Next man up: The competitive balance round in MLB’s draft was designed to aid the poorest of teams — both financially and presumably performance wise — but the Indians used their pick in 2015 to help the rich get richer. They took pitcher Triston McKenzie at No. 42, and three years later, the team with the top ERA in MLB in 2017 has one of the best pitching prospects in the game. It might be that the competitive balance round is not serving its purpose. McKenzie will be 21 in August, and is likely to start this year in Class AA. But in 238.1 minor-league innings, he’s fanned 307, allowed just 168 hits, has a 2.68 ERA and decent control — he’s walked only 70.
What he said: Manager Terry Francona on catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez: “When we are scouting teams and (the stolen base is) a part of their game, it is a nice feeling to know we have both of them back there, because there is not a lot worse than not being able to stop guys from running, because it gets ugly.” What he meant: “Almost as ugly as their at-bats.”
Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. The Indians had the best pitching staff in MLB last year, and this year’s should be pretty good, too. They led MLB in team ERA (3.30), strikeouts (1,614), walks allowed (406) and complete games (7) and were second in OPS against (.673) by two points. Almost everyone is back but Bryan Shaw, who had a 3.52 ERA and .653 OPS against; if you listen to enough disgruntled Indians fans, that’s an improvement. 2. The Indians won’t be able to keep Francisco Mejia in the minors and/or out of their lineup much longer. Mejia hit .297 and slugged .490 in Class AA, and seemed a fit for a team whose catchers, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, were 21st in MLB with a .692 OPS. That was better than 2016 when they combined for a .564 OPS and were ranked last. The Indians got to the World Series in 2016 with that lack of production and felt no impetus to improve on it last year. You don’t go 69 years without winning a World Series without a lack of imagination. 3. The Indians played the Yankees in the ALDS with a second baseman (Jason Kipnis) in center field and an offensive liability (Giovanny Urshela) at third base. They batted .171 in the series and scored five runs in the last three games, which isn’t all Urshela’s fault. But bad hitting won’t often beat good pitching, and the Indians are better served with Kipnis at second, Jose Ramirez at third and a centerfielder in center.
Three reasons it won’t: 1. Josh Tomlin is still in the rotation. The Indians might have the best pitching in MLB, but it’s in spite of Tomlin, who has a 4.65 career ERA, had a 4.98 ERA last year and allowed 166 hits in 141 innings. Tomlin has made 55 starts the last two years and allowed a home run every 5.1 innings. Watching the Indians start Tomlin every fifth day is like watching the driver of a fancy car run over the pothole rather than go around it. Eventually, it’s going to do some damage. 2. Can Yonder Alonso do it again? The Indians are replacing Carlos Santana, who has averaged 24 homers and 98 walks a season over the last seven, with Alonso, whose 28 homers last year were nine fewer than he had hit in his first six seasons (to be fair, Alonso’s first two were small sample sizes). The Phillies are paying Santana $60 million over the next three seasons; the Indians are paying Alonso $16 million over the next two. This might not have been the season to be frugal. 3. The Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, and no team that’s been playing since then has gone that long without winning. The Red Sox have won. The White Sox have won. Even the Cubs have won, but not the Indians. They lost a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series — to the Cubs, no less — and a 3-1 lead in the 2007 ALCS — to the Red Sox, no less. They lost a ninth-inning lead in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series to the Marlins. Perennial losers and newcomers all beat the Indians when it matters most, so losing a 2-0 ALDS lead to the Yankees with the Cy Young winner starting Game 5 may not have even been in their top three of disappointing losses of the last generation. Indians fans expect nothing less — it’s why the franchise ranked 22nd in 2017 in attendance when it ranked second in wins.
Team song: Sonny Stitt, Cleveland Blues