This week is the week baseball fans have been looking forward to all winter. Opening Day of the 2021 season starts on Thursday, April 1st.
The Cleveland Indians have made the post-season in five of the last six seasons, and in 2019, when they didn’t, they still won 93 games.
Can they do it again in 2021?
Why they can make the playoffs. Zach Plesac joins Shane Bieber as a second ace of the starting rotation and the rest of the young pitchers keep the Indians in every game, much like last season. Logan Allen’s strong spring training translates into a solid regular season.
The back end of the bullpen, led by James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, and Nick Wittgren, make Terry Francona’s team unbeatable if they have a lead after six innings.
Offensively, Jose Ramirez has another incredible season at the plate, comparable to the recent seasons where he finished in the top three of the MVP voting. Josh Naylor fulfills the expectations everyone seems to have for him and becomes a guy who can put up an 800 OPS.
Andres Gimenez does a solid job at the plate, and shows why he was the correct choice to take over at shortstop because of his glove.
Eddie Rosario hits like he always has at Progressive Field, putting up 30 HR and knocking in 100 runs, and Franmil Reyes shows more consistency than ever, belting 35-40 homers.
Why they won’t make the playoffs. The inexperienced young starters don’t hold up over the entire 162 game schedule. Aaron Civale continues the struggles he had in the latter half of the 2020 campaign, and Triston McKenzie can only give the big club about 50 innings.
The offense simply can’t score enough runs to win games, and Jose Ramirez gets pitched around in any situation where the opposing team can avoid him.
The pitching isn’t help by poor outfield defense. Naylor shows he’s the best option at first base, as the other candidates for the position, first Jake Bauers, then Bobby Bradley struggle to contribute at the plate.
Reyes continues to be streaky at the plate, with periods where he is red hot, followed by several periods of 0 for 20 and 2 for 44 mixed in.
The bullpen is spotty, Karinchak struggles with his control enough that Terry Francona can’t trust him in tight games, which because of the hitting, the Indians are involved in a lot of.
And Gimenez struggles enough at the plate that Amed Rosario moves back there vs. lefties, making the defense struggle at another spot.
The Indians won’t be a bad team this season, in fact, we don’t think they will be below the .500 mark. However, an awful lot of things will need to go right for them to make the playoffs. The inexperienced rotation (remember, no one besides Bieber has pitched more than 250 innings in the big leagues) has to be very, very good.
That means two other members in the starting rotation (Plesac, Civale, or based on spring training, Logan Allen) have to be of all star caliber. And the bullpen has to be excellent as well, with Karinchak and Clase overpowering hitters.
We believe you need seven solid bats to have a good lineup, and right now, the Tribe has Ramirez, Eddie Rosario, Cesar Hernandez, and Franmil Reyes. We think Naylor can be another, but can two others step up?
It will be an interesting season for sure, as we watch Gimenez and Naylor develop, and also look at the progress of the players at the AAA and AA levels, once minor league action starts.
We figure somewhere in the neighborhood of 83-85 wins. They will be a competitive team, but won’t have enough to make the post-season in 2021