There’s no sugarcoating it, the Cleveland Indians are not a glamorous team. Despite being a ballclub steeped in history, they are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the storied Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, and Cardinals. They don’t engender that style and flair the Dodgers, Giants, and Blue Jays do. The Tribe, as they are affectionately known, haven’t won a championship since 1948. Their long-suffering fanbase has come close to victory on numerous occasions, as recently as 2016 in fact, but success has ultimately eluded them, and often in heartbreaking fashion. The drought for a title has run for over seventy years now, and sadly the Indians don’t look any closer to ending it in 2020.
With that said, what on earth could inspire you to join me every week to follow such a bedraggled bunch?
There are reasons for optimism if you look close enough, in spite of the general air of apathy settling over Progressive Field at the moment.
Front and centre is Francisco Lindor. Yes, he’s still an Indians player. Cleveland potentially has two years remaining to enjoy the Puerto Rican, and if we cross our fingers and toes and pray to the baseball gods, the club might actually extend him to a long term contract. I can keep dreaming.
Lindor is the undisputed leader of the team and face of the franchise. Oh, and what a face; they call him Mr Smile for a reason. One of the true superstars of the modern game, who plays shortstop with an unmatched enthusiasm and joy, Lindor is worth the price of admission alone. Hindered by an early-season injury in 2019, he still hit 32 home runs and recorded a 4.4 WAR and 114 wRC+ (per Fangraphs). He flashed superior leather in the infield on his way to another Gold Glove as well. There’s no finer example than Lindor as to why we love this game.
Franmil Reyes, the hulking soon-to-be outfielder, could hit over 40 home runs this season. His blasts are Ruthian in their velocity and trajectory, screaming off his bat and over fences with alarming regularity. The 24-year-old slugger is one of this year’s prime “best shape of my life” candidates, reporting to spring training having lost over 18 pounds this winter. Expectations are high for Reyes, who was miraculously gifted to Cleveland by the Padres in a midseason trade. Indians fans expect him to be the right-handed power bat the lineup has been calling out for. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching a Reyes homer yet, watch this space over the coming months.
Attention must be given to the young and dynamic pitching staff also. So long a source of strength and depth for the Tribe, the rotation is anticipated to be a major asset once again, led by Mike Clevinger, a legitimate Cy Young contender. The man dubbed Sunshine will miss spring training thanks to an unfortunate meniscus tear in his left knee, but will look to anchor the staff upon his return. In the meantime, his perfect head of hair will continue to flourish.
Shane Bieber will run Clevinger close for the role of designated ace. Fresh off his All-Star MVP in 2019, Bieber will be aiming for silverware again (ideally in the shape of a World Series – thanks in advance Biebs). The 24-year-old right-hander was the breakout star for the Indians last year, posting a 3.28 ERA and 3.32 FIP over 214.1 innings of work. A strikeout artist, Bieber recorded an impressive 10.88 K/9 rate as he mowed down opposition hitters with his devastating slider and curveball combination, paired with his 93-mph plus fastball.
The Indians’ bullpen warrants praise, with flamethrowers James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase expected to throw bullets in relief as they support closer Brad Hand. The 29-year-old Hand enjoyed a dominant start in 2019, and carried a sub-1.00 ERA into June before a tired arm prevented him from carrying that form into the later part of the season. All focus is on keeping Hand healthy in 2020, and not allowing his performance to suffer in the summer again.
Finally, in an effort to keep this initiation to the Indians somewhat brief (we have all season to discuss everyone else on the roster after all), we cannot forgo introducing you to Indians catcher Kungkuan Giljegiljaw. The Taiwanese native, formerly named Li-Jen Chu, undoubtedly has the finest name in baseball. Originally from the Paiwan tribe, one of 16 major indigenous groups in Taiwan, Giljegiljaw changed his name back to raise awareness for his people and their heritage. Likely to begin the season at Triple-A Columbus, following Giljegiljaw’s progress in 2020 will be a lot of fun, as fun as his name is to pronounce. I am going to spend the rest of spring training committing his surname to memory so I no longer resort to copy and paste.
The Indians cut payroll significantly this winter and have displayed limited ambition to build around players like Lindor and Jose Ramirez. However, the Tribe will still expect to compete for a division title and a place in the postseason with the pieces they possess. Topping the Twins will certainly take some doing, not to mention keeping the insurgent White Sox firmly behind them in the standings.
I have been following the Indians since 2007 and have written about them consistently since 2013. Join me this season for the ups and downs of their 2020 campaign. Whether they rise or fall, there’ll be plenty to discuss about the club from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Ash Day is covering the Cleveland Indians throughout the 2020 season as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29