Three thoughts on the Indians – Clevinger, the lineup and more

The Indians have won four-straight games

James Rapien
April 08, 2019 - 12:21 am
Apr 7, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez (11) and right fielder Tyler Naquin (center) and first baseman Carlos Santana (41) celebrate after the Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field.

© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The Indians swept the Blue Jays and are 6-3 heading into their upcoming road trip. That's a good start considering the injuries, young players and issues they're dealing with.

Here are three thoughts on the Tribe based on what we've seen during the first nine games of the season and what could happen next: 

Mike Clevinger is the Indians' best pitcher – No one was expecting that to be the case two weeks ago, but he's been dominant in his first two starts. He left Sunday's game with a back injury, but doesn't expect to miss any time because of it.

The 28-year-old hasn't allowed a run in 12 innings of work. He's only given up two hits and has 22 strikeouts. Sunday's performance against Toronto was just as impressive as Trevor Bauer not allowing a hit in seven innings. That sounds crazy, but Bauer issued six walks in that game and hit a batter. Clevinger walked one and allowed one hit.

No one expects him to continue to be best pitcher on the team, but it's proof the Indians have the best rotation in baseball. Clevinger topped 97 mph on eight pitches against Toronto. He'd only thrown four pitches at 97 mph or higher in his career before Sunday. 

Clevinger is going to give up hits, runs and have bad outings this season. He won't continue to average 1.83 strikeouts per inning. The Indians don't need him to lead the show, but if he's consitent and proves to be a dominant starting pitcher, then he'll likely be the ace who helps bridge the gap from this decade to the next one. 

The Indians' lineup will improve – Anytime the lineup is posted people sigh, laugh or simply tweet a gif making fun of the nine players that will play on that particular day. Players like Jake Bauers and Tyler Naquin shown some flashes in recent days, but they're just part of the solution. Of course the Indians need some of their younger players to emerge this season.

They also expect Jason Kipnis, Carlos Gonzalez and Bradley Zimmer to be big-time contributors. Kipnis went 1-for-6 in his first two-rehab starts. Gonzalez has posted a .333 batting average in three games with Columbus. Not only is CarGo expected to make the team, but people within the Indians' organization think he can be a big-time contributor this season. 

Francisco Lindor continues to do everything he can to get back on the field. He was taking ground balls on Saturday and moved around pretty well. He may not be back until May, but the Indians have shown they can hold down the fort without him. It's hard to envision them winning the division without him in the lineup all season, but they should be able to stay afloat for a few more weeks. 

Once Lindor and Kipnis return to the lineup, the infield will be much more stable than it has been. This is an example of what the Indians' lineup could look like a month from now:

1. Francisco Lindor SS

2. Jose Ramirez 3B

3. Carlos Gonzalez RF

4. Carlos Santana 1B

5. Jake Bauers LF

6. Hanley Ramirez DH

7. Jason Kipnis 2B

8. Roberto Perez C

9. Leonys Martin CF

This roster has its' issues and the Indians won't solve them all with players already in the organization, but things are better than they seem. The rotation looks great, the team has a winning record and its' best player is getting healthier everyday.

The Bullpen is the BIGGEST concern moving forward – Some will argue the lineup, but there's a good chance that part gets solved with health. The Indians' bullpen is relatively healthy. They don't have Tyler Clippard, who's still dealing with a strained pectoral muscle, but everyone else is available. 

They struggled during the home opener and almost let the Blue Jays back in it on Sunday. Outside of Brad Hand, manager Terry Francona doesn't have many relievers he can trust yet. He's used Jon Edwards, Oliver Perez, Adam Cimber and others in recent days and they've all had their issues. He expects the bullpen to find their groove and be fine, but their effectiveness is vital to the Indians' success – especially with the injuries they're dealing with. The Indians aren't going to score a lot of runs without Lindor, Kipnis and Gonzalez. They need the bullpen to be able to close the door on a team when they're only up by a run or two. 

Hand is the only reliever Francona can trust right now. If that continues to be the case, then their bullpen issues are going to cost them.