(SportsNetwork.com) - Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber came out of nowhere to win an American League Cy Young Award last season. This year the Indians are hoping he can carry them to the playoffs.
Kluber tries to follow up his breakout campaign on Monday when Cleveland opens its 2015 season against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
After winning 92 games and a wild card spot in 2013 the Indians dropped to 85 wins last season and missed the playoffs by three games. And it's essentially the same team that is coming back with the exception of the team's only big offseason pickup, slugger Brandon Moss.
The seven-game drop in wins came despite not only Kluber's season, but Michael Brantley, who was an AL MVP finalist.
Cleveland may have been quiet this offseason, but it still has a ton of under-30 talent just ready to bubble over. First baseman Carlos Santana is one of those players. He may have gotten off to a bad start last season, but he posted a .900 OPS for the final four months and has the ability to be a 30-HR, 100-RBI guy.
Much of the Indians' success this season may hinge on wether or not Kluber is the real deal. And speaking of deals the Tribe locked up their 28-year-old ace on Sunday with a 5-year extension.
Kluber became the fourth Cy Young winner in Indians history by going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA last year. He pitched a career-high 235 2/3 innings in a career- high 34 starts.
"That was not smoke and mirrors," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. "That was a kid figuring it out."
Houston, meanwhile, enjoyed a better second year in the AL than its maiden voyage in 2013. However, the Astros lost 92 games and have averaged 104 losses in each of the past four seasons. Still, last year's finish was a 19-game improvement from the previous season and they didn't finish in last place.
Houston also started to see some of its young talent start to show itself at the big league level and now some people think the Astros could take a significant jump in 2015 with new manager A.J. Hinch at the helm.
This is a lineup that is going to hit a lot of home runs, but it's also one that is going to strike out a ton, too. Jose Altuve is a hit machine and is complimented in the middle of the order by 30-home run threats George Springer, Chris Carter and newly acquired Evan Gattis. Keep in mind there hasn't been a team with a trio of 30-HR players since the 2012 Angels.
With that comes an awful lot of swing and misses. The Astros set the MLB record with 1,535 strikeouts in 2013 and they may challenge that record this year.
Lefty Dallas Keuchel, who will make his first Opening Day start on Monday, emerged as the staff ace last season, as he pitched to a 2.93 ERA in exactly 200 innings. He also had 10 games in which he allowed three or fewer runs, yet lost or took a no-decision.