a few more years, as the former postseason MVP has been a huge part of the Indians' recent success.
5 A healthy Michael Brantley
Michael Brantley has to be a key part of the Indians if they wish to be successful in 2018. The former AL MVP finalist finished 2017 with a .299 batting average, nine home runs, and 52 RBIs, yet his impact was lesser known due to him only appearing in 90 games after multiple stints on the disabled list. The 30-year-old outfielder has only played over 150 games twice in his career yet continues to rake. He's slashing .292/.349/.423 over his nine-year career. If Brantley is healthy, he can spearhead the Indians lineup and help it become one of the most feared in baseball.
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