Jason Kipnis and the Indians are still a first place team, but at times have lacked overall consistency allowing teams to stick around in the AL-Central Division race. Photo by Getty Images / David Maxwell


Camino Scratch: Cleveland Indians’ inability to slam door on AL-Central (probably) won’t haunt them

Talented roster, weak division helping Tribe eye second-straight division crown

By: Nick Camino


CLEVELAND – It feels good to write this column again.

Even if it is strictly for my own sanity, to comment on what we are witnessing together in the ever-evolving world of sports. And this of course, with my own distinct twist.

Working in radio and TV broadcasting the last several years have caused me to venture away from the written word, which is unfortunate because I enjoy informative journalism and entertaining commentary. Perhaps neither of which I may be able to provide in this weekly column. [cry face laughing emoji, my favorite!]

But, nevertheless, I had a burning desire to return to my roots and what caused me to fall in love with this business. Writing about sports in high school and throughout college, while serving as Editor-In-Chief and Sports Editor at both student newspapers at Cleveland State University for several semesters; I am certainly looking forward to this opportunity again.

This may not be the greatest weekly column you will find, and certainly will never be confused with a piece from the late Red Smith or Frank Deford.

It was simply time for me to kick the rust off the tires and provide commentary on a different medium while I’m not hosting a talk show (probably arguing with Mike Trivisonno) on radio or broadcasting the latest sports news on television with hairspray and makeup on.

Hopefully you the Reader will enjoy this weekly column and while there’s a chance you may never return, give it time, it may grow on you. You just might like it.

Either way, thanks for visiting and making it this far already.

Enough about me.

Time to talk Tribe. Or, write Tribe. Or, type Tribe. Whatever.

Breaking news: The 2017 edition of your Cleveland Indians will win the American League’s Central Division crown for the second-straight season, making a return trip to the MLB Playoffs.

OK, that’s not breaking news. However, it does seem that some Tribe fans may be questioning that statement. And I can’t really blame them.

Through 111 games of this season, the Indians have felt like an underachieving group. Albeit, a first place underachieving club. But nevertheless, this is a team not lighting the baseball world on fire following their incredible run to Game 7 of the World Series. They did all this despite what seemed like an endless amount of adversity and a laundry list of injuries.

The overwhelming consensus was that coming out of spring training, the Indians were not only a deeper and more talented club top-to-bottom than the 2016 group that fell just short of the franchise’s first World Series title since 1948, but that they just might win a weak AL-Central Division by 15 to 20 games.

Now the weak division part was accurate. Three clubs are already rebuilding for the future. Winning the division by double-digit games still remains to be seen.

The blueprint for success was pretty fresh for this Tribe club heading into the 2017 season. The Kansas City Royals had just done it.

After falling short in 2014 in a Game 7 to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants, the Royals returned for the 2015 season on a mission, virtually torching every team in their path. The Royals went on to win the AL-Central Division easily by 12 games over the Minnesota Twins en route to their first World Series crown since 1985.

Everything was in place for Terry Francona’s Tribe to do exactly the same this season. Off a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Chicago Cubs, there was one thing left for this Indians club to do.

“Win the whole %$&*^$% thing.” (Keeping with our Tribe theme, I figured why not quote Jake Taylor from the 1989 flick Major League?)

Now nearly midway through August, things seem a lot more difficult for the Tribe than it did for that ’15 edition of the Royals.

Yes, injuries have certainly played a part in the Tribe’s inability to pull away their carpet for another magical ride through October. But so have parts of this baseball team.

Any team’s No. 4 and No. 5 starters have question marks, but the Indians were probably hoping for more consistency from both Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. Bauer has certainly been better recently. The bullpen finally looks human. Carlos Santana (while better of late) hasn’t produced the way most expected he would in a contract year. Edwin Encarnacion had to battle a slower start. The outfield has mirrored a revolving door at times. And, finally and I mean FINALLY Danny Salazar looks like the guy Indians fans have craved to watch.

Sure, Francisco Lindor at the age of 23 is already the face of the franchise and Jose Ramirez has become a star before our very own eyes. It’s also been nice to see the return of Michael Brantley (he only played in 11 games in 2016). And Corey Kluber has been ‘Ace’ Corey Kluber

It’s not like everything has gone wrong for the Indians. Adding slugger Jay Bruce late Wed. night in a trade and his 29 home runs along with 79 RBIs should help run production. Think about this, while Bruce hit 29 homers this season, the Tribe’s outfield had combined for 37.

But it’s still not all that difficult to identify why this club cannot seem to throw it into high gear when you factor in a combination of injuries, even to Brantley recently and simply certain areas of the club not having the consistency most fans, and perhaps even the front office expected.

However, the good news is this: The breaking news from earlier has not changed. Yes, the 2017 edition of your Cleveland Indians will still win the American League’s Central Division crown for the second-straight season, making a return trip to the MLB Playoffs.

Beyond that, it is impossible to predict.

But with three clubs in the division already in a full-blown re-build for the future and the Royals confusingly holding onto big-time impending free agents and now awkwardly having to say they are going for it, this is clearly the Tribe’s division to lose.

In fact, the Indians are not only the most talented club in the division, but in order to lose this division they would be handing it over to a team like Kansas City or dare I say Minnesota, along with a luscious piece of center cut filet mignon and some of Dom Perignon’s finest champagne.

Prior to this MLB season, Las Vegas oddsmakers made the Indians -600 favorites to win the AL-Central. Meaning, a bettor would have to risk losing $600 simply to win $100 taking Cleveland to win the division. That’s how confident the guys who helped build billion dollar hotels and lavish casinos on the Vegas strip the last 50 years were, that the Indians would win the division.

Overall talent, an eventual Hall-of-Fame manager in Francona and perhaps the worst division in MLB will ultimately pave the way to more postseason play.

The breaking news hasn’t changed. The Indians will still win the AL-Central Division, even if they continue to drag themselves to the Oct. 1 regular season finish line. And the addition of Bruce should provide even more excitement to the roster that is already constructed.

But the sooner the Tribe starts playing like everyone anticipated this year, the easier life will be for them when the lights shine brighter in the MLB Playoffs.


*Nick Camino’s column will appear weekly on WTAM.com and can be linked up through Facebook and Twitter. Nick is the nightly talk show host on Newsradio WTAM 1100 and also helps anchor sports at Cleveland 19 News.