Friday 5: (Too early to make) Cleveland Indians observations

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The Cleveland Indians kicked off their 2015 campaign with a 2-1 series victory over the Astros in Houston.  After struggling through Opening Night, the Indians recovered and put together a nice series — but not one without shortfalls.

Jason Kipnis is off to a nice start at the plate while Brandon Moss remains hitless in the first three games of his Indians’ career. The Tribe’s bullpen appeared as dominate as a year ago, with the exception of left-hander Nick Hagadone.

But there are 159 games remaining in the season.

While it is certainly far too early to draw any conclusions, it is never too early to make observations. Here are five observations about the Cleveland Indians as they head into their first home stand of the season at a newly renovated Progressive Field.

(1) The Cleveland Indians are still too left-handed and are no better equipped to hit southpaws than they were a year ago

Cleveland was bad against left-handed pitching last season. There’s just no two ways about. With the exception of Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes, the Indians got little – if any production – against southpaws for much of last season. It was an area of concern for much of the spring, especially given manager Terry Francona’s desire to hit three left-handed hitters – Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley – all at the top of the lineup. The Indians did nothing to prove this year would be different on Opening Day, registering just three hits off Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros. They’ll get their first chance at redemption against former Cy Young winner David Price on Saturday.

Apr 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) throws out a runner at first base during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(2) Jason Kipnis has returned to his pre-injury All Star form and will help Brantley carry the load

After all the talk this offseason about whether or not Kipnis could return to his All Star form, the Tribe’s second baseman has answered the bell thus far. Entering Friday’s home opener, Kipnis was 4-for-12 on the season with a sac-fly and a triple to his name. Most impressively, though, Kipnis has driven the ball to opposite field and avoided falling behind in counts – something that plagued him for much of last season. Aside from Keuchel, the Astros pitching staff certainly doesn’t provide a legitimate measuring stick, so we’ll see if Kipnis can continue his strong performance against the Tigers’ stronger pitching staff.

(3) Francisco Lindor should get the call to Cleveland sooner than expected

While Jose Ramirez is arguably an upgrade over last season’s starting shortstop, especially on the defensive end, the speedy 22-year-old appears to be more of the Mike Aviles-mold — and that’s not a bad thing. Ramirez looks best suited for a part-time utility role or a late-inning defensive substitution. Through three games in Cleveland, Ramirez hasn’t demonstrated any real ability to carry the everyday load from one of the game’s marquee positions. Fortunately, though, the Tribe has one of the most dynamic young shortstops in the game waiting patiently in Triple-A Columbus. Should Ramirez continue his pedestrian offensive showing, fans will likely see Lindor in Cleveland sooner than most might have expected.

Apr 8, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman

Mike Aviles

(4) celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(4) Terry Francona must forfeit an overcrowded bullpen in favor of a deeper bench

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Francona made his first roster move of the season today, optioning reliever Austin Adams to Triple-A Columbus and promoting outfielder Jerry Sands to the big league club. It was a step in the right direction for the Indians, as the first three games have shown a severe deficiency off the bench. Yes, Francona has always kept a stable of quality arms in the bullpen – and, in the past, there has been a need. But, if the Indians’ rotation continues to be as good as advertised, there may not be a need for so many relief options. Instead, Cleveland might be wiser to move forward with an additional bat – preferably a right-handed one – on the bench for insurance.

(5) As predicted, the Indians pitching staff is filthy

While it hasn’t necessarily been a surprise, the Indians’ rotation has been absolutely unstoppable through the first series of the season. Corey Kluber pitched 7.1 innings and allowed two earned runs on Opening Day – yet, he posted the worst performance of the season by an Indians’ starter. Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer combined to throw 19.2 innings while allowing just two earned runs over three starts. They struck out 28 batters and allowed just six hits. As predicted, the current rotation is more than capable of keeping pace with the top staffs in the league — including the Washington Nationals and their $63.5 million rotation.

Next: 5 questions the Indians face this season

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