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Posted on: 05/19/2017
By  Drew Rucker
           There are not many "important series" early on in a season like this, but you could probably consider the Indians series against the Astros this weekend fairly important for an Indians team that is struggling. Coming in to the series, the Astros are the hottest team in baseball sitting at 29-12, winning 9 out of their last 10 games. The Astros have the largest lead on any division, sitting 7.5 games ahead of the Texas Rangers, who may be the second hottest team in baseball, also winning 9 of their last 10 games.
            The Indians on the other hand have showed signs of being really good, but have not shown that consistently. They are 20-19 to start the 2017 campaign, only sitting 1 game behind the mysterious Minnesota Twins, who will surely fade eventually as they just do not have the talent to consistently play like they have to start the season.
            The Indians offense has not gotten off to the start that they wanted to, playing very inconsistent, only showing flashes of brilliance at times. They have had 1-2 guys get hot at the same time, but have not been able to string more than any two guys at once. That is why they have been a .500 ball club up until this point. The need to worry is not there yet, but it is surely concerning.
            Some of the Indians veteran bats such as Jason Kipnis and Edwin Encarnacion have not gotten off to the start that they would have liked. Encarnacion has a history of starting slow, but picking up the later the season advances on. We can more than likely expect that to happen again as the Tribe offense will surely come around at some point, and he will be somewhere in the center of that turnaround. Kipnis, who started the season on the disabled list, has had a rough start to the year according to his expectations he has for himself. He is batting an abysmal .205, in nearly 90 at bats.
            Youngster Francisco Lindor and veteran Michael Brantley have picked up where both left off. For Brantley that was basically two seasons ago as he missed almost the entire 2016 campaign. Brantley, who has always had one of the smoothest swings in baseball, has hit for close to his career average, batting .287 to begin the season. He will hit for a pretty good average all season as his approach is exactly the same each and every at-bat that he steps in the batters box. Lindor, who had a great full first season last year, has picked up the production early on in the season. He is on pace for far more home runs than he hit last year, as he is batting .277 and has hit 9 home runs which ties him for about 7 different American League batters.
            Last seasons most consistent player, Jose Ramirez, has started off the year on a pretty good not, batting .282, plating 24 runs, which leads the team. He took a huge step forward last year and many expected him to regress a little bit this season, which he has done early on, but a .282 batting average is nothing to complain about.
            Some early season injuries have forced some Indians outfielder on a trip to the DL. This has resulted in many call-ups from Columbus, including one of the Indians best prospect, Bradley Zimmer. In 33 games, Zimmer batted .294 for the Columbus Clippers, with an OBP of .371, so he has been drawing his walks, accumulating 14. He is a big kid standing at 6 foot 5, which results in a lot of power. He can take the ball to left field, which he did in his second game in Cleveland. He also homered for the Indians in his next at-bat, giving him his first hit and home-run in the same game. He has struck out quite often in Columbus, which will more than likely continue in Cleveland until he begins to figure it out.
            As up and down as the Indians offense has begun to start the season, the starting staff has been more down than up. Of the 5 starters who have pitched a majority of the games this season, 3 of those have ERAs over 5, which is not good. Their ace Corey Kluber has not been himself to start the season and their 3,4,& 5 starters have either been extremely inconsistent or just plain been bad. Luckily for them Carlos Carrasco has been pretty good to start the season. He is 4-2, with a 2.60 era and .88 WHIP, while striking out 52 in 52 innings of work. He has picked up some of the slack for the rest of the rotation and will need to continue until they get on track.
            The bullpen has been the saving grace in most games, with a back end of Cody Allen, Nick Goody, Dan Ortero, Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller, the staff and pen only needs to get through around 5-6 innings and the bullpen can shut the door after that. Shaw has given up 4 earned runs in 19 innings, giving him and era of 1.89. Allen has been even better, only giving up 3 earned runs in 15.1 innings, while striking out 28 batters and accumulating 10 saves. Andrew Miller has been the most dominate pitcher out of the pen, giving up 1 earned run in 19 innings of work, while striking out 26 batters.
            The pen has been the strong point of the team thus far. The offense will eventually pick it up and hopefully the same can be said about the starting rotation. If so, the Indians will start to pick up wins by the handful. It all starts this weekend, with a pretty big series against the Astros, and if they can grab a couple from them, maybe they can start building some momentum off of that and catapult themselves up the standings. 

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