No, you do not need to get your eyes checked. You read that prediction right.
Last night, the Cleveland Indians defeated the White Sox 5-2 to move to a lousy 17-23 record on the campaign. Although they are now winners of three in a row, the Indians’ struggles have been one of the biggest early surprises of this MLB season, as most experts believed that The Tribe would be able to sleep through the season and still win the AL Central. Forty games in, Terry Francona finds his squad in dead last in the division and nine games back of Kansas City. Regardless, the Indians will turn things around and will ultimately be the last American League team playing in October. Here is why…
Regardless of performance thus far, the Indians have the best pitching staff in the American League. Corey Kluber, who has struck out an obscene 30 batters in his last two starts, sits 1-5 this year after finishing last year 18-9 and taking home the AL Cy Young Award. However, you can make a strong case that Kluber has been the victim of bad luck. First of all, he is pitching with a 3.79 ERA. In 2013, Kluber went 11-5 with an ERA that was higher than that at 3.85. Although Kluber has made five starts in which he has allowed just two runs or fewer, the Indians are 1-4 in such games. His last outing was a perfect example of run support coming at a premium, as the Indians lost 2-1 to the White Sox in 10 innings after Kluber allowed just one run in nine innings and struck out twelve. Still, Kluber has been very sharp lately after his slow start. In his last two outings, his Cy Young form has returned, allowing just one run, one walk, and six hits in 17 innings. Realistically, there is no reason why Kluber cannot deal the rest of the season and still win at least 15 games.
A rotation that consists of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and TJ House (when healthy) will ultimately pitch much better than it has in the first 40 games. After having a 4.54 ERA in April, the Indians have a 2.76 ERA in the last week. The staff is currently dominating the majors in strikeouts with a grand total of 376 K’s, which is almost 10 per game. So, why has the pitching been so poor? It really all comes down to one statistic: opposing batters are hitting an astounding .303 against the Indians with runners in scoring position. This means that Indians pitchers are simply not getting outs when they are most needed. Again, I see this as a statistic that is evidence of bad luck. Last year, opposing hitters hit just .242 in identical situations. Balls cannot simply continue to fall in for base hits at this current pace. Just as the team ERA, expect this .303 batting average to plummet.
Offensively, despite the fact that Cleveland is hitting just an average .247, the team is actually scoring more runs per game than it did last year when they won 85 games. Superstar Michael Brantley has had a fantastic season so far, but the other Indians drastically need to pick up the slack. Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Moss, Michael Bourn, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, and Nick Swisher are hitting a disgustingly terrible combined .215. While that statistic alone is atrocious, it makes it seem pretty impressive that the Tribe can still muster more runs per game than last season with all of these stars playing poorly. If some of the hitters not named Michael Brantley, David Murphy, or Jason Kipnis can improve (which they have to), this offense is capable of being scary powerful. It for sure has the capability and the star power to outscore any team in baseball. Beyond this, the Indians are hitting just .244 with runners in scoring position. So, while timely hitting has been strong against the Indians, they have been very unsuccessful with coming up clutch at the plate. Again, this major deficit appears to be an abnormality. Expect balls to begin falling more often at opportune times, and expect the struggling hitters to stop slumping.
All in all, the Cleveland Indians have the makings of a being a superpower in the American League. Unfortunately, a combination of under-performance and bad luck has placed them seven games below .500. Still, 122 more games lie ahead. I fully expect the bad luck to end and for timely hitting and pitching to improve or to at least balance out. If that happens, more runs will be scored and this blue chip pitching staff will win more games. Terry Francona is one of the best managers in the history of the game and gives the team a strong chance at winning every single game. There is undoubtedly enough talent on the field. I see the first games as a fluke, just like their 6-12 home record after going 48-33 at Progressive Field in 2014. Things will change, count on it. Expect the Tribe to start rattling off wins and to get hot. Although the White Sox, Twins, Royals, and Tigers are all capable of winning the division, the Indians are easily the most complete team. I foresee Cleveland making a powerful push that its fellow AL Central foes will be able to do nothing about. Looking into my crystal ball, I see pure dominance in the near future. I recommend jumping on the bandwagon before it is too late.
Final Prediction: The Cleveland Indians will finish 89-73 and will win the American League title