The long nightmare in Cleveland almost came to an end last year, but instead the team just found a way to make their fans suffer even more. They made the World Series and then opened up a 3-1 lead against the Cubs. Many had planned the parade route and started chilling the champagne. But then, because they are the Indians, they lost three straight and took over the mantle from the Cubs of the MLB team with the longest championship drought. They haven't won since 1948. Luckily, fans can have some hope that they will be positioned to end that drought this year. Last year was no fluke, and all they did in the offseason was get better.
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Cleveland won 94 games last year to run away with the AL Central and to post the second-best record in the AL behind only Texas. If they were to come close to matching that record this year then they would handily make the postseason again. So, the obvious question is will they? There is one key difference from last year, though. Last April few tabbed them to win the division before the season started, never mind the pennant. Now the expectations are much higher. Can their shoulders stand up to the weight?
Indians 2017 Projected Lineup
The Indians celebrated their AL Championship, and the revenue that came with it, by going out and signing slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the biggest contract in team history in the offseason. The former Toronto slugger will primarily only play DH, but he's a serious bat with lots of life left, so at least early in the contract he'll be a real positive. That's not the only injection the roster gets. Michael Brantley, arguably the team's best player, played only 11 games last season in an injury-riddled mess of a year. He may not be completely ready out of the gate this year, but he's expected to contribute early and often. Brantley is rehabbing from his second shoulder surgery in the last year, but he has been playing simulated games lately and could be back within a month. With him likely hitting one spot ahead of Encarnacion in third, opposing pitchers will be in for some rough days.
Outside of the addition of Encarnacion, the return of Brantley, and the departure of Mike Napoli to make way for Encarnacion, the roster stands as it did last year. And it should be a very good roster - vying with the Astros and the Red Sox for the most productive in the league. Most promising of all is that Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin are all coming off strong years, and Naquin is the oldest of the bunch at 25. There is room to grow for all of them, and if the positive experience of last year built confidence then they could take a step forward.
There are obvious concerns - can Encarnacion deal with a new environment and can Brantley get healthy? When you weigh it all up, though, this is a roster that is easy to expect big things from and which doesn't particularly make me nervous. We can expect the Indians to score a whole lot of runs.
Indians 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
Remember, the team not only made their playoff run without Brantley but also without two starting pitchers - Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were out. Corey Kluber is the unquestioned ace, but those two stack up next to him in the pecking order, so their healthy returns are a big boost for this team. Kluber is coming off a strong year and a very heavy postseason workload - he started on short rest three times. That was a long time ago, though, so we can only hope that the arm is fresh and ready to go this year. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin likely round out the rotation to start the season, with Danny Clevinger, who the team trusts when needed, in the pen and ready to make starts when he has to. It's obviously not the best rotation in the American League, but it is certainly solid, and there is no reason to think that it isn't sufficient to get the Indians where they want to be.
The bullpen is what got the Indians as far as they went in the playoffs, and it is, if anything, improved this year. The headliners are the same - Cody Allen closes, with Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw setting him up. There isn't a better late-inning trio in baseball. The offseason success included adding the very underrated Boone Logan from Colorado as a middle relief workhorse that is especially good against left-handed hitters and Hoby Milner as an intriguing youngster from Philadelphia who should be able to eat up some innings in long relief. Dan Otero returns as well and is a guy who doesn't get nearly the attention he deserves. They have a very strong bullpen, and in Terry Francona they have the best bullpen manager there is.
Indians Futures Odds
The Indians are at +375 to win the American League at BetOnline , which has them behind only Boston at +325. At +700 to win the World Series they are tied with the Dodgers behind Boston and the Cubs. They are overwhelming -350 favorites to win the division. They are viewed clearly as elite contenders and will sneak up on no one this year.
Encarnacion is among the top tier of contender for the home run crown at +1200. Lindor, at +1600, is the seventh-most-popular bet to be MVP. And oddsmakers really like the rotation - Kluber is the second choice at +300 behind only Chris Sale to win the Cy Young, and Carrasco (+1000) and Salazar (+4000) are among the contenders, too.
Indians 2017 Predictions
What's not to like? With their depth, talent, leadership and balance they are going to be a strong team as long as they stay healthy and happy. It should be a foregone conclusion that they win the division, and they should be able to mix it up with anyone in the playoffs. The season win total sits at 93.5 games. While I don't see any real value in the "over," they should certainly be right in the range of that number. It will be a disappointment this year if they don't at least return to the ALCS, and they have as good a shot as anyone of going all the way.
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