Eye on the Enemy: Scouting the Cleveland Indians
93-69, second in AL Central, 8 games back of Twins; 3 games back of Rays in Wild Card
10-7, second in AL Central
Tuesday: Adam Plutko (1-0, 2.57 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (1-0, 0.82 ERA)
Wednesday: Carlos Carrasco (2-1, 2.50 ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (2-1, 3.54 ERA)
Cleveland had a rather quiet offseason, with one exception: sending ace Corey Kluber to Texas for Delino Deshields and Emmanuel Clase. Kluber was terrific for Cleveland in his 9 seasons, winning Cy Young Awards in 2014 and 2017 and going 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.086 WHIP.
They acquired catcher Sandy León from Boston in December and signed free agent second baseman Cesar Hernández. They signed Domingo Santana in February, a season after he clubbed 21 home runs and drove in 69 in Seattle.
Kluber is a big loss, but Cleveland hasn’t skipped a beat. Their rotation has the league’s best ERA — 2.24 in 17 games. Outfielder Yasiel Puig left as a free agent after Cleveland acquired him midseason last year. Longtime second baseman Jason Kipnis signed with the Cubs in the offseason.
Outfielder Tyler Naquin was placed on the injured list on July 31 with a hairline fracture in his toe and has yet to appear in a game. Catcher Roberto Pérez was placed on the 10-day injured list on August 5 and has returned to throwing and is expected back sooner rather than later.
It all starts with Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez. The duo has combined for 7 home runs and 21 RBIs. Lindor has proven to be one of the premier shortstops in baseball, accumulating a career .836 OPS, a 27.3 WAR, 2 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers and 4 All-Star Game nominations in his six seasons in baseball.
Ramírez has become one of the premier players in the American League the last three seasons. He finished third in MVP voting in 2017 and 2018 and accumulated an .806 OPS with 23 homers in 2019 after missing part of the season with an injury.
Carlos Santana had a resurgent 2019, clubbing 34 home runs with 93 RBIs and a .911 OPS after a tough 2018 with the Phillies. He’s been able to get on base – a .451 OBP with 23 walks – but is hitting just .188 with a .250 slugging percentage.
Hernández has proven to be a strong leadoff hitter, reaching base at a .414 clip.
Cleveland acquired Franmil Reyes at the trade deadline last season in a three-team deal that netted them Puig and sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds. Reyes has proven to be a potent threat with his bat, clubbing 53 home runs in 237 big league games.
Cleveland has proven to have the ability to reload and not rebuild when it comes to their rotation. After losing Kluber and Bauer in the last 13 months, they built the best rotation in baseball early on this season. As a rotation they lead baseball in WHIP (0.91), strikeouts (132), innings pitched (108.1) and tied for most pitching wins with the Cubs with 9.
At the back end of their pen, they have the reliable Brad Hand. Don’t let his 7.71 ERA fool you. He allowed 3 earned runs in a third of an inning against the White Sox. In his other 5 appearances, he’s allowed just 3 hits and 1 earned run in 4.1 innings of work. He’s a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities with 7 strikeouts.
Last season, Cleveland started off slow – 29-30 in their first 59 games. They caught fire after that, going 64-39 the remainder of the way, but it wasn’t enough to catch the Twins in the Central or the Rays and A’s in the Wild Card. Cleveland has to find some consistency if they hope to return to the playoffs. They started 2020 4-1, then lost 5 of their next 6 and fell below .500. They’ve caught fire since, going 5-1 to improve to 10-7. The ebbs and flow are natural in a season, but if the team hopes to compete, the lows can’t be so low and so frequent. Their starting pitching has the potential to remain the best in baseball. In order to compete with the Twins in the AL Central, though, Carlos Santana will need to heat up, Reyes will need to continue to club homers and Hernández will need to continue to get on base at a high clip.