Jason Kipnis Jersey

Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and the changing of the guard in the Indians' clubhouse

A trio of reporters marched toward Jason Kipnis as he tied his shoes at his locker. By a player’s eighth season in the majors, he develops a sixth sense.

“I’ve got the trainers waiting on me,” Kipnis shouted, before any reporter could inch close enough to ask for a minute of his time.

“You could say that every day,” one reporter replied.

“I plan on it,” Kipnis said, smiling.

“We’re getting old,” Lonnie Chisenhall yelled as he walked past the exchange.

As Kipnis headed toward the trainer’s room, Michael Brantley asked the second baseman if he was scheduled to play in Friday’s Cactus League opener.

“No,” Kipnis told his teammate. “They have to ease me in at my age.”

Earlier this week, Brantley and Kipnis stood to the right of the cage behind home plate, a bat in their right hands and their left hands on their hips, as they watched Francisco Lindor spray fly balls to the outfield fence.

It’s not their team anymore. They’re the old guard now. But the Indians need them as much as ever.

Francisco Lindor Jersey

During the last two seasons, the Indians were that team that toils to roll a heavy ball up the mountain and just as they near the top, lose their grip and watch helplessly as the ball crashes and rumbles back to the bottom in a cloud of dirt and dust.

In fewer than 10 days when spring training begins, the Indians will be putting their shoulders to that ball once again, trying once more to push it past the Central Division championship, beyond the American League pennant to the one title that has eluded the Tribe for 70 years — World Series champions.

Are the Indians discouraged after getting oh-so-close in 2016 and falling to the Yankees in the ALDS last year?

Not at all, says Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor.

“Every year is going to be the same thing,” Lindor said on Jan. 19 inside the Indians clubhouse at Progressive Field. “We’re trying to win whether we win the World Series the previous year or whether we lose in the playoffs. We’re going to have the same mindset.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to get back and win the last game of the postseason. I’ll be lying if I say I have a little different approach.”

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to the Indians spring training home in Goodyear, Arizona, on Feb. 14. The full squad is set to report by Feb. 18.

Always a good sign the first pitch of the season is getting closer, the Indians’ loaded equipment truck left Cleveland on Feb. 1. Target day for arrival and unloading in Goodyear is Feb. 6.

“This is kind of an anti-climactic day because we’ve already been at it a while,” Indians equipment manager Tony Amato said before the truck departed. “This is more the professional mover’s type day. We’ve been in the spring training mode for two or three weeks.”

Some familiar faces will be absent in Goodyear. First baseman Carlos Santana is in Philadelphia. Relief pitcher Bryan Shaw is in Colorado.

On the plus side, center fielder Bradley Zimmer is back from a broken hand. Left fielder Michael Brantley is making progress from offseason ankle surgery. Yonder Alonso is ready to replace Santana at first base.

With Santana gone, Lindor, perhaps reluctantly, will be taking on a leadership role among the infielders. Lindor, beginning his third full season with the Indians, is a two-time All-Star, 2016 Gold Glove plus Platinum Glove winner and a 2017 Silver Slugger winner.

“I want people to be in the same line,” Lindor said. “I don’t want people to be behind me, but I don’t want people to be in front of me. I want people to be in the same line because we’re a team.

“We all can push each other. We all can work as hard as we can to achieve our goals.”

The one blotch on Lindor’s record is his last eight postseason games.

The Indians had a 3-1 lead on the Cubs in the 2016 World Series. Lindor was 1-for-4 in Game 5, 0-for-3 in Game 6 and 0-for-5 in Game 7. He was 2-for-18 against the Yankees in the ALDS in 2017.

Baseball can humble its best players. Lindor is one of those. He is 3-for-30 at the plate in his last eight postseason games.

“As a human being you want to help others; you want to help your team,” Lindor said. “It’s tough, but that’s my job. I have to figure out how to do it. It’s a learning experience. The more you go through it, the more it helps. You can’t take that experience away.

“I don’t want to say I pressed. I went through five games (in the ALDS) that I didn’t have success. I would have loved to hit .800. That wasn’t the case. I’ll learn from it, get better from it and try to be myself.”

Lindor has a .293 career batting average in the regular season spanning 416 games. He has 60 home runs and 218 RBI.

Edwin Encarnacion Jersey

Cleveland Indians fans saw Edwin Encarnacion get off to a slow start last year, but he quickly turned things around to finish with some great numbers.

Edwin Encarnacion joined the Cleveland Indians with impossible expectations.

Signing a deal that pays $20 million annually meant that some fans expected the slugger to put up record numbers starting with his first at-bat in an Indians uniform. And while Encarnacion got off to a bit of a slow start, he finished with some amazing numbers.

After the hot takes subsided, Encarnacion finished the year with 38 home runs, 107 RBI, 104 walks and a slash line of .258/.377/.504. His OBP was the highest on the team among qualified hitters, so his 133 strikeouts don’t look nearly as bad.

He finished 20th in the AL MVP voting, marking the fifth time he has finished in the top 20.

Encarnacion was rather absent from the headlines in the postseason after an ankle injury that had some cursing the baseball gods, but it doesn’t take away from the great season he had. And to be fair, most of the team disappeared in the postseason.

Baseball Reference is projecting similar numbers for Encarnacion in 2018, with a slight decrease in home runs (35) and RBI (99). Even these numbers would be great considering he is entering his age-35 season.

I’m hesitant to say that a key to success for Encarnacion is to avoid a slow start, because he had one in 2017 and still bounced back to have a great offensive season.

A .200 batting average with four home runs last April was not what fans had in mind. But if you look at his numbers for the entire season and remember that the Indians led the AL Central after April, those numbers don’t look as bad.

The real key for Encarnacion, as for every player on the roster, is to just stay healthy. He played in 157 games in 2017, which was the second-best mark for his career after playing in 160 games in 2016. The ankle injury in the ALDS was a fluke thing, but it wouldn’t hurt to give Encarnacion some rest throughout the year. This may lead some fans to complain because he is “only” a DH, but that is just a lazy narrative.

I don’t see any reason to expect any regression from Encarnacion in 2018, and he remains part of the core returning this year that will help alleviate the negative effects of Carlos Santana leaving for the louder pastures of Philadelphia.

Joe Carter Jersey

Joe Carter’s Home Run.

The biggest home run in Blue Jays history happened on this day 24 years ago. Watching the video below, I wonder what Roughned Odor would think of Joe Carter’s celebration.

Watching it, it amazes me how quickly the ball got out. It didn’t seem that way at the time. I remember thinking that it might go foul, but watching this video, I don’t see how I had time to think about whether it might be foul.

Tom Cheek’s call was perfect.

I asked Pat Hentgen, who would have been the starter for game 7, about the moment:

    I remember thinking when Joe Carter came to bat in game 6 “oh well, even if we don’t win, you would be pitching the next day” all would be good. Do you ever think about that you could have been pitching game 7?

Oh, of course. That whole day is like, I was charting the game and I could tell you those numbers were starting to get a little scribbly towards the end there. We were down by 2 going into the 9th. You know Joe pulls those balls all year long and pulls them foul. So when he hit that ball I was in the corner of the dugout, I’ll never forget it, I had my back to left field. I had my back to the foul pole, when he hit it, I remember just thinking ‘Stay fair, stay fair’, because I felt it was hard enough hit to go out. And it just stayed fair that day for whatever reason.

But yeah I thought about how it would have went down. And how, you play 174 games or whatever and it comes down to one game. It would have been pretty exciting , I’ll tell you. I know one thing in those situations managers never let the starting pitcher get in any trouble. The minute I would have had some trouble going we’d have had Harry Wholestaff in there. Every guy would have been available.

It was Joe’s second home run of the series. Joe drove in a run in the first game of the series with a sac fly. He hit a 2-run shot in the second game, a 6-4 loss. He had a .596 WPA for the game.

In this game, the Jays scored 3 runs in the first. Each team got a run in the 4th. We made it 5-1 in the 5th inning and things looked good.

Unfortunately, we had a very rough 7th inning. Starter Dave Stewart, gave up a walk, a single, then a 3-run homer to Lenny Dykstra. Stewart threw 120 pitches. Cito Gaston was a slow hook in his first go around with the Jays.

Danny Cox came in. He wasn’t good. He gave up 3 hits, 1 walk and 2 runs, while getting just 1 out. Al Leiter came in to get the last 2 outs of the inning and pitched a scoreless 8th, around a Dykstra walk and stolen base. Duane Ward pitched a quick 9th.

Our 9th couldn’t have set up better. The top of the order was up. Ricky Henderson lead off with a walk. Devon White hit a deep fly out. Paul Monitor singled, and we had the tying run on second. And the rest you know. Mitch Williams remains my favorite reliever of all time.

Paul Molitor was series MVP, he hit .500/.571/.1.000, with 10 runs, 8 RBI, 2 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs. Roberto Alomar also had a great series, hitting .480/.519/.640, with 5 runs and 6 RBI. Tony Fernandez drove in 9 runs, with a .333/.423/.381 line. Duane Ward had 2 saves and a win. The win was in game 6.

And, of course, Carter. He hit .280/.250/.560 with 8 RBI, three that were really important. He had 3 sac flies, which is why the OBP is lower than his BA. I never thought it was fair that sac flies count against you in OBP.

Were any of you at the game? If you were or if you watched the game at home, what do you remember?