One swing of the bat. That’s how close Cleveland came last season to winning the World Series. It would have been the Indians’ first title since 1948.
Behind a potent offense and strong pitching staff, the Indians pushed the Cubs to a Game 7 showdown, which turned out to be a four-hour-plus marathon that ended with a Chicago victory in 10 innings. The tying run was on base when the final out was made.
And to think how far Cleveland made it last year without one of its best all-around players.
Michael Brantley missed a majority of the season because of two shoulder surgeries. But now he’s healthy, and should be in uniform on Monday when the Twins open a four-game series against Cleveland at Target Field.
Target Field, by the way, is where the challenging chapter of Brantley’s career unfolded.
On Sept. 22, 2015, Brantley attempted to make a diving catch on a ball hit by Aaron Hicks and fell awkwardly on his right shoulder. Hicks ended up with a triple. Brantley ended up missing 10 of the final 12 games of the regular season. Brantley received an injection and tried to rehabilitate the injury but ended up having surgery in November to repair a torn labrum.
There was hope Brantley would be available early last season, but his recovery didn’t go well. While the Indians crossed their fingers that their former All-Star outfielder would be in the lineup at some point, he played in only 11 games and needed a second surgery. So while Cleveland celebrated its AL Central title and AL pennant, Brantley looked on between rehab sessions.
Before Francisco Lindor broke onto the scene, before Corey Kluber won a Cy Young Award, the Indians had Brantley — a reliable hitter nicknamed “Dr. Smooth” because of his swing. He also owns the club’s record for errorless games in a row at 247. Cleveland again was optimistic that Brantley would be healthy this season, and this time he is.
Brantley hasn’t had much trouble knocking off the rust. On Thursday he hit his first home run in 581 days. He preceded that on Tuesday with a walk-off double in the 10th inning that helped beat the White Sox.
“I don’t know if you can write it up any better,” Brantley said after his walk-off winner. “I guess if you hit a home run, but we got a win. That’s all that matters. A lot of hard work went into this offseason. A lot of time away from my kids and my family.”
With Brantley back, plus the offseason acquisition of slugging outfielder Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians appear positioned to find a different result if they reach another Game 7.
Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall, the Indians’ third baseman-turned-right fielder, is now being used in center field. He made his second career start there on Thursday and could see more time in center since the club sent Tyler Naquin to the minors last week. Austin Jackson and Abraham Almonte can also play there.
Royals: Kansas City needs offense, but the Royals are trying to ride through the ups and downs of rookie second baseman Raul Mondesi Jr., carrying a sub-.150 batting average. Christian Colon and Cheslor Cuthbert are waiting for their shots and probably would be more productive.
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Tigers: The Twins got a look at Tigers prospect Joe Jimenez on Thursday when he pitched a scoreless inning. Jimenez, who throws in the mid-90s, looked ready to pitch in a major league bullpen but was sent to the minors after the game because Detroit needs long relief help at the moment.
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White Sox: Chicago has been waiting for a few years for Avisail Garcia to turn the corner, and their wait could be worth it. Garcia entered the weekend batting .452 and was tied for the team lead with eight RBI. It’s a welcome sign for a team not expected to compete this season.
The 3-2 pitch
Three observations …
• Good move by MLB to switch to a 10-day disabled list. Teams will be more willing to shut down a player who needs just a handful of games to recover, and that way a manager won’t be shorthanded.
• Shohei Otani, a pitcher/outfielder in Japan, might try to pitch and play in the field in MLB some day. But how will teams allow him to do both, given the value of pitching? He recently strained a thigh muscle while running the bases and will be out another five weeks.
• Toronto’s slow start is not surprising. Josh Donaldson is injured and the Blue Jays are getting used to life without Edwin Encarnacion.
… and two predictions
• The Cardinals will hover around .500 for most of the season because their pitching staff is unreliable.
• Yoenis Cespedes is on pace for 90-plus homers this season. He won’t stay that hot, but let’s say he lands at 42.