“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” sings Kelly Clarkson in her hit single “Stronger.”
The Cleveland Indians probably felt dead after their devastating extra-inning Game 7 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. They franchise did not fold after the season; just like Clarkson sings, it got even stronger heading into the 2017 campaign.
The defending AL champions rocked the baseball world by signing free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year contract. The normally frugal Indians recognized the next few seasons are their best chances to win the World Series and end a 68-year title drought, the longest in MLB.
Encarnacion joins a club that remains mostly intact from the previous season. The strength of the team, its dominant pitching staff, returns all five starters, including perennial Cy Young Award contender Corey Kluber. In addition, left-handed reliever Boone Logan joins the team to fortify one of the league’s best relief corps. Closer Cody Allen and lefty Andrew Miller mystified batters and audiences alike in the 2016 postseason and will look to continue to do so this year.
The Indians should have no problem scoring runs to back up their dominant pitching. The team is adding Encarnacion to what was the AL’s second best offense in terms of runs per game. Superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor is turning into the face of the franchise after finishing ninth in the 2016 MVP vote last season. Lindor’s irresistible smile and passion for the game make him an obvious choice for fan favorite.
Other fan favorites and key lineup pieces include second baseman Jason Kipnis, first baseman and designated hitter Carlos Santana and left fielder Michael Brantley.
The only challenges facing the Indians will be the health of their main players. As the team learned in last year’s postseason, having healthy starting pitching is crucial to their success. Additionally the club is unsure of Brantley’s health heading into the season. He played in only 11 games last year and is slated to join the team in early April. However, this is the second consecutive offseason during which there have been questions about his health.
To top it all off, both Kipnis and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall will be starting the season on the disabled list after injuries sustained during spring training. Indians’ fans hope the early injuries are not signs of things to come.
Luckily the Indians project to be in a mediocre division. Of their divisional rivals, only the Detroit Tigers are projected to win more the half of their games. Computers expect the Indians to win more than 90.
With a fantastic pitching staff and pretty good offense, the Indians are poised to repeat as AL champions and advance to the World Series for the second straight year.
Instead of hearing “Stronger” they hope to be hearing Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”