Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
2017 Tribe even better than a year ago
As Indians eye second-straight AL-Central Division crown, it’s important to understand just how special current club is
By: Nick Camino
CLEVELAND – Life is good for a sports fan in Cleveland right now.
The Indians have won 14-straight games matching a franchise record set last season and are already closing in on their second-straight AL-Central Division title, the Browns have yet to lose a game, and at last check, LeBron James was still playing basketball here in town for the home team.
For now though, let’s just pause…put the pigskin down and hold off on inflating those basketballs just a bit longer.
The Cleveland Indians are in the process of putting together one of the best baseball seasons this town has ever witnessed. Yes, that’s including a 90s era Tribe rich in winning lore including two World Series appearances, and an ’07 club that came within one victory of reaching the World Series and even the team from a year ago, when the Indians fell just short in a historic Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs.
How in early September could somebody possibly proclaim this 2017 Indians club may be better than all those teams?
Any statement like that could and should be put to debate. However, what cannot be debated is that over the last month, no team in Major League Baseball has been hotter than Cleveland and no club, yes, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, may be more well equipped for a run through the October postseason yet again.
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images
Let’s start with this: the Indians bring back virtually every player from a year ago. Yes, the club that took a 3-1 lead in the World Series before dropping three-straight games to the Cubs.
Interestingly, where they lost certain fan-favorites and contributing pieces like Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, the club actually improved on the field by adding Edwin Encarnacion and Austin Jackson in their place. Without Napoli and Davis, the Tribe may not have even reached the World Series a year ago. But, Encarnacion and Jackson are definite upgrades for this Indians club. Period.
Meanwhile, Jose Ramirez has turned a hot stretch in 2016 into the birth of a potential superstar here in 2017. His start at third base in the All-Star Game was the initial proof of that, and his .311 batting average to go along with 25 HR, 69 RBI and a .363 OBP (through Wed., 9/6) has helped cement the belief that “J-Ram” or the “GOAT,” as he is affectionately called by Tribe fans, will be a cornerstone player for the Indians for years to come.
Did I mention that Corey Kluber is putting together another Cy Young Award-caliber season, while Trevor Bauer is tied for the American League lead in victories with 15? He’s tied with some guy named Chris Sale, who you may have heard of.
The bullpen brought back all of its main pieces including Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw. They have also added to that group with talented arms like Joe Smith and Tyler Olson.
Similar to a year ago, injuries have continued to rack up on this Indians club. Miller is still recovering from knee tendinitis, Jason Kipnis has battled injuries the entire season, Michael Brantley is still out with a bad ankle sprain and Lonnie Chisenhall just returned from a severe calf strain. All of them, except Brantley were significant contributors to last year’s club.
This 2017 team however, has continually shown it can sustain injuries and overcome adversity, while displaying a tremendous amount of depth. That’s a credit to the Indians front office and a deep farm system. Unfortunately, last year in the World Series it appeared a boat-load of injuries finally caught up to the Tribe as the fall classic went deeper.
Manager Terry Francona is still in charge and his Hall-of-Fame résumé continues to get more impressive with each passing season. Francona’s ability to put players in the best position to thrive and keeping that “next game is the most important game” mentality, allows the Indians to remain focused on the task at hand; winning the final game they play in 2017.
How impressive is this 2017 edition of the Tribe? We’re 670 words into this column and have yet to mention Francisco Lindor, a rising superstar or Carlos Santana, who finally appears to have put everything together in another contract year for himself.
The pitching staff is currently one of the best in the American League again, and offensively the Tribe owns the third-best mark in runs scored in the AL, to go along with the best run differential at +186 (through Wed., 9/6) in the AL.
Deep. Talented. Experienced. Heck, we could use about 670 more words to describe just how incredible this current Indians club really is.
Does it mean the Indians will automatically get back to Game 7 of the World Series? Only time and plenty of nerve-wracking playoff innings will eventually tell us that.
It is impossible to forecast how far a team will go once October rolls around. The ’97 Indians only won 86 games in the regular season, but got hot at the right time and reached Game 7 of the World Series. Last year’s club was an underdog in every playoff series, but peaked at the right time, reaching the fall classic for the first time in 19 years. The ’99 Tribe won 97 games and looked like a lock to reach the World Series, but unfortunately they ran into Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox ultimately losing in the best-of-five-games ALDS.
Nobody, even Las Vegas oddsmakers, can predict what may happen once the MLB postseason arrives. That’s part of the beauty of playoff baseball.
However, once this Indians club gets players back healthy, their already rich-in-talent deck will finally be fully stacked and ready to cash in on the World Series crown they should have won a year ago.
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.