The Cleveland Indians were just a win away from capturing their first World Series title since 1948. But after a late collapse, the Cubs were able to end one of the most famous curses in all of professional sports, capturing their first title in 108 years. With the dawn of a new season on deck, the Indians have a big year ahead of them, and they have a healthy roster this time around.
Entering last season, the news had been that outfielder Michael Brantley would be able to return for the Tribe as early as the end of April. But as the season wore on, it was obvious that there were complications revolving around his health, and although he returned for a handful of games in the regular season, he had very minimal time on the field in 2016. This, coupled with a diminished starting rotation in the postseason, spelled disaster for Cleveland’s playoff hopes, especially with a surging Boston Red Sox team coming into town for the opener of the American League Division Series. In fact, it was concluded early on that an inactive Brantley for the majority of the season would be what would keep the Indians out of playoff contention. However, thanks to efforts by Andrew Miller (acquired in a trade with the Yankees during deadline season), Corey Kluber, and a franchise-record 14 consecutive wins at the end of June, the Indians climbed their way up the standings and eventually rode the wave into the World Series. In what could very well be considered one of the best fall classics, the Indians fell to the Cubs in a seven-game series, but did so missing Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and aforementioned Brantley.
With renewed hope and a clean slate entering spring training, Cleveland is prepared to finish the job this time around.
Their first steps toward ending baseball’s longest active title drought will happen on Saturday, when they take on the Cincinnati Reds in their Cactus League opener. While it is simply an exhibition match-up, it is a way to see the team’s improvement since the beginning of November last year. Additionally, it is the league’s first chance to see Edwin Encarnacion in an Indians uniform for the first time since his signing this winter, who was a key part of the Blue Jays’ playoff run last season (halted by the Indians in the ALCS).
Encarnacion now hopes to bring the same offensive power to Cleveland, a team that is very strong on the mound and needs just a little more from the bats to get back to the World Series this fall. He will join a young Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Rajai Davis, notable for his game-tying home run late in Game 7 against the Cubs, as the main source of offensive production.
“I made the decision to come here,” Encarnacion told the media in an interview as spring workouts began, “because here, I have the opportunity to win the World Series.”
The road back to late October baseball will not be a simple task though, even though they are heavy favorites to win the AL Central. Boston, another strong contender for the title in the upcoming season, have boosted their roster with the addition of ace pitcher, Chris Sale and will be looking to stop the Tribe from defending their American League title. And of course, the Chicago Cubs will be hunting for another championship with a strong youth presence if Cleveland manages to make their way back.
There is still plenty of time to prepare before the Indians play their season opener in Arlington against the Texas Rangers, an early exit from the playoffs last season despite owning the American League’s best record in the regular season. Because of the World Baseball Classic being on the calendar this year, spring training will be slightly longer than usual, providing clubs with a couple of extra days to get a couple of additional spring games or workout days in prior to the season. Already, the Indians have completed their annual “Warrior Dash”, which is an endurance test that has the players run against the clock in a competitive fashion.
Zimmer, Allen, Urshela, Gonzalez among final runners… pic.twitter.com/yK9cq1TaHR
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 18, 2017
In the contest, players are disqualified if they fail to keep face with the beeping sound, which slowly gets faster as the competition continues. While Lindor claimed the victory in 2016, the spotlight was on prospect Greg Allen this time around, as he was the last man standing. For the Indians, it is definitely pleasing to see the younger players take over the show, a sign of success for years to come.
But as always, it is best to take things one year at a time, especially with the Indians entering with very high expectations this season. To satisfy those expectations, they will have to take it from square one on Saturday in Goodyear, beginning a mission that will take more than eight months to complete.