With playoff baseball right around the corner, cleveland.com is taking a look at the biggest issues facing Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians. As the 2018 regular season winds down, the answers to these questions will reveal whether or not the Tribe is Ready for October.
KANSAS CITY – So what comes first, the no doubters or the bubble players when a team picks its 25-man roster for the postseason?
The Indians have been sorting through their roster since before they clinched the AL Central on Sept. 15. It must be submitted to the commissioner’s office by 10 a.m. Friday, a few hours before the Indians and Astros meet in Game 1 of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
But manager Terry Francona talked to select players during the final regular season trip through Chicago and Kansas City which ended Sunday at Kauffman Stadium to give them an idea if they had made it or not. So, let’s take a look at the Tribe’s potential postseason roster starting with the players you can count on making the roster.
Infielders (five): Yonder Alonso, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion.
Catchers (two): Yan Gomes, providing his right thumb is healed after it came into contact with Alex Gordon’s bat on Saturday night, and Roberto Perez.
Outfielders (three): Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera.
Starting pitchers (four): Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Trevor Bauer.
Relievers (four): Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Brad Hand and Oliver Perez.
That’s 18 players, meaning there are seven spots to fill. Which leads us to these four questions?
*Can the Indians carry four lefties in the bullpen? Miller, Perez and Hand are already on the team, but Tyler Olson has looked good of late.
*Can outfielders Greg Allen and Rajai Davis make the roster?
*Does infielder Yandy Diaz have a chance to make it?
*What about utility man Erik Gonzalez, who is in concussion protocol?
Last year Olson didn’t allow a run in 30 appearances with the Indians. He’s been human this year, but in his last 14 games he didn’t allow a run, striking out 16 in 9 2/3 innings. The thing working against Olson is that Houston’s lineup is predominantly right-handed.
Francona said Sunday, to the surprise of no one, that Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco will start Games 1 and 2 against the Astros on Friday and Saturday, which means right-hander Trevor Bauer, still recovering from a stress fracture in his right leg, will open the series in the bullpen. Mike Clevinger, another right-hander who is in line to start Game 3 or 4, could be available out of the pen in the early going. All that works against the Tribe carrying four lefty relievers.
In the case of Allen and Davis, they do the same thing – steal bases and primarily play center fielder. While Davis has been replacing Kipnis in center field for defense the last couple weeks, Francona has been using Davis more as a pinch runner so perhaps there is room for both because of the value he puts on speed and baserunning.
“Those are some of the things we’ve been working through,” said Francona.
If it comes down to a choice between the two, the switch-hitting Allen would probably be the pick. He hit .258 (68-for-264) with 11 doubles, three triples and 21 steals in 25 attempts. Last year he made the ALDS roster in the same role.
Diaz didn’t make the ALDS roster last year and when Edwin Encarnacion twisted his ankle in Game 2 the Indians were caught short. It was one of several things that went awry for the Tribe in the five-game series loss.
If Francona needs a bat off the bench, Diaz could help. He hit .273 (12-for-44) against lefties, .328 (21-for-64) against righties and .333 (11-for-33) with runners in scoring position.
Gonzalez was hit in the head by a pitch on Wednesday night against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. He’s still in MLB’s concussion protocol and until he’s released he’s unavailable to play. Diaz has played first and third this year and Jose Ramirez could move over to shortstop with Kipnis moving back to second in case of an emergency. Or veteran utility man Adam Rosales could make the roster.
Last year the Indians went with an 11-man pitching staff against the Yankees in the ALDS. Asked if he would do that again, Francona said, “There are no guarantees.”
But 11 pitchers is a good starting point, which means the Indians have to fill three vacancies. The candidates include Shane Bieber, Adam Cimber, Jon Edwards, Olson, Dan Otero, Adam Plutko, Neil Ramirez and Josh Tomlin.
Bieber went 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA in 20 games, including 19 starts this year. The Indians experimented with him coming out of the bullpen on Aug. 21 against Boston and things went well until he hit a snag in the seventh inning.
They could do the same thing against the Astros. Last year they had starters Clevinger, Danny Salazar and Tomlin in the bullpen.
The Indians acquired Cimber and Hand from San Diego in July. Cimber is a submarining right-hander who could give Houston’s right-handed hitters a different look. He limited righties to a .239 (44-for-184) batting average with four homers this year.
Otero, after an up and down season, posted a 2.89 ERA in September. Edwards has shown good velocity, but he may be more on the Tribe’s radar for 2019. Plutko has been used primarily as a starter, while Ramirez has pitched better since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 2, but allowed 17 earned runs in his last 23 2/3 innings. Tomlin held the Royals one run over 4 2/3 innings on Thursday, but his season as a whole was a struggle.
In the outfield, Brandon Guyer has been Cabrera’s platoon partner in right field. He’s had some injury problems, lately a sore right shoulder, but Francona likes him against left-handed pitchers. Houston has lefty Dallas Keuchel in the rotation, while Tony Sipp is their busiest lefty reliever. Guyer hit .233 (24-for-103) with five homers and 17 RBI against lefties this year.
If Gomes can’t play Friday, Roberto Perez would start. If the Indians didn’t think Gomes could play in the series, rookie Eric Haase would make the roster. Francona, however, said everything is pointing toward Gomes being able to play Friday.
More Ready for October posts: