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Biggest Takeaways for Indians
The MLB season is over three weeks old, so while there is still much baseball left to go, we are starting to get an idea of who teams really are. That includes the Indians, who are 8-9 but just two games out of first place in a tight American League Central division.
After the first 17 games of action, here are some of the biggest things that stand out thus far for the Tribe.
Jordan Luplow regaining 2019 form
After two rough seasons and limited action with the Pirates, right fielder Jordan Luplow proved to be an above-average bat for Cleveland in 2019, hitting 15 home runs with an OPS of .923 in a little over 200 at-bats. However, he struggled in 2020 to the tune of a .192 average, .663 OPS, and two home runs in 29 games.
This year, Luplow looks to be a lot more of the player he was in his first season in Cleveland. The 27-year old is leading the team with five home runs and 11 RBI, already surpassing last year’s totals in just 13 games. While the average is only .235, his .381 OBP and whopping .706 slugging give him a 1.087 OPS, which would put him inside the top-10 in baseball if he had more at-bats to qualify.
While he was not expected to play a huge role on the team this year, Luplow has easily out-hit other outfielders like Eddie Rosario and Josh Naylor and could get plenty of opportunities over the coming weeks.
J-Ram starting slow again
It seemed like Jose Ramirez had put a difficult 2019 behind him after last season’s .292/.386/.607 campaign. However, the All-Star third baseman is still searching for some consistency in 2021.
So far, Ramirez is hitting just .219 with four home runs and eight RBI. However, look at how he started the last couple of seasons, and you’ll see that this might be par for the course.
In August of last year, aka games nine through 35, Ramirez hit .202. In 2019 he hit .181 in the first month of the season. In fact, J-Ram actually hit .218 before the All-Star break, before, of course, tearing it up down the stretch.
Look at those starts, and also look at how this season he has nearly as many walks (7) as strikeouts (8). Ramirez should be back to his regular self in no time.
Beiber’s got company
Obviously, Shane Bieber has cemented his spot as the ace of this pitching staff after his dominant 2020 Cy Young campaign. But two unexpected names are out-performing expectations early on as well.
So far, Aaron Civale and Triston McKenzie have each stepped up and shown flashes of brilliance. Starting with Civale, the 25-year old took a step back last season but looks dominant so far, going 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. He’s not the strikeout pitcher Bieber and McKenzie are, but he has gotten double-digit ground ball outs in half of his four starts and gone 90 or more pitches each time he went out on the mound.
Meanwhile, McKenzie has not had the traditional game log like Civale but has flashed dynamic stuff. The 23-year old has made two starts and three total appearances, striking out 18 batters in 12.2 innings. While he has also issued ten walks, his career 60 Ks to 19 walks in 46 innings is something Cleveland should be excited about going forward.
While Bieber doesn’t have the 2020 stats so far, he still has 11 or more strikeouts in all four of his starts, giving him 48 in just 29.1 innings. Him and McKenzie, along with the growing consistency of Civale, give the Tribe a nice start to their rotation.
Clase pulling away
Much was made about the Indians deciding to go with a closer-by-committee heading into the season. But that may change based on the performance of Emmanuel Clase.
Clase, 23, was acquired from the Rangers in the Corey Kluber deal in December of 2019. After showing signs with Texas in 2019, he has been given the first crack at the job this year and ran with it. The hard-throwing Dominican has allowed zero earned runs in 7.1 innings, earning four saves and striking out ten batters.
As far as the other two relievers who were part of the committee, James Karinchak has been brilliant so far, allowing just two hits and striking out 12 in 6.1 innings. However, Terry Francona may want to keep Karinchak in the set-up role, much like Milwaukee did with Josh Hader up until a couple of years ago. As for Nick Wittgren, the veteran of the group is a distant third after another bad outing Thursday against the Yankees raised his ERA to 10.13, with five walks and eight hits in 5.1 innings.
Right now, the Indians feel confident in Clase being the ninth-inning guy with Karinchak, the immediate reliever. That shouldn’t change anytime soon.
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