This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 16: The Cleveland Indians. You can find previews for teams 30 through 17 here.
2013 Record and Finish: 92-70, second place in AL Central (eighth overall); lost Wild-Card play-in to Tampa Bay
2014 Projected Record: 82-80, third place in AL Central
The Case For
In 2013, Terry Francona’s Tribe were a lot closer to taking the AL Central crown from the Tigers than you probably thought, as the Indians finished just one game behind Detroit. The impressively balanced lineup—no batter hit more than 22 home runs, and yet the Indians were fourth in the league in runs—could be even better this year, with the talented core of Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley entering their prime years. With another All-Star season from Kipnis—a darkhorse MVP candidate—and Santana moving to third base, as well as the addition of David Murphy to make a potentially potent rightfield platoon with Ryan Raburn will hit against lefties, the Indians' offense will be dangerous again. Though there are questions in the rotation, the phenom with the 100 mph heater, Danny Salazar, has No. 1 stuff, and if he and Corey Kluber have big breakout seasons and the rotation gets something out of the enigmatic Trevor Bauer, you could see the Indians returning to the postseason ... and overtaking the Tigers.
The Case Against
With the Royals on the rise and the Tigers potentially improved, the Indians will have their hands full in a suddenly tough division. Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir were brilliant for them last year, and now both are gone, leaving Justin Masterson as the hurler who has to be The Man in a rotation that is short on front-of-the-rotation talent. The bullpen could be a problem as well. No one will mistake the departed Chris Perez for Mariano Rivera, but new closer John Axford has his own question marks.
X-Factor: Danny Salazar
His strikeout potential is as good as any young pitcher in the majors, but before anointing him the next Pedro, let’s remember that he’s logged just 52 career innings in the majors. There’s no doubt, though, that he has No. 1 stuff.
Number To Know: .425
That was Cleveland's slugging percentage in 2013 against lefthanded hitters, a big improvement from its .352 mark in 2012, and the result of Francona’s effective use of the platoon advantage.
Most overrated: Michael Bourn
"He's always worried me, and I never liked that signing for four years—he always swung and missed way too much for a guy without power. He wasn’t a spring chicken when they signed him, and without the speed, which clearly has diminished, what is Michael Bourn?"
Most underrated: Trevor Bauer
"I think Trevor Bauer can be an impact pitcher for them this year. He’s changed his motion a bit, simplified it, and the only thing holding him back is command of his fastball. He’s always been overthrowing it, and once he gets command of it, he’s a No. 2. He’s stubborn, set in his ways, and pissed off a lot of people in Arizona, but Cleveland lets him be what he wants to be, and that’s helped him."
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