With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Indians squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.
CLEVELAND -- The Indians experienced an imperfect season last year. Their road to the American League pennant was riddled with potholes and road blocks, but Cleveland kept plowing forward en route to an improbable World Series appearance against the Cubs.
For every setback last summer -- and the list of challenges was considerable -- the Indians unearthed an unexpected solution. It would be a lot to ask of the Tribe to enjoy the same amount of success in 2017 if the number of obstacles matched '16. Cleveland returns well-equipped to handle adversity, but it is hoping for a less drama-filled journey back to the postseason. This time around, a perfect season would end with winning the World Series.
That is a big reason why slugger Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Indians this offseason.
"Everybody knows that Cleveland has one of the best teams in the American League," Encarnacion said at his introductory press conference in January. "And the best chance to win the World Series. So, I'm happy to be here."
Tribe fans do not need to be reminded of how last season's miracle run through October concluded. Looking ahead to the upcoming campaign, Cleveland's goal is simple: Win one more postseason game than it did last year. The Indians are positioned well to push for that prize, with one of the Majors' best rotations, an intimidating bullpen and a strong lineup that now boasts Encarnacion's bat.
True, a perfect season for Cleveland -- given the lofty expectations that currently exist -- would include the franchise's first World Series title since 1948. There is a lot more that would make for a perfect year for the Indians, though.
Last year, the rotation was marred by injuries in the second half, the catchers endured a rough offensive showing and Michael Brantley was limited to 11 games due to health woes, among other setbacks. The Indians would avoid such things in a perfect-world scenario in 2017.
A perfect season would include Brantley proving his health this spring, breaking camp as the Indians' left fielder and turning in a campaign reminiscent of years past. Jose Ramirez would get off to a strong start, showing the Tribe that last summer's breakout performance (.825 OPS) was no fluke. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar would stay healthy all year, becoming 200-inning workhorses. Catcher Yan Gomes would once again hit like the AL Silver Slugger Award winner he was in 2014.
That would be a perfect season.
"We believe we've got a really good mix of guys that has a chance to be a very good team," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "Now, that doesn't mean it's just going to happen, though. I think we all have profound appreciation for how hard it is to win and how hard it is to build a successful team, and that a lot of things go into that success."
In 2016, Gomes' injury in July paved the way for backup Roberto Perez to shine behind the plate. Suspensions to Marlon Byrd and Abraham Almonte opened the door for center fielder Tyler Naquin to emerge as an AL Rookie of the Year Award finalist. Brantley's injury issues allowed Ramirez to step up as one of the Majors' most surprising stories. Rotation problems late in the year helped turn lefty Ryan Merritt into a postseason hero.
"Even when something goes wrong, it turns into something right," Indians owner Paul Dolan remarked during his team's postseason run.
The Indians are hoping more goes right in the traditional sense this year.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. 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.