The 2016 Cleveland Indians are the Sleeper Team of the AL

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(USA Today Sports)

The Cleveland Indians will be a playoff team in 2016. Now I’m not saying that it will be a cake-walk for them to make the playoffs, but with a couple breaks, and some regression from the other teams in the AL Central, I believe the Indians will earn a playoff berth.

Now first let’s look at the American League Central. The Royals are the defending World Champions, but I believe that they will take a step back in 2016. Fangraphs predicts the Royals to win 79 games this year, but they also predicted the Royals to win 79 games in 2015, and we all know how that ended.  Now while I don’t think that they will finish with a win total as low as 79, I do think that will drop down a little bit in the standings, as the loss of Ben Zobrist will come back to hurt them more than they expect.

(McClatchy-Tribune News Service)
(McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

The Tigers went all-in on Justin Upton, but that could very well come up and bite them back. They don’t have the youth that they once had, and in my eyes will be lucky if they even reach .500. The Twins are on the opposite end of the youth spectrum. One of the reasons that the Twins burnt out towards the end of last year was because they did not have any veteran leadership, and while they will have Ervin Santana for the whole year this year, they still don’t have that piece that will push them over the hump. The White Sox also appear to be a couple years away from contending, as they are still gelling as a team.

 (AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Now onto the Tribe. The Indians have one of the best rotations in baseball right now. It all starts with 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Kluber has some of the best stuff in baseball, and Terry Francona knows that he has a guy that is going to give him a quality start every five days. But that is not where the pitching dominance ends.  Carlos “Cookie” Carrasco had a breakout year last year, going 14-12 with a 3.63 ERA and coming within one out of a no-hitter against the Rays.  If Carrasco can find consistency on a start to start basis, then the Indians could have one of the best 1-2 combinations in baseball. Behind Carrasco is Danny Salazar. Salazar went 14-10 last year with a 3.45 ERA in 2015, but there is still room for improvement. Salazar started the Indians wild card game in 2013, but it looked like the pressure of the big game got to him, as we only lasted 4 innings and gave up 3 runs and was tabbed with the loss. In 2014 he started out with a 5.53 ERA, and a .295 batting average against, and was subsequently sent down to the minors. Salazar found it again though in 2015 finishing with a 14-10 record and a 3.45 ERA, and he hopes to build on that in 2016.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Trevor Bauer is the Indians wild card. Bauer still has yet to finish a big league season with a winning record, as he finished last year with a 11-12 record, to go along with a 4.55 ERA. Consistency is something that has plagued Bauer throughout his young career, as you never really know what you are going to get from him on a start by start basis. If Bauer is able to put it together and be a reliable fourth arm, it would drastically help Cleveland playoff chances.

The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs. The early front-runner is Cody Anderson, who had a stellar rookie year, going 7-3 after a June call-up, and even winning AL pitcher of the month in September. The Indians also have veterans Josh Tomlin and T.J. House competing for the fifth spot, and the loser(s) of that battle could very well see extended time in the bullpen if they don’t make the cut for the rotation.

The Indians bullpen should be solid as usual. Cody Allen (34 saves last year) is an above-average closer, with an overpowering fastball and good breaking stuff. The rest of the bullpen is solid, with Bryan Shaw,Kyle Crockett, Austin Adams, Jeff Manship, and Zach McAllister holding down the fort. McAllister has really made the transition from starter to reliever, as last year was his first year as a reliever and he put up good numbers, finishing the year 4-4 with a 3.00 ERA. The Indians also signed longtime Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlin in the offseason, so it will be interesting to see how he fits into the Tribe’s season plans.  The Indians ‘pen is solid, it does not have many eye-popping names, but it will win them more games than it will lose them.

The real test for the Indians will be offense. The Tribe had a relatively quiet offseason, as their biggest signings were the likes of Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Colin Cowgill. And with it looking more and more like Michael Brantley’s injury will seep into the regular season, the Indians will need some help manufacturing runs. Second baseman Jason Kipnis had a great 2015, and he will hope to build on that into 2015. Having a healthy Yan Gomes will go a long way to helping the Indians score some runs, as Gomes sprained his MCL on April 11th last season, and was never the same player when he got back.

(USA Today)
(USA Today)

Pitching will be no problem for the Indians this year. If they are able to find a way to score some runs until Brantley comes back, and maybe even make a trade or two, I can almost guarantee that you will see the Indians playing in October.