Play Ball! Five storylines as the Indians near Opening Day

Plenty of questions await as the 2019 season begins in less than a week

Mike 'Chico' Bormann
March 22, 2019 - 11:20 am
Apr 9, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber (right) with shortstop Francisco Lindor against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks defeated the Indians 3-2 to sweep the three game series. Mandatory Credit: Mark

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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Next week at this time we will either be over-analyzing Game 1 of a 162 game season played by the Cleveland Indians, or justifiably mocking Major League Baseball's brainstorm to have the Tribe open up the 2019 campaign on the road against the Twins (name one other city besides Cleveland where the conditions could be LESS conducive to playing baseball in March. Answer: Minnesota).

Nevertheless, let's dive into five storylines heading into the season...

1) EASY DOES IT Just when we thought the days of fragile calves were in the rear view mirror when Lonnie Chisenhall limped to Pittsburgh, Francisco Lindor injured his right calf while going through agility drills in early February. While the injury was never thought to be too serious, the Indians have proceeded with extreme caution for their 25-year-old star shortstop. Asking for another MVP-type season which included 129 runs scored, 38 HRs, and 92 RBI is a lofty request, but the Indians might very well need every last one of those numbers for a line-up filled with question marks. The idea of Lindor being ready to go next week is very tempting and also very realistic. It could also be very foolish if returning too soon leads to a nagging issue all season. 

2) "JOSE, JOSE, JOSE, JOSE" How many clubs can boast numbers like Lindor's and then make a strong case that his stat-line was only second best? A club who features a guy who finished three spots ahead of him in the vote for American League MVP, that's who. In addition to being the best value in baseball, Jose Ramirez  compiled one of the best seasons in franchise history in 2018, blasting 39 HRs to go along with 105 RBI, while scoring 110 runs and stealing 34 bases. And just like Lindor, the Indians will likely need a repeat performance from their All-Star third baseman in 2019.

3) HELLO, MY NAME IS...OK, so we touched on the bright side of the Indians offense to start things off. The light drastically fades as we go around the diamond, specifically in the outfield. Now would be a good time to get acquainted with some new faces and re-introduce some guys you may have forgotten about. 23-year-old Jake Bauers is a promising young prospect acquired from Tampa Bay over the winter. Depending on whether DH Hanley Ramirez (also new) makes the roster, Bauers will see extensive time both in left field and first base. Bauers got off to a great start with the Rays last season before scouting reports and too many swing thoughts got the better of him. Meanwhile, the team signed 33-year-old veteran outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to a one-year deal on Tuesday. A three-time All-Star with Colorado, Gonzalez and the Indians will find out just how much is left in his tank. "CarGo" will most likely find himself in a platoon situation with both Tyler Naquin and Greg Allen in right field. Allen should also see time in centerfield when Leonys Martin needs a day off. Got it? Keep your programs handy this season.

4) STRONG-ARMING IT The Indians return a starting rotation that set a Major League record when Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger all eclipsed 200 strikeouts in 2018. Francona will closely monitor Kluber's workload after five straight seasons of 200-plus innings. If healthy, it's reasonable to expect the other three to progress even further-a scary thought for opposing clubs. Toss in Shane Bieber and his newfound changeup, which has been the talk of Goodyear, and this could easily be the best rotation in baseball. Could there a be a trade for outfield help at some point involving Kluber or Bauer? Stay tuned.

5) FINISH WHAT THEY STARTED With runs most likely at a premium this season and a starting rotation more than capable of keeping them in many games, it will be up to the bullpen to make  strong starts hold up and close out wins. It was no secret last year that Francona had few options he could trust late in games. He should feel confident handing the ball to lefty closer Brad Hand to put the final touches on victories. But getting it to Hand could be more drama than Tito would like. Righty submariner, Adam Cimber should bounce back after a year to settle into his new surroundings. Dan Otero must bounce back after serving up gopher balls at an alarming rate. Francona loves Jon Edwards, but the sample size is small. Lefty Oliver Perez could make life much easier if he can once again find the Fountain of Youth. Bullpens are fickle, The Tribe is hoping to be on the good side of that this year.

Plenty of questions await as the 2019 season begins in less than a week.

The Indians have some emphatic answers with a formidable rotation and two superstars in Lindor and Ramirez.

Will it be enough? Will they be forced to deal in search of more offense? There is only one way to find out. Fire up Fogerty's "Centerfield" and let's PLAY BALL!