After winning the American League Central pennant for the third straight year, hopes were high for the Cleveland Indians heading into the 2018 postseason. It was a disappointing end though, getting knocked out in the American League Division Series by the Houston Astros.
Cleveland finished the 2018 campaign with a record of 91-71. The solid pitching and consistent bats were good all year but could not get it done in the playoffs against the likes of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
Led by AL Cy Young Award finalist Corey Kluber, the Indians were stacked with power arms in their rotation. From Kluber to Trevor Bauer, Cleveland’s starting rotation was filthy all year. Kluber finished the year 20-7 with an impressive 2.89 ERA. The righty walked just 34 hitters in 215 innings pitched while holding hitters to a dismal .223 average. Carlos Carrasco, Bauer, and Mike Clevinger all had brilliant years as well, finishing with ERA’s just above three while striking out more than nine hitters per nine innings. Their rotation was extremely good all season long but struggled to get it done in the playoffs.
Cleveland’s bullpen was an area of weakness this season. Andrew Miller had a tough year with a 4.24 ERA, throwing just 34 innings all year. Miller was one of Cleveland’s best relievers in 2017 and one of the most dominant lefties in the big leagues. Cody Allen had 27 saves this year in 32 opportunities with a 4.70 ERA. He finished with a 4-7 record and honestly was not as sharp as in the past.
Basically, everyone in the bullpen had an ERA over four. The starters were lights out all year and pitched deep into ballgames so the bullpen, on the whole, did not have a lot of work to do. When they did get the chance to pitch, the majority of them struggled. One bright spot of their bullpen was lefty specialist Brad Hand, who was an All-Star in 2018. Hand had a solid 2.28 ERA in 27 innings pitched while holding opposing lineups to a .192 average.
A lot of the arms they have in their bullpen all have the potential to be effective. They have shown it in past years, so hopefully, they can get back to their normal selves in 2019. If they do, it will make a huge difference to how far this team can go in the postseason. Regardless, they had a very tough opponent in the first round of the playoffs this year. It’s a combination of things to why they didn’t beat Houston, but the bullpen struggles were definitely a part of it.
With AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez leading the way, the Indians finished second in MLB to the Boston Red Sox with a .259 team batting average. Ramirez, who made the move over to second base when Josh Donaldson arrived in Cleveland, hit .270 with 39 homers and 105 RBIs in 2018. Michael Brantley, who is now a free agent, had a huge year for the Indians, leading the team with a .309 average. He went deep 17 times and drove in 76. Besides Ramirez, Francisco Lindor was one of the absolute mainstays of this lineup day in and day out. The young shortstop hit .277 with an impressive 38 homers and 92 RBIs. He was also an absolute wizard at short, making just 14 errors all season. Lindor missed just four games all year.
Donaldson was a nice addition to the Cleveland lineup towards the tail end of the season, hitting .280 in 16 games. The former All-Star hit three homers in that span while playing solid defense at the hot corner. His former Blue Jays teammate Edwin Encarnacion lived up to expectations from a power standpoint in 2018. He hit 32 homers for the Indians with a team-high 107 RBIs.
Defensively, The Indians finished 10th in the big leagues with a .986 fielding percentage. They made all the routine plays and a lot of the difficult ones as well with players like Ramirez, Donaldson, and Lindor spread across their infield.
Search for consistency moving forward
Cleveland did not come through when it mattered most in the playoffs against Houston. It is as simple as that. But their biggest weakness this past year was the bullpen. Andrew Miller has to be better next year, along with guys like Cody Allen and Dan Otero, who have been much more effective in past years.
From an offensive standpoint, they need to keep hitting like they did this season. They came up against one of the best rotations in baseball in the ALDS and struggled to string together hits. But with a solid team from their starting pitching to their everyday lineup, Cleveland should definitely be a contender once against next year and could very well win their fourth straight AL Central title.
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