There’s more championship hope than ever in The Land.
Less than four months after the Cleveland Cavaliers delivered a championship to the Forest City, the Indians hope they can erase another longstanding title drought. The Tribe hope 2016 marks the end of a nearly 70-year run without a World Series title.
Terry Francona’s team has its work cut out, earning an American League Division Series matchup with the Boston Red Sox, a tall task for any team, but especially a team like the Indians who are down a couple of starting pitchers.
Here’s all you need to know about the AL Central champion Indians.
2016 record: 94-67
The Indians had to wait until the final day of the regular season to secure home-field advantage in the ALDS, but that’s potentially huge. The Tribe were a much better team at Progressive Field this season.
At home: 53-28 record with a plus-105 run differential
On the road: 41-39 with a minus-4 run differential
For Cleveland to win this series, it must play well at home, especially considering it was just as good on the road as at home.
Game 1: Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA, 190 IP, 8.0 K/9 IP, 1.311 WHIP)
How he beats you: Bauer doesn’t necessarily strike you as a sinker-baller looking to induce groundouts, but his ground-ball percentage is way up this season (48.7 percent) over his career rate (41.5 percent). There’s no surprise that’s coincided with an uptick in 2-seam fastballs.
How you beat him: Look for the Red Sox to be aggressive early in the count. Opposing hitters hit .458 with a 1.188 OPS when putting the first pitch in play vs. Bauer. The Red Sox feasted on first pitches, hitting .368 with 29 home runs and 128 RBI on the first pitch. Bauer is also susceptible to early struggles: He allowed 20 first-inning runs in 28 starts.
Game 2: Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA, 215 IP, 9.5 K/9 IP, 1.056 WHIP)
How he beats you: Kluber is almost unhittable when he gets ahead in the count. When Kluber works out in front, it allows him to lean on his curveball. Opposing hitters hit just .108 vs. that pitch, which he loves to throw on 0-2 (35 percent of the time), 1-2 (40 percent) and 2-2 (33 percent).
How you beat him: Make him pay when he falls behind. Opposing hitters’ OPS was nearly 400 points better ahead in the count than behind. You also have to take advantage of early-inning opportunities. Kluber’s ERA in innings 1 through 3 was 3.57; it was 2.70 in innings 4 through 6. You might also have to hope his quad injury bothers him.
Game 3: Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA, 174 IP, 6.1 K/9, 1.190 WHIP)
How he beats you: He pounds the strike zone and doesn’t give you free bases. Tomlin has a ridiculous 1.4 walks per nine innings rate for his career, and his 1.0 BB/9 IP led the league this season.
How you beat him: You’ve got to hit him hard and take advantage of those strikes. He pitches to contact, which could be bad news at Fenway Park, where he’s 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in three career starts.
The guy you could see in every single game: Andrew Miller
The Indians had a pretty good bullpen when they acquired Miller on July 31, but he’s made that unit even better since. Terry Francona kind of picks his spots with Miller, so when he needs outs late, he’s going to Miller, no matter the inning. David Ortiz better get used to seeing a lot of Miller; Ortiz is just 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in his career against him.
The guy you’ll see a lot but probably haven’t heard of: Dan Otero
Miller and closer Cody Allen get most of the attention in the Cleveland bullpen, but Otero was fantastic all season. The 31-year-old has been a revelation, with a 0.906 WHIP, limiting opposing batters to a .211 batting average. He’ll work primarily in the sixth and seventh inning, which could be potentially huge situations given the Indians’ rotation concerns. Because of the matchup, he could see a lot of work. Other than Miller, the Indians don’t have a left-handed reliever. It’s worth noting that Otero had good reverse splits, as left-handers hit just .197 against him.
Carlos Santana, 1B
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Francisco Lindor, SS
Mike Napoli, DH
Jose Ramirez, 3B
Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
Rajai Davis, LF
Tyler Naquin, CF
Roberto Perez/Chris Gimenez/Yan Gomes, C
–As of this writing, the Indians haven’t indicated what they’ll do with their postseason roster. Gomes is the starter, and he’s a big part of the team’s heart and soul. However, a shoulder and then hand injury kept him out for more than two months, and he didn’t return until the final series of the season. He homered in his first at-bat back, but it’s still unclear whether he’ll make the postseason roster. If he does, injury concerns could mean the Tribe carries three catchers on the roster, which isn’t an ideal situation for a team with a batter starting rotation that likely wants to carry as many pitchers as possible.
–It’s not much of a surprise given the Indians’ success at home, but they were a tremendous offensive club at home. They hit 13 more home runs at Progressive Field than on the road, and their home batting average (.288) and OPS (.827) greatly overshadowed their road numbers (.236, .691, respectively).
–Boston’s Game 1 starter, Rick Porcello, enjoyed a career season and is a legitimate Cy Young Award contender. However, drawing the Indians might not present a great matchup for the right-hander. Porcello saw Cleveland plenty during his time in the AL Central with Detroit, and there are some members of that lineup with good numbers against him.
Santana: 22-for-72, 3 home runs
Kipnis: 10-for-31, 1 home run, 8 RBIs
–One thing to watch in this series is how the Red Sox are able to (or unable to) control the Cleveland running game. The Indians ranked third in all of baseball in Fangraphs’ BsR statistic which calculates a value accounting for all facets of base-running: stolen bases, taking an extra base, etc. The Indians had four players with at least 15 stolen bases, with Rajai Davis’ 43 swiped bags leading the team. Red Sox catchers Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez will face plenty of pressure behind the plate, and it’s imperative that the Red Sox outfield — one of the best in baseball — limit Cleveland’s ability to take the extra base.
Thumbnail photo via Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports Images