The state of Cleveland sports is arguably at its highest point since the buzz from the Indians’ recent World Series appearance and the Cavaliers winning the NBA Finals back in June.
The Indians have been in American League pennant contention before and the Cavaliers have competed for Eastern Conference crowns, but neither have clicked at the same time like they are right now.
In 2016, both the Indians and Cavs put the city of Cleveland at the center of the sports universe for really the first time since 1954 when the Indians lost in the World Series and the Browns won the NFL championship. That said, with the Indians gaining attention from national media as the defending American League champions, are they still viewed as the “hunters” or are they now the “hunted” team in the American League?
A New Level
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Indians should be the “hunted” team in the American League, but don’t tell that to any of the players in the Indians clubhouse. The Indians will need to adopt and maintain the “hunter” mentality in 2017 for a number of reasons.
The Indians have been in postseason contention for all but one season in the Terry Francona era. During his four year tenure with the organization, the team has made it to the playoffs twice, made it to a World Series and Francona has earned two AL Manager of the Year awards. The Indians have been in postseason contention three of these four years, and look to be in line to contend for many more years.
A New Era
The 2017 season brings a different vibe as the club comes off its first World Series berth since 1997. Following the offseason addition of Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians all but cemented themselves as the AL Central favorites ahead of the rebuilding White Sox and Twins, and above the retooling Tigers and Royals.
The question pertains to the club’s mentality heading into 2017. With regards to the division, the Indians are undoubtedly the “hunted.” Kansas City and Detroit figure to be the likely contenders along with Cleveland for the AL Central crown, but Detroit is trying to sell its team and Kansas City has lost key pieces that won them the 2015 World Series kept them in the hunt for postseason in 2016.
AL Power Shift
Are the Indians “hunters” or the “hunted” in the American League? This is not a matter of whether the Indians can win the AL Central or not, but it’s a matter of whether the rest of the American League – specifically Boston and Texas - can catch the Indians. The Red Sox made the big trade to acquire Chris Sale from the White Sox in December, but how does that favor them versus Cleveland?
In a very small sample size of two starts versus the Indians in 2016, Sale did not fare all too well. He allowed a .308 average to Tribe bats while surrendering nine runs and three home runs. He also walked six while striking out 13 Indians hitters.
The Red Sox also added first baseman Mitch Moreland via free agency. Moreland slashed .130/.231/.261 and had three hits in seven games versus Cleveland in 2016.
Defending AL West Champion Texas re-upped on outfielder Carlos Gomez and signed starting pitcher Tyson Ross last week. Will that be enough to catch the Indians?
Two Sides of the Same Coin
When you look at the 2017 Indians, you have to think of questions that surround the club as well.
Will Michael Brantley revert back to old form? Will Jose Ramirez repeat his breakout 2016? Will Edwin Encarnacion live up to his contract? When will we see Bradley Zimmer? Will the rotation stay healthy?
Optimistic views around this team are very plausible given where they went last year, but reaching a second World Series in as many years is no easy feat. Though the Indians may be the favorites to repeat in the AL Central, the Red Sox, Rangers, and the rest of the American League contenders will be chomping at the bit to have their shot at the Indians.
Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Cleveland Indians and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers on Indians Baseball Insider on Scout.com. You can listen to him on IBI’s Farm Report Podcast and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan.