2021 MLB Team Preview: Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians came within an eyelash of winning the World Series in both 1997 and 2016, but they didn’t quite cross the threshold. This team has been knocking on the door in the American League in recent years, consistently making the playoffs, but it hasn’t been able to break through. Given what has happened in the offseason, it will be an even bigger challenge for this team to reach its world championship goal, but then again, who expected the 2020 season to play out the way it did in the American League, with the Tampa Bay Rays defeating the Houston Astros in the ALCS? Anything is possible for Cleveland and the rest of the American League.

What Happened Last Year

The Indians hosted the New York Yankees in an early-round playoff series, but their pitching simply didn’t hold up. The Indians were eliminated by the Yankees, beginning a long offseason. The Tribe’s rotation did not get enough high-leverage outs late in games, and that will be an obvious point of focus this season.  

Offseason Changes

The Indians took a huge hit in both their starting lineup and their pitching rotation. Francisco Lindor, their elite middle infielder, went to the New York Mets. Ace pitcher Trevor Bauer, who gave them a fighting chance in the postseason, went to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It is going to be extremely hard for the Indians to overcome those two departures. One departure would have been a big deal in its own right, but both changes in the same offseason will make it harder for the Indians to regroup.

The Indians’ middle infield is now Cesar Hernandez at second base with Andres Gimenez at shortstop. That is a big step down from what the Indians previously had. The starting rotation’s number one pitcher is expected to be Shane Bieber, with Zach Plesac the No. 2 starter and Aaron Civale at No. 3. Logan Allen is projected to be the Indians’ No. 4 starter and Triston McKenzie at No. 5. It’s a lot of new faces and new names.

2021 Outlook

This is going to be a heavy lift and a hard road for the Indians in 2021. Not only are their roster and pitching staff noticeably worse than in 2020, but the American League Central Division is getting stronger, with the Chicago White Sox having made the playoffs this past season and loading up with young talent to make an even deeper playoff run this year. The Minnesota Twins have been the best team in the division the past few years and will still have a considerable amount of resources, but the White Sox are going to battle the Twins and Indians at the top of the division. In 2018 and 2019, the Indians only had the Twins to worry about, but now the White Sox have a formidable team, which really puts the squeeze on the Indians in their time of transition. The question isn’t whether the Indians will finish first in the Central; that’s very unlikely. It’s whether they finish second or third… and right now, the optimistic answer is not the probable one. This seems like a third-place season for a team which – however briefly – is due for a decline, which will bring forth the need to be aggressive on the hot stove market before 2022.

Pick: 3rd In American League Central

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