The Cleveland Indians got about as close to winning the World Series as any team ever gets. They were up 3-1 over the Chicago Cubs in the best-of-seven Fall Classic in 2016, and they were tied with Chicago in their home ballpark heading into the top of the 10th inning in Game 7. Of course, we all know what happened; the Cubs rallied and won the game, 8-7. But all is not lost for Cleveland, who created another strong baseball team this year. Here are four reasons why the Indians will win the 2017 World Series.
Their pitching is still great
By the time the Indians got to the postseason, they’d lost two of their three best starting pitchers to injuries. It was so bad that one Indians beat writer actually declared the team dead before the playoffs even started. Of course, they rode ace and former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber through the postseason, seeing him throw 34 1/3 innings with a 1.83 ERA over six playoff starts.
This season, however, they have Kluber with Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar healthy and back in the rotation. Nobody can predict whether that trio, in addition to Trevor Bauer, will stay healthy and head into the playoffs ready to dominate. But the starting pitching that Cleveland boasts is probably the best one-through-four in all of baseball, which bodes well for them yet again — if they can remain healthy.
Michael Brantley will be back
With the focus on losing Carrasco and Salazar to injuries, it went practically unmentioned that one of the best hitters on the team missed almost the entire season. Since the start of the 2014 season, Michael Brantley has a slash line of .316/.379/.487 with 35 home runs in 1,315 plate appearances. But the left-handed hitting outfielder was limited to just 11 games in 2016, seeing his season come to an end all the way back in the early part of May.
Adding his bat back into the lineup will make all the difference for a team that already had a major hole in the lineup that they were covering. Cleveland’s triumvirate of bad catchers had a combined .564 OPS in 2016, which is by far the worst of any non-pitcher position for any team. The Indians ranked second in runs scored in the American League behind the Boston Red Sox in 2016. So, adding Brantley back into the mix only makes them even more dangerous.
They’re the best in the AL Central
The Indians finished with a 94-67 record last year under manager Terry Francona, who just might be the best manager in the big leagues. That was good enough for them to finish eight games ahead of the Detroit Tigers, 13.5 games ahead of the Kansas City Royals, 16.5 ahead of the Chicago White Sox, and 35.5 ahead of the Minnesota Twins. In short, there never really was any drama about who would win the AL Central after the early part of August.
There likely won’t be much drama in 2017, either. The Twins and White Sox don’t seem to be in any kind of shape to contend with Cleveland. The Royals need to see some underperforming players rebound for us to consider them real contenders again. The Tigers rank closest to challenging the Indians in the AL Central. However, we heard rumors that they want to trade one or more of their best players so they can rebuild around a younger core. In short, the Indians can expect to be favorites in the playoffs once again.
They have Andrew Miller now
It’s not so much that it’s great to have Andrew Miller, who is one of the best relievers in the game, but it’s also about how the Indians can use Andrew Miller. Because Cleveland already has Cody Allen, a more conventional one-inning closer with a 2.51 ERA and 11.5 K/9 last year, the Indians are free to bring Miller into the game to shut the other team down whenever the situation warrants it.
For example, Miller could come into the sixth to get a tough final out and then pitch the seventh as well, leading into Dan Otero (1.53 ERA in 70 2/3 innings in 2016) in the eighth and Allen in the ninth. That’s pretty much exactly how Miller was used last year and in the postseason, which translated to a ton of success for the Indians. And when you have great starting pitching, which they do have, shortening the game to about six innings with a dominant backend of the bullpen is a sure way to give yourself a great shot at winning a World Series championship.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.