Terry Francona has done an excellent job of getting the most out of his teams in his first two years in Cleveland. The Indians won 92 games in his first year in 2013 and 85 last year. In fact, their starting rotation posted a 2.95 ERA after the All-Star Break, and the bullpen became a weapon with Cody Allen emerging as the closer.

The offense is where the questions come into play looking ahead to 2015. Nick Swisher (knees), Michael Bourn (hamstring), Jason Kipnis (oblique, hamstring, finger) and Ryan Raburn (knee, wrist) will all be looking to bounce back from injuries. Defensively, the Indians led the majors in errors as almost every ground ball was an adventure for the infield.

Cleveland could surprise again in 2015 if some of these injured hitters can return to full strength, and if the revamped defense can start to catch the ball. This is an offense that averaged barely over three runs after the All-Star Break. Despite that fact, the Indians remained in contention for a wild-card berth until game No. 159 last season due to their pitching. Here is their 2015 outlook.

Projected Lineup

Michael Bourn (CF) – The former National League stolen base king has swiped only 33 bags in his two seasons with the Indians. He also made three trips to the disabled list last year due to a nagging left hamstring injury.

Nick Swisher (1B) – His 97 games played last year were his fewest since playing 131 with the A’s back in 2005. He has proven to be durable over time, and the on-base machine should come back strong in 2015, especially given more time in the DH role instead of the field.

Michael Brantley (LF) – Quietly, Brantley led the American League with a .276 average with runners in scoring position last year. He also had 200 hits last season, becoming the first Indian since Kenny Lofton to do so since 1996.

Carlos Santana (3B) – The selective slugger had 113 walks last season and has nearly 400 over the past four seasons combined. It will be interesting to see if they move him to third base and either let Chisenhall DH or play the outfield because of his struggles at third.

Yan Gomes (C) – The Brazilian ranked third in the American League among catchers with 21 homers last year. He also hit .278 to go along with 74 RBIs and is quietly one of the better catchers in the game.

Jason Kipnis (2B) – After a monster campaign in 2013, and a decent start last year, Kipnis did not homer after July 31 last season. That’s a span of 48 games and 183 at-bats, which is very concerning. He was hampered by three different injuries, though.

Brandon Moss (RF) – Like Kipnis, Moss had a power outage down the stretch. He hit 21 of his 25 homers before the All-Star Break last year in Oakland. The Indians hope he can bring more power to this underrated lineup.

Lonnie Chisenhall (DH) – He ranked third among MLB third basemen with a .770 OPS last year. However, he hit .393 through June 11, but only .219 the rest of the season. He’ll need to continue to hit like he did in the first half if he’s going to be able to stay in the field with his poor glove at third.

Francisco Lindor (SS) – Shortstop could go to a number of candidates, including Lindor, Jose Ramirez or Mike Aviles. Lindor hit .276 with 28 stolen bases over two stops and 126 games at the minor league level last year, and he could be ready for the big leagues in 2015.

Lineup Analysis

This is easily one of the more underrated lineups in all of baseball. They obviously struggled to score runs down the stretch last year, but that was more injury related than anything. Bourn, Swisher, Kipnis and Raburn all need a return to health for this lineup to run at optimum level. Indians fans have to be excited about the 3-5 in this order with Brantley, Santana and Gomes. This is a deep lineup, too, with the addition of Moss to go with the emerging Chisenhall toward the bottom. The fact of the matter is that the Indians won 85 games in spite of their offense last year, and the production can only get better from here.

Projected Rotation

Corey Kluber (RHP) – Kluber became the fourth Indians’ pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. His 269 strikeouts in 2014 ranked sixth in team history for a single season.

Carlos Carrasco (RHP) – Carrasco is a prime breakout candidate heading into 2015 based solely on how dominant he was at the end of last year. He posted a 1.30 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 69 innings over his final 10 starts.

Trevor Bauer (RHP) – His 8.41 strikeouts per nine innings was the third-highest ratio ever among Indians rookie pitchers. The problem is his control, and that’s why he is so up and down early on in his career.

Danny Salazar (RHP) – Salazar certainly has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation guy. He went 6-8 with a 4.25 ERA with 117 strikeouts over 110 innings. He even struck out 10 White Sox over 3.2 innings on April 10, which was the most ever by a pitcher in fewer than four innings.

Gavin Floyd (RHP) – If he can just stay healthy, Floyd has proven to be a productive starter in the big leagues. He is coming off a fractured right elbow last year and Tommy John surgery in 2013. He did go 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA in nine starts for the Braves last year.

Rotation Analysis

The rotation is loaded with young, talented starters and a lot of depth. Kluber is a beast, Carrasco is entering his prime, while Bauer and Salazar have the stuff to survive in this league if they can just control it a little better. GM Chris Antonetti added even more depth to the rotation by nabbing Gavin Floyd for one year and $4 million. He is guaranteed a spot in the rotation if he can make it through spring training. Then theres T.J. House, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin who would all start on most staffs in the big leagues.

Bullpen

Terry Francona used his bullpen a league-record 573 times in 2014. He had eight relievers at his disposal through most of last season. Cody Allen stepped in as the closer when John Axford struggled in May, and he never let go of his job. The workhorse has made 153 appearances over the past two seasons. Setup man Bryan Shaw was the first Indians reliever to lead the big leagues in appearances (80) since 1950. Allen (76) and Marc Rzepczynski (73) weren’t far behind. Scott Atchison and Rzepczynski are Francona’s wild-cards as he can match them up with certain hitters. Lefties Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett, along with righty C.C. Lee, are bridge builders from the starters to the late-inning relievers.

Betting Odds (Bovada)

  • To Win World Series: 33/1
  • To Win AL Pennant: 14/1
  • To Win AL Central: 5/2
  • 2015 Season Win Total: 84.5

Prediction: 2nd Place AL Central (84-78 – UNDER 84.5)

The Indians are easily the biggest sleepers in the AL Central in my opinion. They could very well end up winning the division. Get this; Terry Francona has now recorded 10 straight winning seasons as a manager. He continues to get the most out of his teams, and he has clearly done that with the Indians by winning an average of 88.5 games in his first two seasons.

Cleveland managed to stay in the wild-card race last year until game No. 159 because of a rotation that posted a 2.95 ERA after the All-Star Break. Kluber won the Cy Young, Carrasco showed what he was capable of down the stretch, and Bauer, Floyd and Salazar should all take a step forward in 2015.

The defense cannot be any worse than it was a year ago as the Indians led the majors in errors. They also can’t have any worse health throughout their lineup, which is one of the most underrated in baseball. I have Cleveland finishing one game behind Kansas City for first place in the Central, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it win it.

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