Cleveland Indians: Early season preview

The Cleveland Indians will likely be missing three quarters of their infield to start 2019. Luckily enough, their schedule is manageable early on.

It’s been a while since Cleveland Indians fans received anything even closely resembling good news. Francisco Lindor has missed all of Spring Training, Jason Kipnis will start the season on the shelf, and now Jose Ramirez‘s availability in the immediate future is in doubt.

In addition to the starting rotation, the infield was supposed to be one element of the roster that Tribe fans could hang their hats on heading into 2019. Instead, it’s likely that three out of four would-be Opening Day starters will be wearing hooded sweatshirts in the dugout to begin the season.

Without any concrete way to know when any one of Lindor, Kipnis or Ramirez will return to the field, let’s take a look at the Tribe’s early-season schedule and see if they can circumnavigate this incredibly uncanny streak of bad luck.

Early AL Central tests

Four out of the Indians’ first five series’ to start 2019 will come against AL Central opponents. They’ll open the season on the road at Minnesota, then head home for a two-gamer against the White Sox. Once Chicago leaves town, the Tribe will host Toronto for a four-game weekend series.

Cleveland will then embark on a nine-game road trip with stops in Detroit and Kansas City, finishing up with a visit to Seattle.

This favorable early-season schedule can be viewed as a silver lining, but it could just as easily serve as a frustrating first few weeks. With the lone exception of the Twins, none of the Indians’ early opponents enter 2019 with playoff hopes, and several of them are in full-fledged rebuilding mode. This first stretch of games offers the Indians a chance to keep panic-mode at bay if the players who are on the field can take advantage of the weak divisional competition.

Conversely, if the Indians struggle out of the gate, they could be fighting a somewhat uphill battle by the time their infielders return.

An interesting second half of April

The first 2018 playoff team the Tribe will face is the Atlanta Braves, as the 1995 World Series participants square off at Progressive Field for a weekender starting April 19. The hope is that some combination of Lindor, Kipnis and Ramirez have made their respective comebacks by this point, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Three days after the Atlanta series, the Indians will head to Houston, where they’ll either make a statement or reopen the unhealed wounds of the 2018 ALDS. It will still be early enough that a poor showing at Minute Maid Park doesn’t spell doom, but a strong showing could serve as a catapult into the rest of the season.

A (relatively) favorable month of May

Shortly after their four-game showdown with the Astros, the Indians will once again spend a good portion of the next month facing teams without playoff aspirations. This stretch includes the Marlins, Mariners, Orioles, and eight more games against the White Sox before the calendar turns to June.

Also appearing among these contests are dates with the Athletics, Red Sox and Rays, however, so May would be a good time for the Indians to turn on the jets if they haven’t already. Cleveland got off to an unimpressive start in 2018 and never truly recovered despite winning the AL Central by a double-digit margin. With or without Lindor and Ramirez, the team will need its role players to dig deep and find a way to keep the ship on course.

All things considered, the Indians have as favorable an opportunity as could reasonably be expected to come out unscathed in the wake of an unfortunate string of injuries. Of course, that opportunity places even more pressure on the shoulders of a pitching staff already bearing the weight of an undermanned roster. If any rotation is up to that challenge, though, it’s Cleveland’s.

In the meantime, it sure would be a sight for sore eyes if Leonys Martin and Carlos Santana can get the party started as the Indians await the return of two MVP candidates. We’ll start finding out in just a few days.