MLBPipeline.com is breaking down how each of the postseason teams was built, looking at the composition of their projected Division Series rosters.After coming up short in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs a year ago, the Cleveland Indians, with a largely unchanged roster, have all
MLBPipeline.com is breaking down how each of the postseason teams was built, looking at the composition of their projected Division Series rosters.
After coming up short in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs a year ago, the Cleveland Indians, with a largely unchanged roster, have all the right pieces, as well as the momentum, to contend for a title once again in 2017.
To put it simply, no team saw its fortune change during the second half quite like the Indians. Behind an American League-record 22-game winning streak (spanning Aug. 24 to Sept. 14), the Tribe pulled away with a commanding lead in the American League Central and ultimately dethroned the Astros for the circuit's best record to secure home-field advantage through the American League playoffs. The back-to-back division titles were Cleveland's first since the late '90s, when the club won the Central in five straight years.
:: How each postseason team was built ::
Led by a pair of MVP candidates in shortstop Francisco Lindor and infielder Jose Ramirez, and featuring key offseason free-agent signing Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians' lineup batted .306 with a .551 slugging percentage en route to outscoring their opponents 142-37 (plus-105 run differential) during their historic 22-game streak. Lindor was unstoppable during that stretch, hitting .360 with a .1.195 OPS and nine home runs, while Ramirez produced a .423/.462/.944 batting line with eight homers and 11 doubles.
Of course all of that offense would have been for naught if not for a lights-out Indians rotation that, once finally healthy, posted a collective 1.77 ERA over 137 2/3 innings during the streak.
Headlined by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber and fellow right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, Indians starters recorded a win in 19 of 22 contests, including seven shutouts. Cleveland's bullpen, meanwhile, was equally dominant in that span, combining to post a 1.17 ERA over 61 1/3 innings, despite a minimal contribution from lefty reliever Andrew Miller.
Altogether, the Indians' staff ranked first in the Majors during the regular season in ERA (3.30) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.1 K/9). What's more, the Indians' 26.5 Wins Above Replacement is tops among this year's postseason clubs.
After winning 33 of their final 37 games to finish with a 102-60 record -- including a franchise-best 53 road wins -- the Tribe will attempt to put a bow on their record-setting year with a World Series title.
Player, how acquired, year, Baseball-Reference WAR (18.2):
Josh Tomlin, Draft, 2006 (19th round), 1
Lonnie Chisenhall, Draft, 2008 (1st), 1.2
Roberto Perez, Draft, 2008 (33rd), 0.8
Giovanny Urshela, Int'l sign, 2008, -0.6
Erik Gonzalez, Int'l sign, 2009, 0.3
Jason Kipnis, Draft, 2009 (2nd), 0.4
Danny Salazar, Int'l sign, 2009, 1.3
Francisco Lindor, Draft, 2011 (1st), 5.5
Cody Allen, Draft, 2011 (23rd), 1.7
Jose Ramirez, Int'l sign, 2011, 6.8
Greg Allen, Draft, 2014 (6th), -0.2
Much of the Indians' ALDS roster stems from strong scouting efforts, both domestic and abroad. They struck gold by selecting Lindor with the No. 8 overall pick of the 2011 Draft, and then found a long-term closer in Allen in the 23rd round. The Tribe also signed Ramirez, a teenager at the time, that summer, and all three players have since developed into perennial All-Stars.
Ramirez, 25, led all Indians positions players with a 6.8 WAR after finishing the season as MLB's leader in doubles (56). Overall, the 25-year-old switch-hitter batted .318/.374/.583 with 29 homers and 107 runs scored. Lindor, meanwhile, finished with a 5.5 WAR, as he batted .273/.337/.505 with a career-best 33 homers and 44 doubles on top of his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop.
Not to be overlooked are some of Cleveland's other homegrown talents such as 2008 first-rounder Chisenhall as well as Kipnis, the organization's second-round pick in '09. Both players were limited by injuries this season, but they each represent key roster pieces in the postseason as left-handed hitters.
Player, year, acquired from, bWAR (31.7):
Carlos Santana, 2008, Dodgers, 3.4
Michael Brantley, 2008, Brewers, 2.0
Carlos Carrasco, 2009, Phillies, 5.4
Corey Kluber, 2010, Padres, 8
Yan Gomes, 2012, Blue Jays, 1.3
Trevor Bauer, 2012, D-backs, 3.1
Bryan Shaw, 2012, D-backs, 0.6
Mike Clevinger, 2014, Angels, 3.1
Tyler Olson, 2016, Royals*, 1.2
Andrew Miller, 2016, Yankees, 3.1
Joe Smith, 2017, Blue Jays, 0.3
Jay Bruce, 2017, Mets, 0.2
*-Selected off waivers
The Indians' ALDS roster features 12 players acquired via trades or claimed off waivers, tied for third most among all postseason teams. Such trades are how the Tribe built baseball's best starting rotation, as they landed Carrasco and Kluber in back-to-back years, followed with Bauer two years later and Clevinger after that.
The club has since signed both Kluber and Carrasco to long-term deals, inking the right-handers through 2019 and '18, respectively. The duo was truly dominant in 2017, with Kluber going 18-4 and Carrasco 18-6. Kluber also finished first in baseball in ERA (2.25) and WHIP (0.87).
While Kluber and Carrasco deservedly receive much of the credit for the team's success, Bauer and Clevinger's contributions have been equally, if not more important, giving the Indians impactful starting depth beyond their top two arms. Together they combined for a 17-5 record after the All-Star break.
The Indians made a splash at the 2016 Trade Deadline by acquiring Miller for a prospect package that included Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, and the big left-hander was every bit as good as advertised in the postseason. He continued his dominance of opposing hitters in 2017, posting a 1.45 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP with 93 strikeouts in 62 innings across 56 appearances. Acquired off waivers from the Royals, Olson emerged as another key left-handed bullpen piece for the Tribe as he went unscored upon over 30 appearances while holding opposing hitters to a .188 batting average against.
Cleveland used this year's non-waiver Trade Deadline to once again improve its roster, most notably through the acquisitions of Bruce and Smith from the Mets and the Blue Jays. Smith became an immediate fit in the Tribe's bullpen, while the addition of Bruce, in the wake of injuries to Michael Brantley and Bradley Zimmer, provided the offense with a much-needed left-handed power bat.
Player, year, bWAR (4.7):
Edwin Encarnacion, 2017, 2.8
Austin Jackson, 2017, 1.9
Not known for giving sizeable free-agent contracts to veteran players, the Indians did just that prior to the 2017 season, inking Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal as a replacement for Mike Napoli. Though he struggled out of the gate, the 34-year-old slugger recovered in time to finish with at least 38 home runs and 107 RBIs for the third straight season.
The signing of Jackson to a one-year, $1.5 million deal didn't come with much fanfare at the time, though he's certainly played a major role in Cleveland's overall success. In 84 games with the Tribe this season, the 30-year-old outfielder has shown improved ability to hit for average, as well as some power, while offering defensive depth at all three outfield positins.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.