MLB

Cleveland Indians 2017 preview

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 14: Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates with teammate Jason Kipnis #22 after hitting a two run home run to right field against Marco Estrada #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning during game one of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 14, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 14: Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates with teammate Jason Kipnis #22 after hitting a two run home run to right field against Marco Estrada #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning during game one of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 14, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

This is the latest of our 2017 team previews. Each week during spring training, we'll preview a division with a team each day (Monday-Friday). This week: The AL Central, starting with the Cleveland Indians.

LAST SEASON

94-67, first place in AL Central, American League champs, (Lost to Cubs in Game 7 of World Series)

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WHAT'S NEW

Key additions: 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (free agent from Blue Jays), RP Boone Logan (free agent from Rockies), OF Austin Jackson (free agent from Detroit Tigers), 1B Chris Colabello (free agent from Blue Jays), OF Wily Mo Pena (free agent last played in Japan in 2015), RP Carlos Frias (acquired from Dodgers for cash)

Key subtractions: 1B Mike Napoli (free agent to Rangers), OF Rajai Davis (free agent to Athletics), OF Coco Crisp (free agent), RP Jeff Manship (free agent to NC Dinos, Korea), RP Austin Adams (trade to Dodgers for cash), 1B Jesus Aguilar (claimed off waivers by Brewers)

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3 STRIKES

1. Unfinished business. After steam-rolling the Red Sox in the ALDS and breezing past the Blue Jays in the ALCS, the Indians found themselves one game away from winning it all last postseason. But their 3-1 series lead over the Cubs dissipated into a winner-take-all Game 7 of the World Series that turned out to be one for the ages. That epic, emotional back-and-forth 10-inning affair (which also included a memorable rain delay) resulted in a heartbreaking 8-7 loss for the Tribe, but it also left Terry's Francona's squad hungry for more. By upgrading their offense with the hottest free agent hitter on the market in Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians might have enough to get them over the hump and win their first World Series championship since 1948.

2. Nursing the 'Best Rotation in Baseball' back to health. Cleveland's starting rotation lived up to the hype last season, as the Indians rode their stellar young arms to their first AL Central title in nine years. Right-hander Corey Kluber nearly regained his 2014 Cy Young form, going 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and finishing third in Cy Young voting. Danny Salazar's stellar first half resulted in an All-Star nod, Carlos Carrasco enjoyed a career year, while Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both had solid seasons. But then in September, the injuries hit -- hard, fast and at the worst time possible. With no Salazar (right forearm injury) or Carrasco (right hand fracture) for the postseason, the rest of the pitching staff stepped up and led the Tribe all the way to the World Series. But after Bauer's infamous drone-related finger injury during the ALCS, the injuries became too much for Cleveland's depleted staff to overcome. With the entire 2016 starting staff returning this season at full strength, the Indians are the clear favorite to win their second straight Central Division title and could certainly make another World Series run.

3. The curious case of Michael Brantley. The Indians' All-Star outfielder has had an extremely difficult time recovering from a right shoulder injury he suffered in 2015, and nearly two years later, his future remains cloudy. Once Cleveland's best all-around player, Brantley spent last spring rehabbing his way back from surgery. After starting the season on the DL, Brantley finally rejoined the club in late April but suffered a setback shortly after and found himself on the DL once again. He spent the next three months in a continuous cycle of rest, cortisone shots and rehab attempts as he tried to make his way back to a team that was preparing for a postseason run. But Brantley never made it back and was finally shut down for the season in early August. As difficult as it must've been for Brantley to watch Cleveland's riveting run through October, it motivated him to work that much harder to return for 2017. While Brantley's status for Opening Day remains foggy, he recently progressed from hitting off a tee to live batting practice, which is a big step for a player who only appeared in 11 games last season.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

Cleveland's starting rotation returns fully healthy and the 1-2-3 punch of Kluber, Salazar and Carrasco carry the Indians back to the World Series -- with the help of bullpen bosses Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Boone Logan.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Salazar and Carrasco's injuries linger, forcing the Indians to make do with a rotation that involves Bauer and Tomlin fighting for the No. 2 spot, while the rest is filled out by inexperienced youngsters.

SURPRISING STAT

Last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up Francisco Lindor batted .310 in the postseason, making him third among postseason players who had at least 25 plate appearances. His .466 slugging percentage and .820 OPS were also among the top 10 in each category for players with 25 PAs.

BEST BETS

Projected win total (via Atlantis Casino Resort): 92.5

World Series odds (via VegasInsider.com): 11/1

TOP 5 FANTASY PLAYERS

1. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B: Cleveland isn't as homer-friendly as Toronto, but Encarnacion's elite power can play anywhere. Only Chris Davis has homered more over the last five seasons.

2. Corey Kluber, SP: Kluber is one of the half-dozen fantasy aces that you don't need to worry about. You'll probably need to use a second-round pick to get him, though.

3. Francisco Lindor, SS: Lindor's glove is spectacular, and his bat is impressive as well. A .300-hitting shortstop with 15 homers and 15 steals is a terrific third-round fantasy pick.

4. Carlos Carrasco, SP: What if we told you that Carrasco's peripheral stats look a lot like Kluber's? A hamstring injury and a broken hand limited him to 25 starts last season, and he can be an ace if he can stay off the DL.

5. Jason Kipnis, 2B: Kipnis has been outside the top 10 at his position in early drafts, which means that many are skeptical that he'll repeat his 23-homer, 15-steal season. Even if they're right, Kipnis looks like a good value in the seventh or eighth round.

PREDICTION

The Indians repeat as AL Central champs, go on to win the AL pennant and cap it off with a World Series Championship.