- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) - For the second straight year, the Cleveland Indians arrive at spring training in Arizona strapped with huge expectations.

They plan to live up to them this season.

Boasting one of the AL’s deepest rotations, some of the league’s best young players and a balanced lineup, the Indians figure to do more than contend in the AL Central. After being picked by a national magazine as the projected World Series winner in 2015, the Indians staggered out of the gate, never hit their stride and finished 81-80 - short of the postseason.

They’re aiming higher now.

“In my mind, we have a really good lineup,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “Guys might have been banged up last year or underperformed, but they’re still good players. If everybody has the year they’re supposed to have, I like our lineup, especially to go with our staff.”

Led by 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, Cleveland’s rotation has hard-throwers who combined for a league-leading 1,407 strikeouts last season.

In Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and either Josh Tomlin or Cody Anderson, the Indians should be able to stay in any game. The trick will be scoring enough runs to take advantage of their surplus of quality arms.

The Indians’ front office resisted the temptation to trade any of their top pitchers this winter for more offense. Cleveland wants to play its hand first.

As manager Terry Francona’s club convenes this week in Goodyear, there won’t be many new faces or names to learn. The Indians didn’t do much tinkering with their roster in the offseason, convinced it’s poised to take the next step.

“We didn’t make it to the postseason, so it wasn’t what we were shooting to do,” Kluber said. “Our goal at the beginning of every year is to play in the postseason, and we came up short of that.”

Here are a few other story lines for the Indians heading into the season:


Outfielder Michael Brantley’s surgically repaired right shoulder will be a daily topic.

There is no firm return date for Brantley, the club’s best all-around player who battled an assortment of injuries in 2015 before injuring his shoulder while trying to make a diving catch in the final month. The former All-Star has yet to swing a bat since undergoing surgery and it’s likely he’ll miss the season’s first month - and maybe longer.


Francisco Lindor lived up to the hype as a rookie. Now, the shortstop’s got to do it again.

The 22-year-old phenom batted .313 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 99 games after he was called up last June. He never once appeared overwhelmed and played with a smile and swagger from his first at-bat to his last. The Indians are counting on him to pick up where he left off, a challenge that doesn’t appear to be too much for Lindor.


Tomlin and Anderson will battle for the fifth spot in the rotation along with left-hander TJ House. Few managers in baseball work their bullpens harder than Francona, so new general manager Mike Chernoff made sure he had enough to choose from this spring by bringing in array of right- and left-handers to fight for several openings.


The Indians went 7-14 last April, a hole that was tough to climb out from. The club spent part of the offseason tinkering with ways to prevent another horrendous start. From the moment pitchers and catchers report this week, Francona intends to emphasize to his players the importance of how those games in April matter as much as the ones in September.


Cleveland went 32-43 inside its division, a stat that needs to be flipped if the Indians intend to catch the World Series champion Royals. Kansas City went 44-32 against Minnesota, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.

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