Welcome to Opening Day 2018. For Cleveland Indians fans, this means the process of burning the letdown of last October from our collective brains can finally begin.
It goes without saying the upcoming campaign is a crucial one for Cleveland. A relatively quiet winter has some fans worried about this team’s 2018 outlook. Some believe last season – in which Cleveland was bounced in the first round despite winning 102 games – might’ve been the team’s last great chance to win a World Series.
This isn’t necessarily the case. However, if the Tribe is going to seriously contend for a title this year, big contributions will be required from some in the clubhouse, particularly from these four players.
Michael Brantley — OF
I’ve already noted why it’s important for Brantley to have a big season this year. The team invested significant money when picking up his $12 million option in the offseason, which also limited what it could do on the free agent market. Knowing Brantley has only logged 101 games across the past two seasons, fans are understandably concerned about the Indians banking on a healthy season.
The outfield is easily one of the biggest weak spots for Cleveland. However, anxiety would be alleviated if the Indians can get a solid year from their All-Star left fielder. In fact, how Brantley’s season plays out could drastically affect the outcome of Cleveland’s season.
While a strong showing could help the team push for a title, another season spent on the DL could be a huge blow to the Indians’ playoff hopes.
Dan Otero – RP
Many Indians fans don’t realize how much they’re going to miss having former team punching bag Bryan Shaw in the bullpen. Manager Terry Francona was never shy about using the former Cleveland reliever in numerous crucial situations, an option no longer available now that he’s a member of the Colorado Rockies.
Someone will need to step up as Cleveland’s new high-leverage reliever, and right now it appears to be Otero. He’s been effective since joining the team in 2016, proving to be one of the more reliable arms in the bullpen. However, his ERA jumped from 1.85 in 2016 to 2.85 last year. Additionally, only once in his career has he surpassed 76 innings, which is how often Shaw threw for the Indians last year.
Cleveland is hoping its bullpen can continue being one of the best in the bigs, and whether Otero can handle the increased workload will be a major factor in this.
Yonder Alonso – 1B
Carlos Santana was easily one of the biggest losses for Cleveland this winter. His replacement – Alonso – clearly has big shoes to fill.
The 2017 All-Star is a significant question mark for Cleveland. He put forth huge numbers in the first half of last season, only to significantly cool down in the last three months. As a result, projecting his performance this year is quite tricky.
When determining Alonso’s impact with the Indians, it’s pretty cut and dry. If the first months of last season are the best indication of what he can provide moving forward, Cleveland should be in great shape. However, if his back-half decline carries into this season, the team’s offense is going to suffer.
Nobody should expect Alonso to replicate Santana’s output. That said, the size of the drop-off between the two will play a big factor in the Indians’ season.
Mike Clevinger – SP
Cleveland’s long-haired starter locked up the final spot in the team’s rotation this spring, following up an impressive 2017 campaign. With his innings restriction removed last season, his ERA dropped significantly year-over-year, while his strikeouts increased by 63%. Make no mistake, when Clevinger is on, he makes the Indians rotation even better.
Where he struggles, though, is high-pressure situations. Clevinger tends to lose control when backed up against the wall, which can result in some ugly innings. If this problem lingers in 2018, coupled with the occasional rough patch for Josh Tomlin, the back-end of Cleveland’s rotation could take a hit.
For what it’s worth, Clevinger claims to have worked on his nerves on the offseason, and he’s tabbed by many as a pitcher who could take a huge leap forward this year. If he can, the Indians’ rotation would officially become the best in the majors.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook