Could the Tribe really be better than last year?
Opening Day in the Major Leagues has finally arrived. We can now get down to the business of enjoying Indians games that count. While discussing (with some friends at work) this year's Tribe and how they compare to the 2016 version, a co-worker said I made it sound like the 2017 version will be far superior to last year's almost-champion.
So let's take a look at the infield for 2017 version (or at least what I presume it to be).
First base: Edwin Encarnacion has to be considered – at the very worst – as good as the departed Mike Napoli. But Edwin shall be platooning with Carlos Santana, whom I can't see duplicating his 2016 season. Regardless, Encarnacion is an upgrade, and even if Carlos slips a bit as anticipated, the worst I see is a wash, because Encarnacion is the real deal, folks. But I truly think overall production at first will be a plus over last season.
Second base: This position will be kind of convoluted, at least at the beginning, since the regular, Jason Kipnis, is out with rotator cuff issues (and don't be surprised if it is a problem all year – I once experienced a "minor" tear and it took forever to heal). Although Kipnis’ leadership will be missed, he’s not exactly being replaced with chopped liver. Jose Ramirez is moving over from third to play second while Kipnis is on the mend, and Ramirez led the team with a .312 batting average last year. Can Ramirez do it again? I think he will be at least adequate offensively, and he is superior to Kipnis in defensive ability. So I will call this a wash. However, when Kipnis does return, I don’t look for him to play as well as last year, as I think the injury will most likely hamper Jason all season. So overall, I see second base being a slight step backward.
Shortstop: Barring injury or some other unforeseen catastrophe, the Indians should be set here for the next dozen years or so. What a player! If Francisco Lindor comes close to duplicating last season, it will be a success. He’s raised the bar so high, it’s difficult to see him doing much more than what he accomplished last year. On the other hand, he is still a kid. Let’s call this “even” and I’d be thrilled with that. Right about now Cooperstown should be deciding where they’re going to build the Francisco Lindor wing. He’s that good.
Third base: Here’s the biggest question mark in the infield. Deciding to go with a rookie – Yandy Diaz – totally surprised me. The man swings a potent stick, but his defense can – and probably will – cost the team a game here or there. I have to trust Francona on this one though, because his decisions over the past four years have been exemplary. I have to assume that Tito figures if Yandy can’t handle third while Jose fills in at second, we have plenty of other guys who can field but not really hit much. Since Ramirez was so good last year at third, you have to look at this position as a step back from last year, but Diaz could make me sing a different tune very fast.
Catcher: I have had this gut feeling (but maybe it’s from my gall bladder surgery) that Yan Gomes will have an awesome comeback year. Since we didn’t get much overall offensively from the catchers last year, there is nowhere to go but up. That’s not to discount their collective abilities to call a game and play good defense, but you throw a competent bat in at catcher and offensively the lineup has few holes.
How ‘bout next issue we look at the outfield and the pitching? Until then, let’s “Play ball!”
Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits. My forte is humor and horror...What a combo!