Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tribe Spring Recap and 2015 Predictions, Thoughts, & Player Evaluations

Happy day before Indians Opening Night! and/or Happy Easter if you celebrate it.

now that my Brantley spring #s and season expectations blog is done, it's time for me to discuss the Indians spring as a whole and how i think things will shape up for the team in 2015.

last year the Indians finished with the best record in spring, and it didn't amount to anything in the regular season. this spring, it was quite the opposite. in 33 games, the team's spring record was 14-18-1, but i have my theories about that. honestly, it seemed like many of the opposing teams we played were
rolling out their regular season starting lineups, while we normally played half our regulars, and only for the first half of the game, especially early on in camp. the Indians also had several relief pitchers in camp--spring training invitees--most of whom were not going to make the big league club. so what happened was, these guys would pitch in the later innings of games, have a bad outing/bad inning, and that would ultimately result in a loss for us--a loss that maybe would not have occurred in a real regular season game. so i'm not discouraged.

this spring, a lot of the players who need to have a rebound season did an admirable job. Michael Bourn hit particularly well and ran well, which was very good to see. Jason Kipnis was driving the ball to the opposite field. that's a huge sign that his oblique is fine. Indians newbie Brandon Moss started later than some of the others but in his limited time, he hit some bombs. it will be very helpful if Moss turns out to be a reliable power bat in our lineup this year.

the players you'd expect to do well did. Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, and Lonnie Chisenhall had an overall productive camp. there are still some questions surrounding the play of guys like David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, and Jose Ramirez, but i really had no reason to be disheartened about anyone.

even some of the minor leaguers and young kids played well in spring, which is always encouraging. Francisco Lindor, Jesus Aguilar, Ryan Rohlinger, Jerry Sands, and Michael Martinez all had several exciting moments in Cactus League games.

then again, we do play in Arizona, where the temperature is hot and the ball is known to jump out of the park. so anyone who had an exceptional spring may find it to be the reverse once the regular season starts and we're playing in cold, crappy weather conditions. but still, i'm not discouraged.

so what is my prediction for the Tribe's 2015 season? assuming all the players play to their maximum abilities and that we aren't hit with too many serious, long-term injuries, i think this team as currently constructed with its 25-man roster can easily finish with 90 wins and make it back to the playoffs. but WILL everyone play up to their potential? probably not. therefore, my actual win-loss prediction is going to be 87-75. and, because the competition in the AL Central Division is arguably going to be some of the best in the league, i think 87 wins could at least land a wild card spot. so there's my bold prediction.

do the boys from the Plain Dealer/Northeast Ohio Media Group share my optimism? they've also made predictions that i will keep on record here.

Paul Hoynes: 87-75

Terry Pluto: 87-75, may make playoffs

Dennis Manoloff: 81-81, 4th place in the division

Zack Meisel: 89-73

Bud Shaw: 92-70

looks like Hoynsie and Terry agree with me record-wise. this year, not all the guys gave their divisional placement/playoff predictions, but i'm guessing Bud thinks we'll be seeing some postseason play with that record. wouldn't that be nice if we did win 90+ games? Z-Mise seems to have high hopes for the team as well. D-Man, however, is the most down on the Tribe. then again, he spent most of the offseason completely absorbed with another Cleveland sports team, so it's not that unexpected. sad, yes, but not unexpected. check back here after October 4 to see who was right and who should think twice before making any monetary bets lol

the Indians have much improved under the management of Terry Francona. for the first time since 2000-2001, they have put back-to-back winning seasons together. now simply finishing above .500 is not enough. it is time to make a legitimate run to the World Series. and here's why i think we can.

some things that might make a difference this year that we didn't have last year:

--a Cy Young Award winner in our rotation

--an MVP finalist in our lineup

--a Silver Slugger behind the plate

--Santana having just one role in the field, playing 1st base

--a much needed power bat (Moss) hitting 5th in the lineup

--Ramirez starting the season at shortstop (better defense and range)

--Carrasco finally getting over his mental issues re: starting and being an asset to the rotation

--Kipnis being healthy and positively contributing in the lineup

--Bourn having worked with a track coach in the offseason and strengthening his hamstrings

over the course of the offseason, the Indians made 1 free agent signing and 1 trade. first, let's start off with acquiring starting pitcher Gavin Floyd. he was brought in for depth, as another probable Tribe reclamation project. Floyd had a history of elbow problems, including Tommy John surgery and a broken olecranon bone. he signed a 1-year deal with the Indians for $4 million, up to $6 million in incentives. i never thought much of this pick up, but i was willing to give him a chance for a month and see if he could actually be a viable arm in the rotation. yet due to the Tribe's track record, i figured he probably wouldn't work out long-term and we'd end up just going with 5 of our own guys from within anyways.

Floyd never even pitched one Cactus League game before he started experiencing problems with his elbow. so when the bad news came in spring that he had in fact re-injured his elbow and was going to need surgery on his olecranon again and would be out indefinitely, i was neither shocked nor upset. but i knew the fans who love to harp on the Indians offseason acquisitions would be pissed because that left our only "big" acquisition as Brandon Moss.

so let's talk more about Mossy. he is another guy with an injury history. last season he was playing with a problematic hip until he eventually had to be shut down and had surgery. the Oakland A's didn't think he was worth keeping around for the amount of money he was due in arbitration, so they traded him to us for Double A infielder, Joey Wendle. they'd had their eye on Joey for a while and believe he can start for them. which he might, but we had too many infielders in our system rated ahead of him, and so he was best served going to Oakland.

Moss on the other hand, has power and he's hit 76 home runs over the past 3 years. if his hip injury is really gone, then he could hit up to 30 homers and be a real steal for the Tribe. if not, well, he's only signed with us for one season. i irrefutably have that Cleveland fan fear that he will probably re-injure himself after a few months and turn out to be yet another Tribe disappointment. but he looked fine in spring, so maybe we'll luck out. a healthy Moss will look real good in our lineup and even though he's another lefty, his power will be a tremendous advantage. however, we know how other past signings of hitting machines have panned out for us (or not), so nothing is guaranteed.

now i want to touch on each core part of the team, beginning with our starting rotation. leading the way is our ace, Corey Kluber. Carlos Carrasco has become our #2 based on his stellar 2nd half of 2014. Trevor Bauer, who has shown much improvement, is slotted at #3. that left the 4th and 5th spots open, and by the end of spring it was decided that Zach McAllister and TJ House would be rounding out the rotation, at least for the first month. the Indians' schedule in April contains an almost abnormal amount of off days, which means the team doesn't really need a 5th starter too much in the beginning. this would actually enable McAllister to move back and forth between starting and relieving as needed. sooner or later, someone will officially claim that 5th spot, it just isn't locked down yet. and that could put McAllister in the pen for long relief, which wouldn't be the worst thing.

so how did this starting 5 do in spring?
--Kluber looked ready to defend his Cy Young title, aside from giving up a few homers. (and how exciting is that 5-year, $38.5 million contract extension he just signed last night?!)
--Carrasco did well overall and i actually have hope for him this season. (he also signed an extension--4 years, $22 million--today.)
--Bauer continued to work on stuff in his outings and he gave up several home runs and triples. but he only allowed one walk all spring, so there's that.
--House had some good and bad appearances, seemingly having 1 bad inning in every game he pitched. Francona does not seem at all worried, however. on the contrary, quite frankly, i'm not convinced he will be in Cleveland for the entire year.
--McAllister really impressed me with his breaking ball and ability to strike out batters.

i'm gonna shoot straight and say this is a better rotation than a year ago. everyone now has more experience, and that's always a plus.

additionally, we've got Danny Salazar, Bruce Chen, and Shaun Marcum as depth in Columbus.
--Salazar surprised me, in a bad way. i thought he would break camp with the Indians and that he would be primed for a good year. he struggled in spring, giving up many runs and walks and getting behind in the count, which is concerning because he had been prepping for the season since January 11. i can't figure him out. he's got good stuff, but he's just not consistent. he needs to get it together.
 --Chen decided to stay in the Indians' organization, which i was pleased about. he has been given the option to leave if another big league club takes interest in him, but i think he could be a nice secret weapon for the Tribe on days when we need a spot starter and/or if any of the starting 5 becomes injured for a significant period of time. (knock on wood.)
--Marcum is the dark horse longshot, still trying to come back from his own (arm) injuries. while he may do well in Columbus, i'm not sure he'll see any substantial time at the major league level this year, at least not with the Indians.

why no mention of Josh Tomlin? he did a good job in spring, but he complained of some right shoulder pain early in camp, which originated in the offseason. after his last spring start on March 30, he knew something was still wrong, and on April 3 it was announced that he had inflammation in his AC joint. now he's going to open the year on the DL and have arthroscopic debridement of the AC joint. he's expected to be out for 3-4 months. it's a shame because a healthy Tomlin is a strikeout machine and he was an important piece to our starting depth. at best, we might see him in Cleveland sometime after the All Star break, but that's a long ways away.

next, let's move to the bullpen. our BIG 4 worked a lot of innings last season and there are concerns that those arms will tire out/wear down in 2015. good thing for us we have a manager who is a master match up man, unafraid to make as many pitching changes in games as necessary and who also loves to keep his bullpen stocked. so aside from Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski, and Scott Atchison, our bp this year is comprised of Nick Hagadone, Kyle Crockett, Anthony Swarzak, and Austin Adams.

from the top 4, my only concerns are Shaw and Atchison. Shaw didn't have a very productive spring in terms of numbers, giving up many hits, home runs, and walks. however, he was experimenting with a 2-seam fastball when some of his snafus occurred. Francona assured everyone that once the regular season began, he would be fine. Atchison's age makes me nervous. he's another year older, so he may not be as dominant anymore. there could easily and understandably be regression from any of the top 4 because they logged so much time in 2014.

the other 4:
--Hagadone and Crockett both had exemplary springs, especially Hags, who looked equipped to finally have a solid year in the big leagues. Crockett, on the other hand, could be an all year up-and-downer.
--i don't know much about Swarzak's past, but my god did he look bad in the beginning of spring, only putting together some nice outings towards the end. here's hoping he got all the kinks out and can become a solid long-relief man.
--and in a 'it shouldn't have surprised me but it did' move, Adams made the club. it's no surprise that Francona loves a copious bullpen, but why this kid made the team, idk. he pitched poorly last season when he got the call to the bigs, then continued to give up big hits in spring. he's not ready for an extended stay in the majors and he's the weak link right now, no question. if used, he could possibly be a direct cause of several team losses. but i'm not too agitated because either way he won't be around long. once position player Zach Walters or Nick Swisher come off the DL, Adams is gonna be the first man sent down to Columbus. keep your suitcase handy =P

on a more favorable note, we have many arms in Columbus that we could call upon for help if anyone struggles with the Tribe. those include guys like C.C. Lee, Bryan Price, and Jeff Manship.
--unfortunately, Lee and Price had forgettable springs. my faith in Lee is there though because i saw him do some amazing work in Cleveland last year and don't think that was just a fluke. he would be my first choice for a promotion if necessary.
--Manship pitched well in spring but, at this time, i can't confidently say that will carry over to the big league regular season.

many will argue that good pitching wins ballgames. but if you don't score, you can't win. so it's time to talk about the Indians offense. how about i begin with who i'm not worried about this year:
--Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Santana. even if these 3 go through some small slumps and don't top their numbers from 2014, they have shown me enough to know that they are going to have all around positive seasons. barring injury, i firmly believe they will hold their own and be productive contributors all year. as for the rest of the guys i'm going to name, i can only hope they will.

--Michael Bourn. his legs seem fine and he swung the bat well in spring. but will that hold true and translate to the regular season? will this finally be the year we get the guy that we thought we were getting 2 years ago? he claimed to be saving his stolen base attempts for the regular season, which i found odd. it seemed to me like he was scared to go too hard in spring and risk injuring himself again like last year. but, if it's going to happen, it's gonna happen. spring should have been the time that he used to perfect his lead off the bag and practice getting his jumps. i can't boast true confidence in Bourn until i see him playing well.

--Jason Kipnis. the key for Kip is going to be staying healthy. if he's feeling good, he should play good. it's really that simple.

--Brandon Moss. his pop potential is there but will Cleveland be fortunate enough to see a healthy Moss all year? he didn't play as many spring games as other players but when he did, he sure did hit. and not just singles, i'm talking extra base hits. he led the Tribe with 5 home runs. if that display of power will continue once we get into colder temps to start the season remains to be seen.

--David Murphy. his spring was mediocre. he's still here because we can't be sure yet how Moss or Raburn are going to do, and the team needs as much OF depth as possible. while i think he could put together another decent performance, it's not even certain how long he will be in an Indians uniform.

--Ryan Raburn. he is coming off a terrible season, but for now it looks as though his injuries are behind him. he has fully recovered from his knee surgery in September and is set to platoon in right field with Moss/Murphy. normally a good hitter in spring, he didn't make much contact this year. it would be very beneficial if he can hit lefties well again, like he did in 2013.

--Lonnie Chisenhall. he looked good at the plate in spring, hitting 8 doubles, but made some mistakes on the infield. let's face it, he will never blow anybody away with his defense at 3rd base, but he's really the best option we have there at this time. while he showed some signs of being a productive hitter in the lineup last season, he was not consistent. i am very interested to see how he will do this year, when he's not going to be babied and will play a full season from start to finish.

--Jose Ramirez. he got the 2nd most at bats on the team this spring to give him as much practice as possible. let me just say, this kid has really come to the rescue defensively. his talent and range at short is something the Indians have not been able to rely on for quite some time. he's speedy, can lay down a good bunt when needed, and has the potential to be one of the best base stealers on the team this year as well.

--Mike Aviles. our super utility man is here for another year because the Tribe picked up his option shortly after 2014 came to a close. his versatility makes him an important piece of the puzzle, but he will always rank as one of the lower statistical producers because he won't get to play regularly unless someone is out injured. he did get to play quite a bit in spring though and did great offensively.

--Roberto Perez. our backup catcher performed well at the plate in spring, ending up as one of the top five RBI leaders, and that arm of his is ready to throw out anyone trying to steal 2nd base. he can call a good game and i think we're lucky to have him.

but wait. what about Nick Swisher? sadly he's opening the year on the DL because he didn't play enough in spring to be deemed ready for Opening Day. (he only played in 1 major league game.) after having double knee surgery in August, everyone said he would be fine for OD. but the Indians were rightfully cautious with him in spring, slowly getting him back to baseball activities and into games. and that is the right move. i'd rather he miss a little of the beginning of 2015 and then be good to go for the entire rest of the year, than start on April 6, find out he came back too soon, and then have another Swisher mess for the season. expect to see him in the Tribe's lineup by May.

another guy opening up on the DL is Zach Walters. he was supposed to be one of those guys who could play just about every position for us, another super utility man. but he suffered an oblique injury a few weeks into spring and had to halt all season preparations. poor guy. when he's healthy he can definitely hit some bombs. i have to wonder if there's going to be a spot for him on our 25-man roster when he's back to full health though... guess it will depend on if Swisher comes back before him and if Tito wants an 8th man in the bullpen. we shall see.

now, here is our starting 9:
Bourn CF
Kipnis 2B
Brantley LF
Santana 1B
Moss DH
Gomes C
Murphy or Raburn RF (when not Moss)
Chisenhall 3B
Ramirez SS

never one to enjoy 3 left-handed hitters at the top of his lineup, Francona has changed his beliefs. he went on record in spring saying that if Kipnis is healthy, he pretty much has to put his bat 2nd. i'm curious to see how long that lasts if opposing teams' bullpens smoke the top 3 in late innings. maybe in certain instances, Ramirez and Kip will swap places in the lineup, but everywhere else seems to basically be set.

if someone gets hurt or struggles, who else do we have for backup? the best bats in Columbus currently belong to Francisco Lindor, Jesus Aguilar, Jerry Sands, Tyler Holt, and Ryan Rohlinger.
--the illustrious Lindor had a great spring, getting many Indians fans even more excited about him than they already were. while he will NOT be rushed to the major leagues, i think he will certainly be making his Indians debut sometime this season. and i can't wait. this kid's going to be so fun to watch and root for.
--Aguilar finally showed up to play. he had the best spring he's ever had. now it's just a matter of can he hit comfortably like that in the big leagues. if he can, it will satisfy all the fans who have been begging for a right-handed bat, at long last.
--Sands was a guy i knew nothing about but he had a remarkable spring, surprisingly being one of the team's better hitters.
--Holt played a lot of games this spring, starting some, and subbing in late in others. no matter because he still did well. he's got some major league experience and that could earn him another shot at the bigs if needed.
--Rohlinger was one of the team's RBI leaders this spring. he would probably be the least likely to get called up though.
--honorable mention: Michael Martinez. he put some great infield defense on display and wasn't bad with his bat either. he's a long shot to get a Cleveland call up, however.

i say it all the time: the potential is there for the Tribe to be a legit contender. but how often does everything go right so that potential becomes reality? not very. yet i maintain that if the Indians power players can stay healthy, then this team is going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2015. yes, there will be the usual ugly games, blow out losses, bullpen break downs, starter fiascoes, etc. but never fear because there will also be fun shut outs, big strikeouts, huge hits, exciting come backs, and amazing walk-off wins. such is how a 162-game season of baseball goes, full of highs and lows. i might be sippin' on the Kool-Aid but i truly think this year's Tribe is built for a 3rd winning season in a row and a serious run in October. and i can't wait to watch it all unfold.

i will mention once more, as i did in my Brantley spring blog, that i have concerns about the new pace of play rules that were just implemented in baseball. i don't feel they were enforced at all, especially on the batter's side of things, in spring. and, as with all new rules, there's going to be mistakes made and a big learning curve. i just hope this doesn't negatively affect our players too much. the very idea that a hitter could get an extra strike added to his pitch count for violating a rule is maddening. seems like this is just giving some home plate umpires another opportunity to act "bigger than the game" and make poor judgment calls.

imagine if there's a situation in a game where we could possibly tie it or take the lead/win in the 9th inning, and there's already 2 outs in the inning. and say the home plate ump thinks a batter is delaying the game/out of the batter's box too long, so a strike is added to the pitch count. and what if the count was 1-2 prior to that added strike? there would then be 3 strikes on the player, and the game would end without the player officially getting a pitch. you can't mess with the game like that, that's crazy. but i could so see that happening to the Tribe at some point this year. just wait for it. OIC lol

it has now been 4 straight years of me arranging my schedule so that i would not miss any Tribe games. and i admit, that was a struggle in both 2013 and 2014, as i continued having health problems that tried to keep me down. but i battled, and my perfect record over 4 seasons remains intact.

can i do it for a 5th year in a row? that sounds as impractical as it did last year, because sometimes life just gets in the way of my passion for baseball. still, i will do my absolute best to continue controlling what i can control and not miss any games unless there is a real emergency/life change that forces me to miss some. read: i will not skip a game just for the fuck of it. i am not that kind of "fan." and after looking through the Indians promotional schedule, i have 12 games starred that i would like to attend--a large increase from the last 2 seasons. i just hope my health cooperates so i can actually make that happen.

the 190-day offseason didn't seem that long this year because, like i previously said, i spent a lot of it in total writers mode lol be that as it may, i'm extremely ready for baseball to be back. when am i not though, right? as per usual, i will be supporting the team for the entire 162-game grind during good games, bad games, and WTF games, because that is what i do. #RideOrDie

Let's Go Tribe 2015!

lastly, who are my picks for the 2015 World Series match up? this is always a prediction i have a tough time with. i don't think the Kansas City Royals will make it back to the Fall Classic, and i'm not sure the Detroit Tigers will get there either. and despite Sports Illustrated picking the Indians to win the World Series, i'm not fully swayed that they'll even get that far into the postseason.

a lot of media members and outlets are going with a Nationals vs. Mariners World Series, with the Nats coming out on top. i'm not. yes, the Nats are the best team on paper, but the best team on paper doesn't always win it all. so i have decided to go with the AL Seattle Mariners versus the NL St. Louis Cardinals. despite my guess that the American League will beat the National League in the 2015 All Star Game in Cincinnati on July 14, i still pick the Cards to win in 6 games. and for the record, i am usually dead wrong when i make my WS picks, so it's possible that i just jinxed both these teams lol sorry.

leave your Indians, Divisional, Playoffs, and World Series predictions in a comment below if you'd like to go on record with them!

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