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A 2017 encore for the Tribe may be more difficult than many think

The Indians have put together a great team and arguably have their deepest and best team in the Progressive Field era, but the IBI's John Mast explains why the path to a World Series championship is not as easy as some think...

After a great postseason run in 2016, the Cleveland Indians sensibly have become the odds-on favorite to once again conquer the American League Central in 2017. With the signing of the proven power bat of Edwin Encarnacion, their chances look even better.

Add the fact that Cleveland accomplished its successful run without arguably their best hitter, Michael Brantley, and number two and three starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

It would make sense that after losing in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series, without the aforementioned important cogs, that the Indians would be sitting right next to the Cubs as favorites to repeat the feat. But a recent glance toward Vegas reveals that odds makers may be putting more faith in Boston’s revamped rotation than the Tribe’s regenerated roster.

A look into the odds shows the Cubs (7-2), Red Sox (6-1), Dodgers (7-1) and Indians (9-1) as the clubs favored to win the World Series.

At first I was appalled that the Indians were anywhere else but second to the Cubs, but upon further review, it looks as though the Tribe may actually have a more difficult path to repeat that performance they originally did in 2016.

The Indians have a tremendous task ahead of them. While the Dodgers are good, Boston boasts an incredible pitching staff and the best outfield of the top four teams. While the Cubs will especially miss Dexter Fowler patrolling center field and being a catalyst at the top of the order, the rest of the lineup remains intact. 

The Cubs still need to wade through the Dodgers and Nationals, as well as the always-present Giants and Cardinals. But they have no obstacle to climb that’s as high as what the Boston Red Sox will boast on the mound with the added firepower of ace Chris Sale.

That being said, each top contender has issues because of the opposition they will face in the Championship Series and the World Series. Check out these three pitching staffs (2016 numbers in parentheses)!

CHICAGO

Jon Lester 2.44 ERA, 19-5, 189 K
Kyle Hendricks 2.13 ERA, 16-8, 170 K
Jake Arrieta 3.10 ERA, 18-8, 190 K
Jon Lackey 3.35 ERA, 11-8, 180 K

BOSTON

Rick Porcello 3.15 ERA, 22-4, 189 K
Chris Sale 3.34 ERA, 17-10, 233 K
David Price 3.99 ERA, 17-9, 228 K
Steven Wright 3.33 ERA, 13-6, 127 K

CLEVELAND

Corey Kluber 3.14 ERA, 18-9, 227 K
Carlos Carrasco 3.32 ERA, 11-8,  150 K
Danny Salazar 3.87 ERA, 11-6, 161 K
Trevor Bauer 4.26 ERA, 12-8, 168 K

As great as the Indians rotation is, and it is without question the strength of the team, both the Cubs and Red Sox are statistically better!

The fact of the matter is, the Cubs have the easier road, because for the Indians or Red Sox to win the World Series they need to beat the other then deal with the Cubs’ nasty rotation.

For our purposes we will look at the Indians’ potential run to a title, which will run through Boston and Chicago. Don’t be fooled by the “easy” sweep of the Red Sox in last year’s divisional round. The likelihood of Cleveland and Boston facing off in a seven game ALCS is fairly high, though a long 162-game season could change that outlook.

Boston sports two lefties in Sale and Price, but can also throw in Drew Pomeranz to make it a trio of hard-throwing southpaws. This won't be near as much of a problem as it would have been a few years prior, however, as the Indians are much more balanced and less left-handed heavy than in previous seasons. But still, look at these potential matchups in the ALCS (we will give Porcello his due as reigning Cy winner and let him start Game 1, although Sale should in reality):

Game 1 Kluber v Porcello
Game 2 Carrasco v Sale
Game 3 Salazar v Price
Game 4 Bauer v Wright/Pomeranz
Game 5 Kluber v Porcello
Game 6 Carrasco v Sale
Game 7 Salazar v Price

If the Tribe is fortunate to survive that series, which should itself be epic, they then get the privilege of facing off with the Cubs in a repeat performance:

Game 1 Kluber v Lester
Game 2 Carrasco v Hendricks
Game 3 Salazar v Arrieta
Game 4 Bauer v Lackey
Game 5 Kluber v Lester
Game 6 Carrasco v Hendricks
Game 7 Salazar v Lackey & co.

Of course these matchups are purely speculation, as nobody knows how previous playoff series will affect rotations, but it gives us some good insight into just how competitive these two series would be.

While the Indians scratched their way to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, 2017 should be a much more difficult path to navigate due to the strength of these staffs. Those two series should be fantastic baseball, and whomever the Cubs have to go through (Dodgers/Nationals/Giants/Cardinals) could drain them as well. Not that the Astros, Rangers, Tigers, Blue Jays, Mariners and Blue Jays won't have something to say about it as well, but the Cubs, Red Sox and Indians seem head and shoulders above the rest because of their great balance of strong offense, good defense and superb rotations.

The real advantage for the Indians may be their edge in the bullpen. While the other teams may have strong closers, the Indians boast the CodyAllen/Andrew Miller combination in the back end plus have great depth and balance which runs at least six arms deep.

On the heels of one of the most epic World Series of all time, and as we enter into the excitement of spring training, 2017 promises to be a really fun year of baseball regardless of who hoists the hardware in November, so buckle up!


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