1: Carlos Santana, DH
Santana batted lead off in 86 games last season, mostly against right-handed pitchers, essentially platooning with speedster Rajai Davis at the top of the Tribe lineup. It’s a relatively new gameplan for baseball, having your slow on-base machine leading off, but it’s already catching on. The Chicago Cubs, for example, are experimenting with Kyle Schwarber at leadoff this season.
In the leadoff spot last season, Santana hit .260/.385/.502 with 19 home runs. He also took his duties to get on base to heart, walking 17 percent of the time at the top of the order.
2: Francisco Lindor, SS
Lindor batted third in 152 of the 158 games he played last season, but with Jason Kipnis — the usual No. 2 hitter — out with a shoulder injury, Lindor moves up a slot here. Kipnis’ injury sucks, but if it results in one of the best young players in all of baseball (and I’m not even referring to Yandy Diaz) getting more at-bats, I guess I’ll deal with it.
3: Michael Brantley, LF
Let’s just take a moment to let that size-four heading sink in. Batting third, left fielder, Michael Brantley. It feels like forever since Brantley was in the lineup and fully healthy, but it’s finally happening. Brantley has done nothing but be healthy and whack dingers since he joined the big-league squad in spring training and he has constantly outpaced the Indians’ conservative public timelines for him.
For now, Brantley in the three-hole is an easy decision. He’s hit there 273 times in his career — the most at any position — and he’s just plain one of the most consistent hitters in the league when fully healthy. That might change when Kipnis returns, however, depending on how well Brantley is hitting and how much confidence the Indians have in Kip’s ability to return and be effective immediately.
4: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
You can pretty much pen this one in all season long. Consider Edwin’s No. 4 spot in the lineup a canary in the coal mine for the Indians season. If he’s not here, things probably aren’t going well. But for now, and hopefully for the next seven months, he will be.
5: Jose Ramirez, 2B
Jose Ramirez will man second base in Jason Kipnis’s absence, and he might bat lower once the usual second baseman returns. That’s nothing against The Angry Hamster, there are just too many great hitters in this lineup to have everyone batting second and third.
Ramirez is almost the exact same hitter against left- and right-handed pitchers, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll move around a lot. He’s going to hit well wherever he is.
6: Yan Gomes, C
There’s nowhere to go but up for Yan Gomes. Not in the lineup, mind you — there’s just not room, no matter how well he hits. But Yan could certainly improve upon the 33 wRC+ (not a typo) that he hit last season. Already batting this high in such a talented lineup must mean Tito has some kind of confidence in him bouncing back.
7: Tyler Naquin, CF
Tyler Naquin is the starting center fielder, but don’t expect to see him in the lineup everyday. The second-year outfielder has hit well against right-handed pitching, but he has a lengthy history in the minors of being atrocious against lefties. He’ll be platooned this season, but the question is just with who.
8: Yandy Diaz, 3B
Saawwwweeettttt jesus he’s free! Yandy Diaz played his heart out in spring training to win the start third base spot over Giovanny Urshela, but his most important numbers are the ones he’s put up in the minors the past couple seasons.
He has always had a great eye at the plate and a high walk rate, but last year he finally flashed the power that the Indians were waiting for. The dude is also huge. Like, Hulk huge.
He’s a rookie, so don’t be surprised to see a rookie out there. But it’ll be fun, either way.
9: Abraham Almonte, RF
This spot, right-fielder against a right-handed pitcher, will normally be reserved for Lonnie Chisenhall. Right now, though, the 28-year-old is on the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder injury. In his place is Abraham Almonte.
Almonte probably won’t set the world on fire with his bat, but he can play every position and you could be much, much worse off with your No. 9 hitter.
As I have said before in greater detail, Opening Day lineups are pointless in the grand scheme of the universe. But right now, I don’t care about the grand scheme of anything. I just want to watch the Indians play baseball, and I absolutely love this lineup. We’ll see how it performs at 7:05 p.m. ET.