Friday 5: Cleveland Indians to watch in nine-game road trip through AL Central

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Cleveland Indians embark on their first crucial road trip of the season, a nine-game stretch against three division opponents

It’s not football. The first eight games of the seasons aren’t always the most telling of stretches for any team in Major League Baseball. But that doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful.

(Just ask the 2014 Cleveland Indians, who went 11-14 during the first month last season and missed the playoffs by three games).

The Tribe begins their first extended road trip on Friday night, a nine-game effort with three stops against division opponents. First stop: Minnesota to take on the lowly Twins who, in the early part of the season, is the lone team looking up at Cleveland in the AL Central standings.

Cleveland is without catcher Yan Gomes, who suffered an MCL strain in his right knee against the Tigers last weekend, along with Nick Swisher and Zach Walters. They get All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley back in time, a much-need lift for an offense that has struggled to put up runs for much of the first two weeks of the season. 

With all that being said, the Tribe needs stronger performances in every facet of the game — starting pitching, bullpen, hitting and fielding.

Here’s five players who might be able to provide the Cleveland Indians with some answers on this road trip:

(1) Danny Salazar

Recently recalled from Triple-A Columbus, Danny Salazar will get the ball for his first start of the season on Saturday. The hard-throwing right-hander, who was optioned to Columbus this spring after laboring through four starts this spring, has made one start for the Clippers this season — where he threw six scoreless innings, struck out seven and didn’t surrender a walk. He is 8-11 in his career with the Indians, posting a 3.89 ERA with 185 strikeouts in 162 innings pitched. but Salazar has struggled against the Twins in his career, allowing 22 hits in 69 batters-faced. While it is not yet clear how long Salazar will remain with the Tribe, that question may be answered by his performance this weekend. He is the long-term solution if the Tribe looks to seriously compete for an AL Central crown, but he must earn a spot in the rotation first.

Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) take the ball to relieve relief pitcher Bryan Shaw (27) in the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

(2) Bryan Shaw

No pitcher in the major leagues was called upon more than the Tribe’s workhorse Bryan Shaw last season, but he hasn’t looked the same so far this season. After allowing 12 runs (six earned) over 8.2 innings in Cactus League play, Shaw has struggled through four appearances so far in 2015. Cleveland’s 27-year-old set-up man has allowed just one earned run on the season, but blew a save against the Tigers last weekend. He’s been hit hard, allowing six hits in his two innings of work. The Tribe boasted one of the strong bullpens in the league last season, due in large part to the success of Shaw. He and Cody Allen must right the ship in order for this team to be a competitor.

(3) Brandon Moss

To say Brandon Moss is off to a slow start is a ridiculous understatement. Brought in this offseason to provide some left-handed power, Moss was expected to help protect Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley in the middle of the order. Instead, he has squandered every opportunity and acted more as a rally-killer than anything else. Through 20 at-bats, Moss has just two hits — a single and a double — and has yet to post a round-tripper while striking out nine times. Even worse, Moss has had seven opportunities with runners in scoring position and only has one RBI — along with two strikeouts. He has never been particularly productive against left-handed pitching, and the Indians can live with that, but Moss has to produce against right-handers if this offense is going to hit its stride. Fortunately, Moss has had a lot of success at Target Field, so the Indians hope this series can be a slump-breaker for the veteran lefty.

Mar 8, 2015; Surprise, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians catcher

Roberto Perez

(55) looks on against the Texas Rangers during to a spring training baseball game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

(4) Roberto Perez

Despite all the talk from manager Terry Francona and coach Sandy Alomar Jr., the Indians can’t possibly expect Roberto Perez to come in and fill the shoes of the injured Yan Gomes. Perez has just 34 games of big league experience under his belt and has hit just .260/.301/.375. He isn’t the offensive threat of Gomes — at least not at this point in his career. What the Tribe needs, however, is for Perez to manage the pitching staff and act as a stalwart behind the plate — block balls, call good games and throw runners out. If he can do that, even despite a downgrade offensively, the Indians shouldn’t lose a beat as they await Gomes’s return. 

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(5) Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana has gotten off to a much better start than he did last April, that much is for sure. But he’s still capable of more. As Moss struggles and Brantley bounces in and out of the lineup with a bad back, the Indians need a staple in the middle of their lineup. Santana can be that guy. He proved it last July when he hit .313/.407/.615 for the month and clubbed eight home runs to go along with 20 RBIs. As the clean-up hitter in a floundering Cleveland lineup, Santana has to pick up the pace in the home run / extra-base hit categories. Oh yeah. and knocking in a few more runs would be a welcomed bonus.

Next: #TBT The Curse of Rocky Colavito

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