OK, it's almost here. Opening Day.
Let's look at the lineup and the strategy:
Carlos Santana - He is just solid. Not spectacular but solid with lots of walks and HRs. If he could ever hit .300 and not lose power or plate discipline, he would be an all-star every year. If he ever had one year to turn up the jets it would be this year. He is a free agent next season. Look for a big year from him in his walk year.
Francisco Lindor - Rookie nerves? Sophomore slump? Nothing so far. He just looks like a perennial all-star at this point and an offensive (and defensive) strength of the team. The only question I have is not IF but WHAT he will do this year to remind us that he is still young and has lots of time to up his all-star level play to even higher heights.
Michael Brantley - If his body holds up he will certainly be a value to this lineup...and moreso than ever before for, as much as I loved Mike Napoli, hitting in front of Edwin Encarnacion is even better to protect Brantley and, frankly, with that shoulder, he can use the extra protection of getting to hit strikes. If he is healthy I see a higher walk rate, lower strikeout rate and about the same everything else as in 2015.
Edwin Encarnacion - We all the other teams right for not signing him to a 3-year deal? The logic is there. He is 34 and will be 36 at the end of this deal. Will he be worth the money in his age 36 season? Maybe not. But, if he stays healthy, I think he will be worth it this year.
Jose Ramirez - He is solid and I think he will benefit most from having Brantley back. I don't think people will be scared enough of Brantley to be overly cautious or fastball-happy with Lindor or Santana. However, I do think Ramirez will bat, from the #5 spot, A LOT in the first inning this year, meaning that he will have a lot of RBI chances not just early but often. If his 2016 is any indication, that means he should be very productive this year.
Brandon Guyer/Lonnie Chisenhall/Abe Almonte - This could be the weakest spot in the lineup. No, really. If that is the case this is one stacked lineup. These guys are all solid in their own way and, given that Chisenhall can hit the occasional lefty, all guys who can withstand the one-out guy if the rest of the other team's bullpen favors that hitter.
Yan Gomes/Roberto Perez - This is the key to the Indians being a very good offensive team and a great offensive team. That is, the bounceback to 2014 levels for Gomes and the continued maturation of Perez at and behind the plate. If both of these were to happen this immediately becomes an elite lineup, and one of the best in Indians history, in my opinion.
Yandy Diaz - The kid can hit. Batting him 8th in this lineup is perfect. If he gets on it is not likely that the next hitter will hit into a double play meaning there should be runners on for Santana and his HR bat.
Austin Jackson/Tyler Naquin - I love this platoon, especially if it is hitting 9th. It's like a second leadoff hitter meaning, in essence. The only downside is Santana's penchant for hitting into double plays but maybe that is a good thing if Jackson/Naquin get on base and run a lot. Plus Naquin has some protection hitting in front of Santana. It is rare to see your #9 hitter seeing more fastballs because he hits in front of the leadoff hitter but, in this case, it may be true. Given the predominance of right-handed pitchers so Naquin will start most of the time, this is a plus. Frankly, I don't see Jackson being helped as much by this as Naquin will be.
If Kipnis comes back healthy than he could slide into the 2nd spot, Lindor slides to 3rd, Brantley to 5th and Ramirez to 6th, Guyer et al 7th, Gomes/Perez 8th and Naquin/Jackson 9th.
After the starting pitcher, we should at least touch on the bullpen. I think, at this early point, you have to split the 7th inning duties between Otero and Shaw. I think Otero should get the first crack, especially if the first game sets up for us to use our bullpen in the 7th-9th. I just don't want Shaw to blow some early games when we could start off strong for the season.
Ditto for Logan. If he does come in in the first couple of series it would be as a LOOGY. The bullpen is solid except for Logan and Shaw and so I wouldn't feature them early in the season. I just wouldn't.
There we have it. Who knows how the season will go? I predict we will lose at least 60 games so 60 times things won't go perfectly and that is a certainty, I think.
The real predictions will be posted once the minor league rosters are set.