The two most enigmatic teams in the majors this year are the same two teams that squared off in the World Series last year. The Indians are arguably more talented than they were during their unexpected 2016 run. They added beastly slugger Edwin Encarnacion in free agency, have outfielder Michael Brantley and starter Carlos Carrasco healthy, have reliever Andrew Miller in the fold for a full season instead rather for just a couple months and have inserted ludicrously athletic rookie Bradley Zimmer into the leadoff spot and an everyday position in centerfield.
Sure, there are ongoing problems, like every infielder except Jose Ramirez putting up weak offensive numbers and starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin looking like batting-practice pitchers for much of the season. Then again, a good chunk of Cleveland’s troubles can be simply traced to bad luck, such as its awful performance at the plate in big spots, a condition that history tells us is due more to random variance than any lack of a mystical clutch gene. There are real needs in the rotation (perhaps less so if Danny Salazar can build on his electrifying seven-inning, one-hit, shutout performance he delivered against the Blue Jays on Saturday in his return from the disabled list) and the outfield (Lonnie Chisenhall was in the midst of a breakout season but he’s on the DL himself with a calf strain, with no set timetable for return).
The bottom line, though, is this: The Indians could conceivably stand pat and still win the weakest division in baseball.