MLB’s Opening Day is right around the corner, baseball fans. And remember, we’ve got three games going Sunday, April 2. So we thought we’d wrap up the week with some division previews. You got the AL/NL East on Tuesday, you’ll get the AL Central on Thursday, the NL Central on Friday and the AL/NL West on Saturday.
Then before the action kicks off Sunday, our World Series winner will be revealed. That, along with various award-winners and the 2018 Hall of Fame class. But these won’t simply be predictions from yours truly, no. Instead, we’ll be looking through the lens of Out of the Park Baseball ’18.
You can thank Matt Collinsa��among others, I’m surea��for why you’re about to see this.
First off, have you ever played Out of the Park Baseball? If your answer is a�?Noa��, go remedy that. Then come back here. Because what youa��re about to see is exactly whata��s going to happen this season.* They might as well not even bother playing the games.**
*This is actually just for fun. Please enjoy it.
**I dona��t really mean this.
Our first division previewsa��the AL and NL Easta��came and went the following way: The Tampa Bay Rays claimed their division after a 95-win season. Shocking, right? Well it would get a little less shocking when the New York Mets took their own division. Okay, there was a little shocka��96 wins and an entirely healthy starting rotation. So what have we got today? Nothing but what we expect.
The Cleveland Baseball Club is winning the AL Central. Moreover, it’s not particularly close. Let’s take a look at the final standings:
- Cleveland Indians (101-61).
- Detroit Tigers (78-84).
- Minnesota Twins (73-89).
- Chicago White Sox (72-90).
- Kansas City Royals (68-94).
Cleveland winning 100-plus games? Not surprising. The rest of the division failing to finish .500? A little strange. But Cleveland winning the division isn’t, and that’s what we’re here for. So how’d the fellas do it?
By April’s end, Cleveland already had a four-game lead over Detroit. It only got worse from there, and quickly.
Unsurprisingly, their most important presence at the plate came in the form of Francisco Lindor, who slashed .317/.368/.519 (.887 OPS) with seven doubles, four dingers and 18 runs scored. Right behind him? The resurgent (and finally healthy) Michael Brantley. With his unfortunate stretch of injuries hopefully in the rear-view, Brantley hit .314/.372/.471 while slapping 10 doubles and two dingers of his own.
Brantley healthy, and hitting like he never missed a gamea��a heartwarming sign for many a Cleveland fan. But would their rotation hold up? More than slightly, yes.
As April concluded, not one hurler between Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer had posted an ERA higher than 3.56. Additionally, all but Bauer had struck out more than 10 batters per nine. No wonder they ended up winning 101 games.
Oh, I almost forgota��Edwin EncarnaciA?n (.319/.390/.543; 5 HR) couldn’t stop hitting in April. In fact, he couldn’t stop hitting all the way up until Cleveland traded him. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
By the time June 1 had rolled around, the division lead had extend to 6.5 games. But at least Detroit had a winning record, right?
Lindor (.291/.371/.547; 7 HR) kept tearing the cover off the ball. Meanwhile, Jason Kipnis (.284/.336/.483; 4 HR) joined the party while Brantley (.229/.301/.404; 5 HR) unfortunately tailed off. Trust me, this would only be a blip on the radar for the outfielder.
EncarnaciA?n’s power numbersa��and his consistency at the plate as a wholea��took a big hit, but he was still getting on base roughly 35 percent of the time.
On the mound, Klubot was nearing optimum performance levels, Carrasco remained steady and Josh Tomlin stepped up. So while Bauer and Salazar stumbleda��it was a much rougher trip for the lattera��the bullpen showed up and rotation struggles suddenly didn’t matter.
Cody Allen tossed 14.1 innings, struck out 16 (10.0 K/9) and posted an 0.63 ERA. Not to be outdone, there was Andrew Miller, who had become Cleveland’s de facto closer before too long. He added 14.1 scoreless innings along with 20 strikeouts (12.6 K/9) and a lone walk. Miller wouldn’t stay quite that hot all season, but his team was already starting to look far scarier than the 2016 World Series runners-up.
A 19-8 mark in June effectively ended any and all talk of a divisional title race. How? Two things: 1) Detroit went 12-16, falling to one game under .500. And 2) the lead had stretched to 14 games.
Even better, no serious injury had arisen. No odd transaction shaped the rest of their season differently (yet). It was all going so well, and it just kept on going.
EncarnaciA?n bounced back, added five more long balls and surpassed his average from May (.204) by 70 points. Perhaps the Blue Jays should have reconsidered letting him walk. Lindor continued to rake, as did Brantley. Brandon Guyer (.289/.389/.395) even got in on the fun. Carlos Santana was one month away from being completely locked in. And Bradley Zimmer, ranked the No. 63 prospect by OOTP, got off to an excellent start (66 PA; .333/.364/.698; 7 HR) upon getting the call.
In short: While it wasn’t everybody producing for Cleveland, those who were happened to be doing so big time.
Bauer regressed, Salazar continued to struggle and Klubot short-circuited in June, but Carrasco and Tomlin remained steady. Ultimately, that was enough. Meanwhile, Andrew Miller continued making the opposition look foolish.
Cleveland’s division lead would only extend one more game as August approached, but barring an Atlanta-style collapse, everything was looking good. As it stood, no other team in the Central was over .500. Of course, we know that’s how it stays.
For some reason, Cleveland found it necessary to trade EncarnaciA?n (along with reliever Bryan Shaw and two minor-league players) for Gio Gonzalez and one other unimportant piece. Before the trade, EncarnaciA?n had slashed .281/.365/.481 (.851 OPS) with 13 doubles and dingers apiece. Cleveland was holding onto a 14-game lead at the beginning of July, and nobody in their rotation was injured. It simply did not make sense.
Gonzalez, to his credit, had pitched to the tune of a 1.71 ERA over 73.2 innings before the transaction. So while they were acquiring another starter currently at the top of his game, it just seemed odd. Unnecessary, even. But Gio gave Cleveland a good first month, pitching to a 2.92 ERA over 24.2 innings. His control was good, he missed enough bats and he kept the ball in the yard. But the good times were limited after that.
Meanwhile, Lindor continued presenting his case for AL MVP while Santana just started getting hot. Maybe moving on from Edwin wouldn’t hurt too much after all.
Another month passed, and three more games added itself to Cleveland’s lead. An 18-game lead with 28 remaining, all while Detroit clung to their .500 record that they wouldn’t see through to the end.
Michael Brantley owned the month of August on offense, but that didn’t stop several of his teammates from joining in:
Notably, neither Lindor nor Guyer were going away. Additionally, Tyler Naquin would put up some of his best numbers all season. And, Santana was locked in. Thankfully, too, because it was mostly sunshine and rainbows over on the mound.
Gonzalez cracked a little while Salazar continued to, but Bauer, Carrasco, Kluber and Tomlin all kept their cool. With Boone Logan and Andrew Miller continuing to perform out of the pen, Cody Allen could afford to have a rough month:
It was elementary long before this, but come October Cleveland had ultimately taken the Central by 23 games.
As Cleveland strolled into the postseason, here’s what some of their top performers did:
- Francisco Lindor: 717 PA; .321/.387/.528; 40 doubles, 26 HR, 15 SB.
- Michael Brantley: 698 PA; .297/.360/.455; 35 doubles, 20 HR, 9 SB.
- Jason Kipnis: 627 PA; .263/.333/.436; 31 doubles, 20 HR.
- Carlos Santana: 626 PA; .247/.354/.509; 30 doubles, 36 HR.
- Tyler Naquin: 444 PA; .315/.379/.499; 18 doubles, 16 HR.
As for their starting rotation:
Danny Salazar was the only starter to consistently struggle.* And, the only rotation member to post an ERA higher than 4.00. This could be worrisome if reality repeats what we’ve seen here, but even then, Cleveland clearly had more than enough to pick him up.
*Gonzalez may have finished with solid numbers overall, but after coming over via trade, pitched to the tune of 5.40 ERA. He struck out more batters but control worsened and the ball left the yard more.
Still, a solid season nonetheless. But how far does it go? You’ll have to come back Sunday to find out.