Tyler Naquin Jersey

Cleveland Indians Tyler Naquin has been activated for the series opener against Minnesota on June 15.

Tyler Naquin has been activated from the disabled list and will bat eighth for the Cleveland Indians on Friday against Minnesota.

The club announced Naquin would be active for the homestand opener and start in center field. Manager Terry Francona told reporters before the game that first baseman Yonder Alonso had been placed on the family medical emergency list and will be away from the team for at least three days.

Francona said the team was prepared to option outfielder Greg Allen back to Class AAA Columbus before Alonso’s situation came to light.

“We wanted to give (Alonso) a couple days to take care of what he needs to, but I told Greg he would stay here with us so he kind of knows the situation,” Francona said.

Under Major League Baseball rules, Alonso must miss at least three days, but can be away from the club no more than seven during his stay on the family medical emergency list.

Naquin had been on the disabled list since May 12 with a left hamstring strain.

Prior to going on the DL, Naquin hit .417 with a home run and six RBI in nine May games for Cleveland. During a six-game minor league rehab stint, the 27 year old hit .111 with a walk and six strikeouts.

Austin Jackson Jersey

The Giants need at least a partial changing of the guard, and when it happens, if it happens, it won’t be as pretty as the formal ceremony of the same name at Buckingham Palace.

No dignity and pomp. If the Giants are lucky, they’ll pull it off with a minimum of lemon meringue on the face.

The problem is that Hunter Pence and Austin Jackson, basically half the Giants’ bench, are not producing. Both are substandard defensively, and offensively both appear to be on the downside of their careers.

Meanwhile, two young sluggers are a 90-minute car ride away, playing ball in Sacramento. Steven Duggar and Austin Slater are both scorching the ball.

The fix would seem to be simple. Trade Pence, release Jackson, bring up the two kids, stand back and enjoy the fireworks.

Of course, it’s not that easy. The Giants gave Jackson a two-year contract, $6 million total, so they’d be eating close to almost 5 mil. That would not be a good look for general manager Bobby Evans, who might not have the greatest job security.

But GMs are paid on results, too, as in wins and losses.

As for Pence, if the Giants traded him, they’d have to eat most of his $18.5 million salary (he’s a free agent after this season). And they would need to find a trading partner.

When manager Bruce Bochy penciled Pence into left field Wednesday against the Marlins, giving Andrew McCutchen a rest, the skipper and the GM might have been hoping Pence would show a spark, something to catch the interest of a young team in need of a strong, upbeat veteran presence.

Mission accomplished. Sort of. Pence sliced a two-out RBI single down the right-field line in the sixth, then came around to score to cap the five-run rally. In the eighth he singled home another run with a little broken-bat pop into short left that would have been caught had the infielders not been playing up on the grass.

But it looks like two line-drive RBI hits on paper, and that might be enough to make would-be trading partners overlook that Pence came into the game riding a 1-for-16 slump, that he’s no longer a homer threat (zero this year), and that he grounded out and struck out lunging in his other two at-bats.

Defensively, Pence and Jackson are liabilities.

In the second inning, the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas flared a ball into short left field. A speedy outfielder would have had a chance to snag the ball. Not an easy play for anyone, but Pence had zero chance.

Once, he was a more-than-capable right fielder who would give you the occasional circus catch. But the wheels are not what they once were.

Nor is the power. Not only has Pence not hit a homer this year, in 31 games, his OPS after Wednesday was .463, easily last among Giants position players.

Of course, everyone loves the Right Reverend Pence. Everyone remembers what he contributed on the field and in the clubhouse to two World Series championships.

The more recent memories are not as joyful. The numbers don’t lie, and Pence’s awkwardness, endearing when he’s knocking the cover off the ball with that lunging swing, make him a handy target for impatient fans, many of whom were celebrating the guy not that long ago.

Letting go of Jackson would be far less emotionally wrenching for the Giants’ front office, and for Giants fans, and is the more likely first move.

Jackson wasn’t expected to be a star or even a full-time starter, but he has not come up to even modest expectations. He’s hitting .243, with the same number of homers as Pence (0), and 27 of his 34 hits are singles.

Meanwhile, the kids are heating up in Sacramento. Although they’re not exactly kids — Duggar is 24 and Slater is 25.

Duggar is batting .284, with 19 RBIs and three homers in 63 games. He has 21 doubles and a .793 OPS.

Slater is batting .340 in 52 games, with a .981 OPS. He’s got 24 doubles and five homers, and could provide a big right-handed bat to ease the absence of Evan Longoria, making the Giants less vulnerable to lefties.

Slater, especially, seems ready. And he’s on the 40-man roster; Duggar is not.

How long can the Giants wait to make a move — out with Pence and/or Jackson, in with Slater and/or Duggar?

Most fans would vote for “now.” The Giants as an organization preach patience and place faith in veterans, but that philosophy is going to get tested.

The Giants are in the middle of the pack in the NL West, in a could-go-either-way mode. Young call-ups are always a gamble, but the relative sure thing — that two vets are unlikely to contribute much — doesn’t seem like a sexy option.

Andrew Miller Jersey

Cleveland Indians star reliever Andrew Miller is just about ready to start facing live batters.

Manager Terry Francona says the two-time All-Star had his “best” bullpen session Monday since he was placed on the 10-day disabled list in late May because of inflammation in his left knee. He will likely throw another one Wednesday and could start facing some hitters once the team opens a nine-game homestand on Friday.

Francona says the Indians were waiting another day to decide whether to place catcher Roberto Perez on the DL. He was hit by a pitch in the right wrist against Detroit on Sunday.

The Indians recalled catcher and outfielder Francisco Mejia from Triple-A Columbus and optioned right-hander Evan Marshall to the minor league club.

Michael Brantley Jersey

Picking up Michael Brantley’s $11 million option looks pretty great now

Last November, the Cleveland Indians chose to pick up the $11 million option for Michael Brantley’s 2018 season. At the time, it seemed like a roadblock to re-signing a player like Carlos Santana, or pursuing a bullpen replacement for the departing Bryan Shaw. It turned out to be, in the end, because the Indians did neither of those things. But it’s looking like it doesn’t really matter.

Looking strictly at the money, $11 million for what Brantley can give (and had given) to the Indians seemed like a good deal. The outfield was a weakness — another they would have had to address had they not picked up Brantley’s option — and at his peak, Brantley was one of the game’s best-hitting left fielders. But due to various, unrelated injuries it seemed like the 31-year-old’s better days were already behind him. The dreaded “S-word” comparison came up multiple times, and many Indians fans were ready to leave him behind and move on with whatever young prospect would come up and replace him.

I was certainly in that group, and I’m here to say I’m looking dead wrong and I’ve never been happier to eat this big plate of char-broiled crow. I even wrote an article about it being a bad move once the dust settled on a historically cheap offseason, which I still mostly stand by (more on that later). Strictly looking at getting Michael Brantley back for $11 million, though, it’s hard to be too upset right now.

Due to the aforementioned ankle surgery, Brantley’s 2018 season didn’t start until April 6 when he debuted against the Kansas City Royals, going 1-for-4 and playing his typical brand of just-good-enough left field for the Tribe. All he’s done since is hit, not strikeout, and refuse to go cold. He’s amassed eight home runs in his 183 plate appearances, slashing .335/372/.559 with 12 doubles and starting nearly every game since his debut, either in the outfield or at designated hitter. Brantley, who played in a combined 101 games over the last two seasons, already has 41 games under his belt with no sign of lingering injury issues slowing him down. He’s currently riding a league-best 16-game hitting streak, and he’s never gone more than three games in a row without at least one hit.

Brantley is really, really good.

The home runs are nice, especially the pace that he’s currently on, but the most encouraging thing about Brantley’s re-emergence is his plate discipline. For a time, Brantley was one of the best at making contact and not striking out. In his breakout 2014 campaign, the baby-faced 27-year-old had the third-lowest strikeout rate in the American League at 8.3 percent, trailing only Victor Martinez and Jose Altuve, and he was third in the American League at making contact at 91.3 percent. In 2015, a year best forgotten by Indians fans, Brantley led the league in both those categories.

In Brantley’s injury-induced absence, Jose Ramirez took over the King of Contact throne with Brantley-esque contact numbers in 2016 and 2017. Now that they’re both playing together and thriving, teams are having a hell of a time trying to get them out at the same time. Take a look at the 2018 plate discipline leaderboards, and you’ll see their names pop up frequently. Brantley is third overall contact rate at 88.5 percent, 21st in outside swing percentage at 26 percent, and eighth in swinging strike rate at five percent. Hovering around him in every category is Jose Ramirez.

It’s hard to say if the front office had the foresight of “Hey let’s put Ramirez and Brantley back-to-back and watch opposing pitchers lose their minds trying to find where to put the ball,” but that’s been the exact effect of the lineup so far. I’d even contend that Lindor-Brantley-Ramirez forms the best top-third of any lineup in baseball. Yeah I see you Angels, Yankees, Astros, and whoever else wants to fight me. I see you and you’re wrong.

The three of them form a sort-of Murderers’ Row for the modern age. Not one where they are clobbering home runs and outpacing every other offensive team in baseball like the real Murderers’ Row of the mid-1920s Yankees teams. What made that group of players so special was that they were hitting so many more home runs than everyone else — 121 as a team in 1926, for example, when the next closest was the Rogers Hornsby-led Cardinals with 90. No one cares if you can hit home runs anymore, because everyone can do it and they do it a lot (the Yankees already have 83 through and it’s not even June), but making contact and not striking out is throwing opposing pitchers for a loop. How difficult must it be switching from being able to blow whatever you want by so many hitters knowing there’s a good chance they’ll miss it, to having to work against Michael Brantley (2nd-lowest strikeout rate in AL) and Jose Ramirez (4th-lowest strikeout rate in AL) back-to-back. It’s not fair.

We saw the fruits of this yesterday when Jose Ramirez worked an amazing 17-pitch at-bat against one of baseball’s premiere closers in the bottom of the ninth down by five. Ramirez swung the bat 12 times in that at-bat, and he made contact every single time with the final crack being a 104.5 mile-per-hour rocket for a double. That was enough to instantly ramp up Ken Giles’s pitch count to the point where he had to be pulled and the rest was dramatic, heart attack-inducing history.

All of this is to say that Michael Brantley is amazing, and his ability to make contact has seemingly returning has the Indians lineup working in magical ways. If he can stay healthy — which is still a mighty big if — the $11 million the Indians spent doesn’t look so bad in retrospect, despite what some loser blogger might have told you. Could the Indians have maybe saved a few million, grabbed a reliever and brought back Brantley for $5-6 million? Maybe. Would Brantley even have wanted to come back to the Indians if they declined his option, only to come crawling back for a $5 million discount? That’s a tough question we’ll never have to answer, because they spent the money and got him, and he’s been worth every penny ten times over.