By Mark Warmuth
We haven't been fans of the off-season the Cleveland Indians had. We thought their plan was to reallocate the payroll, moving from higher paid older players to some younger players with upside.
Unfortunately, only the first half of that equation was true. Gone were Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, Andrew Miller, and Yonder Alonso.
In their place appeared the return of Carlos Santana, and a bunch of players with pretty much unproven track records.
So, a team with World Series aspirations is depending on guys like Jordan Luplow, Jake Bauers, Tyler Naquin, and others to provide enough offensive production to get back to the post-season.
It says here that Terry Francona will use his managerial magic to manipulate the batting order to score enough runs, and the Tribe will win their 4th consecutive American League Central Division title.
Last year, the top five teams in the AL in runs scored made the post-season, and although that may not be the case this year, there is no question that although pitching is the story in the playoffs, you have to score runs to get to the post-season.
There is no question the strength of this squad is the starting pitching.
With the emergence last season of Mike Clevinger, and the expected improvement in second year hurler Shane Bieber, Francona can put a starting pitcher out there pretty much every night that gives his team a chance to win.
We also believe the bullpen will be improved, probably because it can't be much worse than a year ago. Brad Hand is the closer, and we think Jon Edwards will emerge as a solid set up man.
Dan Otero should be better than in 2018, and Tyler Olson was very good after returning from the disabled list a year ago.
Offensively, the Indians will have to be carried by their two MVP candidates, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and the return of walk machine extraordinaire, Santana.
Hopefully, Lindor won't miss too much time with the calf injury suffered prior to spring training, because opening the year with a keystone combo of Eric Stamets and Max Moroff doesn't seem optimal.
So, early in the season, the Tribe may have to win their share of low scoring pitchers' duels, and take advantage of the ability to draw walks that many who will start the season in the lineup will have.
The keys could be what Leonys Martin can contribute vs. right-handed pitching and is Greg Allen's development in the second half of the year for real.
The switch-hitter batted .307 with a 783 OPS after the All Star Game, and right now, figures to be an everyday player for Tito.
Bauers and Luplow have very good minor league numbers at the AAA level, and the Indians need one of them to have those numbers translate to the big league level to have an acceptable offense.
And the last reason we feel the Tribe will win again is the state of the division. Cleveland won by 13 games a year ago, and really underachieved according to their run differential.
Their profile was that of a 98 win team, and they won 91. And although Minnesota has improved their offense (they were 6th in the AL in runs scored), they were still 9th in ERA, and the pitching still is questionable.
No doubt, it will be a tighter divisional race, particularly if Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff can't pull off a move to improve the hitting during the season.
However, the Tribe should still have enough to get to the playoffs once again. And that would still be considered a successful season.