The Cleveland Indians’ win streak hit 18 games on Sunday. After a year in which the focus has been on either the Astros or the Los Angeles Dodgers, are Terry Francona’s Indians the team to beat as we head toward the postseason?
Las Vegas has a split verdict. The Dodgers are still THE team to beat in spite of their recent skid, an 11-4 favorite to win the World Series. But Cleveland has moved past Houston as the favorite in the American League and are a short 9-2 price to break what is now major league baseball’s longest championship drought.
The Indians have the bats. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are a potent offensive duo on the left side of the infield. Lonnie Chisenhall hits for power and average. The acquisition of Jay Bruce gave the Tribe more power. Austin Jackson is enjoying a terrific offensive year. Carlos Santana is one of the game’s most discerning hitters and Edwin Encarcion’s 34-homer season at DH is exactly what the Indians had in mind when they signed him away from Toronto.
Cleveland’s lineup is so good that they’re fourth in the American League in runs scored in spite of a poor year from Jason Kipnis. If the second baseman can get healthy and back in the lineup later this month, that’s just one more reason to like the Tribe.
In Corey Kluber, the Indians have the kind of dominant starting pitcher that looms large in a postseason series. Kluber won Games 1 & 4 of the World Series. The team has bullpen depth. Andrew Miller, a playoff hero last year, is currently on the DL, but expected to be healthy in plenty of time. There’s little doubt that Francona will again go to the well early and often with Miller in the playoffs. And there’s plenty of help in a relief corps that finishes with closer Cody Allen.
If postseason baseball is about hitting, having a great #1 starter, a quality bullpen with one signature arm and a manager that knows what he’s doing, then there is no one better suited to win the 2017 World Series than Cleveland. That’s why, if you think, the Indians are the team to beat, I won’t put up a fuss.
I would offer a cautionary note. Depth in the starting rotation matters, and it’s what caused Cleveland to ultimately come up short last year. It was when they held the 3-1 series lead on the Chicago Cubs that the shortcoming seemed most obvious. The Cubs held decisive advantages in starting pitching in Games 5 & 6 and by the time Kluber & Miller pitched again in Game 7, it was obvious they were out of gas.
That brings us to Carlos Carrasco. An injured hand kept him out of last year’s playoffs, but with a 3.53 ERA in 28 starts this season, he’s exactly what Francona needs–someone to take the pressure off of Kluber and Miller.
Cleveland looks like the best team to me. Whether they deliver depends, first and foremost on Carrasco. Along with names like Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin. Francona’s creative use of the bullpen took the Tribe a long way last year, but eventually you need more than one reliable starter to win it all .