Following Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, the Indians find themselves at 6-3 and currently in second place in the AL central. The win also capped an impressive four-game sweep of the Blue Jays and ended their season opening six-game home stand 5-3.
One week into the 2019 season and the Indians are in a pretty decent spot. Despite some early hiccups in the season opening series against the Twins, things are going well. In fact, given the circumstances, things could be much worse for the Indians.
Alright, I know what you’re thinking. Nine games over the course of 11 days comes out to more than a week. That’s true, but for the sake of this exercise I’m calling it a week. Sue me. Between the season starting on a Thursday and all of the subsequent post Opening Day off days, this is essentially the first full week of the season. So yes, I’m calling it a week.
So, how should we feel about the Indians following this admittedly small sample size of nine games? I feel like I summed it up perfectly on Twitter following Sunday’s game.
So I realize that technically it’s been 9 games and a little more than a week, but I’d say “after the first week of the season” there are some areas of concern, but overall there’s more to like about this Indians team than to not like.— Always The Jake (@alwaysthejake) April 7, 2019
After an uninspiring winter of non-signings and a concerning spring training full of injuries and near misses to their best players, no one would, or should have been surprised if this team started the year off 3-6 and in the beginning stages of an early season swoon that could have long lasting implications over the course of the season.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, the Indians are doing what we have become accustom to them doing over the past 6 seasons under Terry Francona… winning.
So what are a few of the key takeaways after the first three series of the year?
The Offense is a Work In Progress
After losing several key pieces to their lineup – Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Yan Gomes, just to name a few – the Indians offense in 2019 was not going to break any records. However, the loss of both Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis to injury to start the season has exposed just how much they will be relied on going forward.
Roberto Perez, for all the quality things he does behind the plate with the pitching staff, still has a lot to prove offensively. Can he be even serviceable as a full-time backstop offensively?
In the outfield, it’s a work in progress Jake Bauers, a work in progress Tyler Naquin (who I will forever Stan for), a work in progress Greg Allen, a work in progress Jordan Luplow (sensing a pattern yet), and Leonys Martin, who while a proven commodity, is literally only months removed from his death bed.
Jose is once again off to his usual slow start offensively, .194/.235/.258. He should come around just as he always does. But, in a year when the offensive fire power is lacking, a slow start is not what the Indians needed.
Hanley Ramirez has been a pleasant surprise thus far in his return to big league action. With two home runs, four runs batted in and a .384 OBP, he has helped fill out the middle of the order quite nicely.
Meanwhile, Carlos Santana looks like the second coming of Ted Williams in his return to Cleveland. With a .419/.486/.581 slash line and a team leading eight runs batted in, Santana is officially off to his hottest start ever. He’s been his usual patient self at the plate, but it’s the focus on using all parts of the field that has really stood out. If he can keep this approach going, this could be a monster season for him.
Lineups, Lineups, and More Lineups
Piggybacking off of the previous point, it’s becoming ever more evident that Terry Francona still doesn’t have a good read on who or what his team is. This is evident by the fact that the Indians have seemingly had a different lineup every day of the season so far.
While some spots seem to be locked in either by necessity or having no better options, other spots have been a revolving door.
For instance, Leonys Martin appears to be Francona’s chosen lead-off guy, at least for the time being. Santana and Hanley Ramirez also appear to be locks in the 4th and 5th spots respectively.
Jose Ramirez, while serving as the team’s primary #3 hitter over the past two seasons, has consistently been penciled in the 2-hole. It’s hard to get a good read on how or why this came to be. Given the current situation, I don’t see a reasonable explanation why this change happened, especially considering the third spot in the lineup seems to have a different warm body occupying it every day. So far this season we’ve seen Bauers, Luplow, and Naquin each have a shot.
One possible explanation is that once Lindor returns from injury the third spot is his rather than his usual lead-off duties. Another consideration is that upon Lindor’s return, he slots in at the top spot and shifts Martin and Ramirez each down a spot.
Additionally, the return of both Kipnis and Lindor should help lengthen the lineup and alleviate some offensive pressure from the like of Perez, Naquin, Allen, Luplow, etc.
Help May Be On the Way
Prior to the start of the seasons, the Indians signed veteran outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Cameron Maybin. Both are currently getting into game shape with the Clippers down in Columbus. It remains to be seen how and when the Indians may choose to utilize either of these veteran outfielders. Once they are up to speed, it’s entirely possible they are called up in favor of one of the younger, less seasoned outfielders on the roster.
In addition to the newl signed veterans, the Indians also have the option to go younger. While, I don’t expect this to be a realistic option given the potential future financial implications of calling up young talent early, there are alternatives here. Oscar Mercado, Yu Chang, Eric Haase, or Booby Bradley could all get an opportunity given the right set of circumstances unfolds. Stay tuned.
The Best Starting Rotation in Baseball
For your viewing pleasure, here’s Clevinger mowing through the Blue Jays.
The Bullpen… Maybe Good, Maybe Not?
With this few innings under their belt, it’s hard to know at all whether or not the bullpen will be any good. All we can really go off of is past performance. In that regard, things look promising.
Brad Hand is set as the team’s full-time closer. This comes to the surprise of no one. It’s what he was brought here to do last July in a trade with the Padres. In five appearances he has already racked up four saves and looked good doing it.
The real question for the Indians is how are they going to effectively get the ball to Hand in the ninth with a lead? Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are gone. Right now, the most likely choices seem to be Adam Cimber, Jon Edwards, and Neil Ramirez. Both Ramirez and Cimber had their moments last season. Ramirez was good early and not so much late. Cimber was lights out with the Padres and seemed to struggle with the transition over to a new league and team. Meanwhile, Edwards is an unproven commodity. How will he perform in the pressure cooker of a close game in the seventh or eighth inning?
The rest of the bullpen consists of Oliver Perez, Tyler Olson, and Dan Otero. Perez and Olson will more often than not serve as much up specialists against left handed hitters. Otero will likely serve as the teams long relief/mop up duty option, just as he did the to seasons prior.
Like the lineup, the bullpen is probably far from a finished project. The pitchers currently on the roster are unlikely to be the same ones come the end of the season. Bullpens are fickle. Things happen. It’s going to take time for Francona to establish roles and develop routines. Until then, buckle up.
So like I said, there are things to like and there are things to get excited about after nine games. There are also things to be less than thrilled about. But the season is young. As long as the Indians down tailspin into a free fall, they have the time to figure things out.
A big test will start today when the Indians take on the Tigers, who are playing well and currently sit in first place. The Central is the Indians’ division to lose. This will be a huge first step towards making sure they finish on top.