|Francisco Lindor. Photo by Keith Allison|
The Indians have underperformed for the last several years. Their last playoff appearance was 2013, despite perennially receiving rave reviews in the preseasons. This year is no different, with many projection systems picking the Indians to win, or at least be within spitting distance of the AL Central crown. In large part, these ratings are driven by their outstanding pitching staff, which is anchored by Corey Kluber, who is backed by Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, along with a solid cast of supporting actors. While Carrasco is currently on the shelf with a hamstring injury, their rotation, as a whole, has performed as expected so far. The thing you'll also hear about them is how much better their fielding got in the second half last year. Their UZR, at least, confirms this: they've been outstanding across the diamond. In contrast, their offense has struggled a bit without Michael Brantley, and their bullpen hasn't been catching the world afire. Nevertheless, despite the .500 record, they are still given a 62% chance at making the playoffs this year. They're currently 5 games behind the White Sox, which, to me, look like an inferior team.
This will be my first time watching Francisco Lindor. While he might not have the power of Carlos Correa, Lindor is already in the conversation for best shortstop in the American League. That's driven by a good, contact-based approached, and excellent fielding. I'm a big fan of several of the Indians' other players. Carlos Santana isn't catching much these days, but he is one of those rare players who walks as often as he strikes out--and yet still has good power that makes him a fit in the heart of the order. The Indians often hit him leadoff, which I love. Yan Gomes is also a favorite; he's had a miserable season at the plate so far, but in the past has shown that he can hit, and usually is rated as excellent via the framing metrics. Mike Napoli is looking like a good pick-up. He offers a nice dose of right-handed power in the middle of the order, and didn't cost a ton to sign.
Joey Votto didn't have a great series against Philadelphia, but he has himself almost back up to a league-average wRC+. His BABIP is still low, and he still looks awkward at times, but he's hitting with a lot more power now than he did earlier in the season. I don't know what to say about Jay Bruce's ever-declining UZR, but I reject it. He might have missed a ball or two early on, and whiffed on that double today, but he still looks at least very solid to me in right field.
The Reds will face an interesting set of pitchers in this series. Danny Salazar has been pretty awesome. He walks a lot of batters, but he's been inducing a ton of ground balls while striking just about everyone else out. Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin have yielded the exact same peripherals thus far, but with wildly different outcomes. Anderson throws 94 mph, while Tomlin is a classic soft-tosser...who relies on his fastball more than any other starter in this series. And finally, to cap off the series, we have the excellent Corey Kluber, who does everything right.