Brantley's health, fast start key to Tribe's 2016

Cleveland goes into next season with lofty expectations

Brantley's health, fast start key to Tribe's 2016

CLEVELAND -- There was a spotlight on the Indians last spring. They knew the expectations were high both inside the clubhouse and around baseball and, following a slow start to the season, the weight of crumbling confidence hurt Cleveland's chances as the summer turned to fall.

The Tribe wants 2016 to be different.

"We're going to be a little more cautiously optimistic next year," Indians All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said at the end of last season. "We're not going to read into anything. We're not going to expect anything. I think that's how it should be. We're going to go out and play hard. That's the best way to go about things."

Coming off a disappointing showing last season, Cleveland hopes to right the ship in the upcoming campaign. The Indians do not want to settle for a winning season -- they want to challenge for a World Series. It will take a powerful rotation and an improved offensive showing to accomplish that lofty feat.

Here are five questions facing the Indians in 2016.

1. How long will Michael Brantley be sidelined?
Brantley underwent surgery on his right shoulder in November and the likelihood of him returning in April is slim. A May return seems more realistic, but the Tribe's star left fielder will need to complete a personal Spring Training and will need to be at full strength before activation. A conservative approach could make a June return possible. Losing Brantley for any amount of time is a big blow for a Cleveland team that ranked 11th in the American League in runs scored last season.

2. Can the Indians change their April fortunes?
The loss of Brantley for at least some of the first month makes April success a daunting challenge once again. Aprils in Cleveland do not typically result in an abundance of offense. Maybe it will help that the Indians have more road games (14) than home games (nine) in April 2016. In manager Terry Francona's three years at the helm, the Indians have played .397 (29-44) ball in April, compared to .556 (229-183) ball the rest of the way. That has necessitated draining, late-season surges for the Tribe.

3. Has Lonnie Chisenhall turned a corner?
By June of last season, it was fair to wonder if Chisenhall had a future with the Indians. Then, he made a midseason switch to right field from third base, heated up at the plate and looked like a formidable option as an outfielder for 2016. Chisenhall did not only hold his own in right field, a multitude of defensive metrics painted a picture of him as an elite defender in the corner. Francona also got the most out of Chisenhall's bat by limiting his exposure to left-handed pitching. The Indians are hoping Chisenhall's second-half career renaissance means big things for the coming season.

Statcast: Indians' 2015 season

4. Will Francisco Lindor repeat his rookie success?
It is not uncommon for a young player to reach the Majors, excel for a while and then struggle as the league makes adjustments to the player. It was the opposite for Lindor last year. The rookie hit .223 (.568 OPS) in his first 103 at-bats before putting the pedal to the metal. The shortstop hit .345 (.930 OPS) in his final 287 at-bats and ended as the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up. Lindor's overall offensive numbers were better than any season he had posted in the Minors. It will be interesting to see where the young switch-hitter goes from here as a batter in the big leagues.

Lindor finishes second for ROY

5. Will the rotation lead the way to October?
The Indians were rendered spectators for the 2015 World Series, but perhaps Cleveland saw a glimmer of hope while watching the Royals take on the Mets. New York reached the Fall Classic behind the strength of a young, talented starting rotation. The Tribe has a similar starting cast in terms of age, controllability and production. If Cleveland wants to make the playoffs and enjoy a run to the World Series, it will likely take a stellar combined effort from the club's highly touted rotation.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.