Richard Justice

Indians looking to finish the job in 2017

Indians looking to finish the job in 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz.-- Maybe the Cleveland Indians will end up being exactly what the Kansas City Royals were two years ago.

Remember? The Royals showed up at Spring Training in 2015 smarting from losing an wildly entertaining World Series, and they were driven to go back and write a different ending. Nine months later, they were hoisting a World Series trophy of their own.

Enter the Indians this Spring Training in the wake of losing Game 7 to the Cubs in one of the great World Series ever played.

First, Tribe is proud of what it did last season and how it did it. Regardless of how it played out, Cleveland was part of something that will hold a special place in the hearts of baseball fans.

"The baseball fan in me, the kid in me, appreciates that," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "Absolutely. You want to leave the game better than you found it. I think more kids will be wanting to pick up a baseball instead of a basketball when they're younger. That's exactly what you want as a baseball player."

And then there's how they did it. The Tribe was written off in September by some after two of their three best starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, were injured.

Rather than fade away, the Indians sprinted into the postseason and eliminated the Red Sox and Blue Jays before finally succumbing in the 10th inning of Game 7. Along the way, they captivated a lot of people with their heart and spirit. It was baseball the way it ought to be on every level.

"Once I saw the videos of the people outside [Progressive Field] down the left-field line, the videos from bars off the phones, you almost get emotional watching them," Kipnis said. "As a baseball fan, it has a strong place in my heart, and we'd like to give 'em that opportunity again."

Now about that Royals comparison.

"When you finish the year losing in Game 7 at home, you don't spend the offseason wanting to get away from baseball," Kipnis said. "You think about it all offseason. When you get going again in Spring Training, you get that chance to start on that path of redeeming yourself. I think everyone here has been waiting for that all winter."

Salazar returned to make one start and two relief appearances in the postseason. Now, both he and Carrasco are lined up behind Corey Kluber in a rotation that should be one of the best in baseball.

And to an offense that scored 777 runs -- the second most in the American League -- Cleveland has added first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who averaged 39 home runs during his last five seasons in Toronto.

Encarnacion on talented roster

There's no such thing as a perfect team, but the Indians might be as close as anyone gets in the AL in 2017. Now, it's about doing it.

"As good as we were last year, we brought in more reinforcements," catcher Yan Gomes said. "As experienced as we were, now we've got a guy like Encarnacion who can bring in a lot of thunder. He changes things. His presence will help everyone."

Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus both project the Tribe to win 92 games and win the AL Central by a wide margin. The Indians like their team, too, but they also understand that a baseball season is a long grind, that clubs end up being tested in ways they could not have predicted.

"It was the greatest experience I've ever had in baseball," shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "Why not go back? We know we have a long way to go. We've got to do things right to get there. I feel like the guys are into it. We're excited for the season, ready to compete and really have fun."

That's the thing Encarnacion has noticed, too. He was comfortable in Toronto and became one of the faces of an entire franchise. Encarnacion wondered what the change of scenery would be like.

"These guys have made me feel comfortable," Encarnacion said. "It's going to be a fun year. There's a great group here. When you've been in this clubhouse, you know why they've been winning. They take care of everybody. I've been impressed."

Richard Justice is a columnist for You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.