GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The players inside the Indians' clubhouse can feel the importance of the season at hand. Cleveland fell just short in the 2016 World Series, then were dealt an early October exit last fall. There is now a heightened sense of urgency to finish what those last two
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The players inside the Indians' clubhouse can feel the importance of the season at hand. Cleveland fell just short in the 2016 World Series, then were dealt an early October exit last fall. There is now a heightened sense of urgency to finish what those last two teams could not.
"We've shown we're capable of winning the World Series," Indians relief ace Andrew Miller said. "You've got to get to the playoffs first, and that's certainly a goal of this team and the expectation of this team, honestly. I think talent-wise and experience-wise, we match up with anybody. It's a long road, but I think the expectation and the goal here is to try to get back to the end and win the last game of the year."
That quest begins on Thursday, when Corey Kluber, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, matches up against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Opening Day at Safeco Field. Last year, Cleveland won 102 games, set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak and won the AL Central for the second straight year. In the end, though, the Tribe fell short of its goal.
"We had a great year," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "But to me, it wasn't a successful season. I want to win. That's not a successful season because we didn't finish. We were healthy and we learned a lot from what we went through in the season, and we're blessed. But we didn't win. At the end of the day, it's a season you don't remember."
Here is how things shape up for the Indians at the start of what they hope will be an even more memorable season:
Projected Opening Day lineup
1. Lindor, SS
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
- Jose Ramirez, 3B
- Edwin Encarnacion, DH
- Yonder Alonso, 1B
- Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
- Tyler Naquin, LF
- Roberto Perez, C
- Bradley Zimmer, CF
• The lineup above has a chance to be the one used by Francona against right-handed pitching. The Indians have veteran outfielder Rajai Davis on the bench, and he likely will get starts against lefty pitching. In all likelihood, Davis would take over for Naquin in left field on those days.
• Cleveland does not have a traditional starter-backup setup with its catchers. While Perez is the projected starter in the opener, he and Yan Gomes likely will be in a 1A and 1B timeshare behind the plate. Francona will consider a variety of factors to determine who gets the start each game.
• When Michael Brantley returns -- he will start the season on the DL -- there is a chance he moves to cleanup, pushing Encarnacion and Alonso to fifth and sixth, respectively. That would help create a little more balance for an Indians lineup that is heavy with left-handed hitters.
• Francona has wrestled with whether to let the lefty-hitting Zimmer play full-time, even against tough left-handers. The young outfielder brings so much value with his defense and baserunning that he may be given everyday at-bats rather than dealing with a platoon-type situation.
• Starter Danny Salazar developed inflammation in his right shoulder in January and was unable to get on a mound until the final week of Spring Training. As a result, he will begin the season on the disabled list. Without Salazar in the fold, Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin locked up the Nos. 4-5 spots, respectively, in the rotation behind Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
• Brantley (right ankle surgery in October) got into a handful of Cactus League games at the tail end of the spring, and his swing looked to be in fine form. The Indians were not confident, however, that he was ready to shoulder the full workload of a starting outfielder, so he will continue his rehab while on the DL to start the season.
• Gio Urshela was competing for a utility job with the Indians this spring, but a right hamstring issue stalled his bid for an Opening Day job. The injury is not serious, and Urshela might be looking at a short DL stint. Erik Gonzalez will man the utility role in the meantime.
• Outfielder Brandon Guyer (left wrist surgery in October) sustained a setback early in the spring, but managed to recover enough to get into Cactus League play before camp broke. The Indians opted to open with him on the Opening Day roster as a part-timer for the corner outfield spots (mainly against lefty pitching).
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.