Indians enter '18 with Series-or-bust mentality

Cleveland hungry for championship after falling short past two seasons

February 4th, 2018

CLEVELAND -- There is only one goal in the collective minds of the Indians as Spring Training arrives this year. From the front-office boardrooms to the manager's office and down to the clubhouse, the sole focus throughout the organization is bringing a World Series triumph to Cleveland.

The Indians had a powerhouse team in 2017 -- one that won 102 games and set an American League record with a 22-game winning streak -- but was upset by the Yankees in the AL Division Series. One year earlier, the Tribe reached the Fall Classic, only to lose in seven games to the Cubs. If any team was going to embrace a sense of unfinished business, it's this club from Cleveland.

"To get so close in '16 and to watch it go away, to lose," Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said. "You look back on it as a successful season, a lot of great memories from it, but you still have that hunger and that taste in your mouth of getting back there to try to win. Obviously that's everybody's goal to start Spring Training."

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Tomlin is among the players inside Cleveland's clubhouse who remain from the 2012 team that lost 94 games and paved the way for Terry Francona to come aboard as manager. In the five seasons since Francona brought his scooter to Progressive Field, the Indians have led the AL with 454 victories. Cleveland has been to the playoffs three times in that span and is coming off consecutive division crowns.

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Given the state of the AL Central, the Indians head into the 2018 season as the favorites to win the division once again. The projections and predictions favor the Tribe largely due to the strength of the pitching staff, which returns with nearly the same cast that set a handful of single-season records last season. Two-time AL Cy Young Award winner continues to lead the rotation, which remains intact from last summer.

There will be changes in 2018, though.

This offseason, the Indians bid adieu to longtime first baseman and setup man , who signed free-agent pacts with the Phillies and Rockies, respectively. Joe Smith and -- key in-season trade acquisitions last season -- also left via free agency. All four players filled critical roles at points throughout last year's memorable run to the postseason.

Francona, however, is quick to note how much of the roster remains unchanged.

"We've had very little movement on our team," said the manager. "You're going to lose guys. You can't keep everybody. We can't be the team that signs guys to their second or third contract. We need to be that team that gets guys for years one through eight, maybe give them that second contract."

Cleveland's notable moves this offseason were to pick up the team options for left fielder ($12 million) and Tomlin ($3 million), and signing first baseman to a two-year, $16 million pact. With the other internal raises, the team's payroll projects to reach a new all-time high for the franchise, surpassing $130 million. That includes little in the way of external additions, though.

The Indians are trusting that the roster in place -- most of which generated the 2017 success -- can once again lead the team to the October stage.

"This has been a good, good run of baseball," Francona said. "And I don't see that going anywhere."

This spring, Cleveland will have a competition for the back of the rotation, which includes Tomlin, , Mike Clevinger and as candidates for two spots. There will be a wide-open race for a spot in the bullpen and a handful of players vying for a bench job. The Indians will also seek some clarity for the outfield, especially if Brantley (right ankle surgery) will not be ready for Opening Day.

No matter how those roster battles shake out, the team believes it has the pieces to contend for a World Series title.

"A handful of teams can say they're in a position to win a World Series," Tomlin said. "We're very fortunate to be in that position. We enjoy the expectations. It means we're doing our job. A lot of teams maybe might not like the expectations or the weight on their shoulders, but this team relishes that and enjoys that."