CLEVELAND, Ohio — Talking to myself about the Tribe:
QUESTION: Indians in four games, nice prediction.
Q: How could you pick the Indians in four? If anything, don’t you think they’d need five games to beat Houston in the playoffs?
A: Put a gun to my head and demand a prediction, I would have said Houston in four games. The Astros are the superior team. But if the Indians were going to pull an upset, they needed to win it at home — and not go back to Houston for a fifth game. That was the thinking.
Q: Your thinking was about as good as the Indians’ bullpen.
A: The bullpen was a problem for most of the regular season. At the postseason media gathering, Terry Francona said: “If part of your team is inconsistent during the season, it probably will rear its head in a short series.”
Q: Meaning what?
A: The Tribe bullpen had an 11.70 ERA while being swept in three games by Houston. The Astros had an 0.93 ERA from their bullpen. In the regular season, Houston’s bullpen ranked No. 1 in the American League (3.03 ERA). The Indians were No. 13 (4.60). I thought the Trevor Bauer bullpen experiment could cover that hole, but Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and the rest were so bad…you know the story.
Q: Is that the sound of the Tribe’s contention window closing?
A: They will come back with a much different team. I don’t anticipate any expensive off-season acquisitions. But I expect them to be back in the playoffs in 2019.
Q: Are you going to buy what Chris Antonetti was saying about the core of the team being sound?
A: The Tribe’s president said: “We’re in a really good spot organizationally. We’re going to have two guys (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez) in the top five or seven of the MVP voting. We’re going to have four guys in the top 10 of American League Cy Young voting.”
Q: Do you believe that?
A: I’m not going to guess on the voting. I am going to say the Indians have four big-time starting pitchers: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Bauer. Shane Beiber has a chance to be excellent.
Q: Why dwell on the rotation?
A: Perhaps the hardest and most expensive talent to secure is starting pitching. The Indians are loaded. Houston (3.16 ERA) ranked No. 1 in that area. The Indians’ starters (3.39 ERA) were No. 2 among American League starters.
Q: Aren’t you overestimating the value of starting pitching?
A: I’m looking at the stats for the top five rotations in the American League: Houston (3.19), Cleveland (3.39), Tampa Bay (3.68), Boston (3.77) and New York (4.05). All but Tampa Bay were among the last four teams in the American League playoffs. A strong starting staff is a postseason ticket.
Q: You’re just saying that because you like the Indians.
A: I’m saying it because if I could pick any part of a team to be elite — starting pitching, bullpen, hitting, defense — I’d go with starting pitching. It can cover up a lot of mistakes in other areas.
A: Kluber pitched poorly in the opener (four runs in 4-2/3 innings). But Clevinger and Carrasco allowed only three runs in 10-1/3 innings. In retrospect, Francona should have tried to squeeze another inning out of each of them. The lack of hitting (.144 batting average) and the terrible bullpen were the main issues.
Q: So why are you upbeat about next season?
A: Because of the starting pitching. The Indians could even trade one of those starters in a huge deal. Despite their relief problems this season, it’s easier to put together a bullpen than a rotation.
Q: Not that easy, didn’t this season prove that?
A. The Indians had Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, two relievers making a combined $19.5 million. Both were bullpen stars in 2016. Both floundered this season. Now the Indians build with closer Brad Hans. As Francona said: “We have our work cut out to put together a bullpen to get us where we want to go.”
Q: Didn’t the Indians discuss Danny Salazar in the bullpen?
A: The media asked about him. Salazar was out all season with arm problems. He’s still not ready to pitch, although he’s suppose to be making progress. I’ll believe it when he not only pitches, but stays healthy for a few months. Cody Anderson is coming off Tommy John surgery and doing well. He was 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA when healthy in 2015. He could help in the bullpen in 2019.
Q: Aren’t you trying to justify your stupid “Tribe in four” prediction?
A: I’m looking at a team with superior starting pitching in an inferior Central Division. I’m looking at a team that should win at least 90 games again and should return to the playoffs. I’m looking at the kind of team that I never saw when growing up following the Tribe.
Q: So where are the Indians going to find all these relievers?
A: That’s the challenge for the front office. They mentioned Tyler Olson, Jon Edwards and Adam Cimber as candidates to go along with Hand. A lot of other names will come up. It’s doubtful Miller or Allen will be back, and it will be interesting to see what kind of contracts they receive in free agency.
Q: Indians in four…really?
A: I was wrong. But I do think I’m right about how the Tribe’s rotation sets them up to be a playoff contender in 2019.