Indians set sights on return to playoffs


By Tom Usher - sports@limanews.com



Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Santana bats during an exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Saturday. Last year he ranked sixth in the league in runs (110).

Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Santana bats during an exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Saturday. Last year he ranked sixth in the league in runs (110).


In most years a 93-69 season is considered a successful campaign.

But when you are the Indians and have made the playoffs four times (2018, 2017, 2016, 2013) since 2013, including the 2016 World Series, the goal is the playoffs.

The Indians came up short of the playoffs last year, as Minnesota won the American League Central and Oakland and Tampa Bay slipped past the Indians for the wild-card berths.

Former staff ace Corey Kluber was dealt to Texas, but the rotation is young and talented and should guide the Indians to another postseason berth.

The everyday lineup remains formidable.

Catcher

Roberto Perez hit .239 with plenty of power (24 home runs, 63 RBI).

He hit .250 with six home runs with runners in scoring position.

Perez won his first Gold Glove last year and led the league in throwing runners out (40.8 percent). He also ranked second in catcher’s assists (52).

He was also named the Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year (for both leagues).

While his average could improve, he hits home runs and drives in runs.

It’s hard to argue with the No. 1 defensive player in baseball.

GRADE: A

First base

Switch-hitting Carlos Santana is just what you want at first base, a legitimate, bang-the-fences bopper. He hit .281 with 34 home runs and 94 RBI. He also had 30 doubles and his on-base percentage was .397, with 108 walks.

He ranked sixth in the league in runs (110).

Santana was named to his first All-Star Game last year.

He thrashed left-handers (.324) and hit .289 with runners in scoring position.

GRADE: A

Second base

Jason Kipnis, now 33, signed with the Cubs as a free agent.

Taking over at second is free agent signee from the Phillies Cesar Hernandez. In seven seasons with the Phillies, he hit .277.

Last year he hit .279 with 14 home runs and 71 RBI. He had 31 doubles and nine stolen bases.

Hernandez’s walks nosedived from 95 to 45 for a .333 on-base percentage.

He made 12 errors with a fielding percentage of .981.

GRADE: B-

Shortstop

Francisco Lindor is a player you can build an entire franchise around.

At 26, he’s a four-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner and a two-time Silver Slugger winner.

Last year he was an All-Star for the fourth straight time and won the Gold Glove.

What more could you want?

Lindor hit .284 with 32 home runs and 74 RBI. He added 40 doubles, stole 22 bases and his on-base percentage was .335.

He hit .298 against right-handers and .324 late in games when the score was close.

Lindor made 10 errors with a fielding percentage of .979.

GRADE: A+

Third base

Jose Ramirez is coming off a career-low .255 with 23 home runs (down from 39 in 2018) and 83 RBI. He added 33 doubles.

His walks fell from 106 in 2018 to 52 last year. That dropped his on-base percentage from .387 to .327.

Ramirez stole 24 bases.

He made 14 errors at third with a .959 fielding percentage.

The two-time All-Star hit only .248 against right-handers, but did bat .327 in the second half of the year.

GRADE: B

Outfield/DH

Franmil Reyes is expected to start one of the corner outfield spots, probably in left.

He was the critical part of the three-team deal July 31, which sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds and brought Reyes to the Indians from the Padres.

In his second year in the majors, between the Padres and Indians, he hit .249 with 37 home runs and 81 RBI.

In 173 at-bats in Cleveland, he hit .237 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI.

Reyes batted .280 against lefties, but only .238 against right-handers.

In center field is Oscar Mercado, who made his MLB debut May 14. Mercado hit .269 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI. He had 25 doubles and stole 15 bases.

Right field will be a mix of Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow.

Naquin had ACL surgery on his knee last September, but should be ready to go. He hit .288 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI.

Luplow hit .276 with 15 home runs and 38 RBI.

Yasiel Puig signed with the Braves last Tuesday.

Domingo Santana, a free agent signing from the Mariners, should see the most time at designated hitter.

He played 100 games in the outfield last year and hit .253 with 21 home runs and 69 RBI. Santana also led all A.L. left fielders with nine errors, so DH is probably his spot.

There’s also outfielder/DH Jake Bauers, who hit .226 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI.

GRADE: B

Starting pitching

This week MLB.com ranked the Indians’ rotation No. 4 in all of baseball.

And that’s without two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, who was sent to Texas.

But remember, Kluber was limited to seven starts (5.80) last year after he suffered a broken arm May 1, then an oblique injury shut down his comeback at AAA Columbus.

That pushes 25-year-old right-hander Shane Bieber to the top of the rotation after he went 15-8 with a 3.28. He struck out 259 in 214 innings.

Bieber, the All-Star MVP, finished third in the league in strikeouts, eighth in wins and fourth in ERA.

Right-hander Mike Clevinger is an excellent No. 2. He went 13-4 with a 2.71. He was dominate when healthy, with 169 strikeouts in 126 innings.

And consider Clevinger strained a muscle in his back in his second start and didn’t return until the middle of June. He ended up with 21 starts, and went 11-2 with a 2.30 in the second half of the year.

Right-hander Zach Plesac, the nephew of former major league closer Dan Plesac, went 8-6 with a 3.81.

Right-hander Adam Plutko was 7-5 with a 4.86.

Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (6-7, 5.29) was limited to 23 games (12 starts) when he was diagnosed in June with a form of blood cancer called chronic myeloid leukemia.

Carrasco made an emotional return Sept. 1 in Tampa. He appeared in 11 games as a reliever in the final month and flashed his 96 mph fastball.

Another option is very promising right-hander Aaron Civale, who had a 2.34 in 10 starts over 57 innings.

GRADE: A-

Bullpen

Left-hander Brad Hand returns as the closer.

The three-time All-Star saved 34 games and had a 3.30. In 57 innings, he struck out 84.

The pen underwent a makeover/reconstruction in the offseason.

Gone are Tyler Clippard, Nick Goody, Dan Otero, Tyler Olson and A.J. Cole. That group combined for 181 appearances.

That leaves the likes of Nick Wittgren (2.81), Adam Cimber (4.45), Oliver Perez (3.98), Jefry Rodriguez (4.63), Hunter Wood (3.86), James Hoyt (2.16), Phil Maton (2.92) and free-agent signing Dominic Leone (5.53 with the Cardinals).

There’s also 22-year-old Emmanuel Clase (2.31 in 23 innings), who came over from the Rangers in the Kluber trade.

With that kind of turnover, there will be several question marks when the bullpen door opens.

GRADE: B-

Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Santana bats during an exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Saturday. Last year he ranked sixth in the league in runs (110).
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2020/07/web1_AP20201188913887.jpgCleveland Indians’ Carlos Santana bats during an exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Saturday. Last year he ranked sixth in the league in runs (110).

By Tom Usher

sports@limanews.com

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

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